116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Opinion / Staff Columnists
Reynolds seeks to give ‘her’ AG more power
Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird has been wielding the current powers of her office for just more than a month, and already Gov. Kim Reynolds is pushing to give “her attorney general” even more power.
That new authority is tucked into a 1,500-page bill reorganizing state government. Its sheer size is proof that Republicans don’t care much if Iowans know exactly what they’re doing.
Under bills in the House and Senate, Bird’s office would be allowed to prosecute any criminal proceeding on behalf of the state, even if a county attorney doesn’t ask for the state’s help. Traditionally, the attorney general hasn’t tried to big-foot local prosecutors unless requested.
The bills also would give the Attorney General’s Office “exclusive criminal jurisdiction” over cases involving election-related crimes.
It doesn’t take a Harvard Law grad to figure out what’s happening. Bird’s office will grab the most high-profile, politically charged cases. She’ll also make political hay by cracking down on voters and election officials who run afoul of Republican-backed voting restrictions, even if criminal intent is lacking.
The reorganization bill also guts the Office of Consumer Advocate, an independent office that resides in the Attorney General’s Office. The consumer advocate is supposed to stick up for consumers on issues that come before the Iowa Utilities Board. For example, last year, the former advocate pushed carbon pipeline developers to provide more information on their projects’ safety threats.
With reorganization, the independent office would become a division of Bird’s office. No longer would the consumer advocate need to be a “competent attorney.” So a non attorney advocate may no longer act as a lawyer on behalf of consumers, as current law allows. The attorney general, not the consumer advocate, would hire attorneys and support staff for the division.
The advocate would no longer by insulated from political pressure. Currently, the advocate serves a four year term, with removal only possible with evidence of “malfeasance or non-feasance in office” or factors that would make the advocate ineligible or unable to serve. Under the bill, the advocate would “serve at the pleasure of the attorney general” and could be sacked at any time.
“With three carbon pipelines seeking approval to cross more than 1,500 miles of our state right now, there could not be a worse time to suggest we politicize and weaken the agency responsible for representing our public interests,” said Emma Schmit, senior Iowa organizer for Food and Water Watch in an email. The group opposes the pipelines and the reorganization bills.
“Frankly put, it turns the OCA into a lap dog for the attorney general, rather than an agency that works for the people of Iowa,” Schmit said
Bird sure is earning the roughly $2 million in campaign donations she received from the Republican Attorneys General Association. She won’t let some blue county prosecutor go soft on her watch, or some rogue auditor help people vote. But GOP big business allies have nothing to fear.
We thought we elected an attorney general. Turns out we hired a general counsel for the Republican Party of Iowa who makes her living off other people’s taxes. As promised during the campaign, we’re getting the Bird all right.
(319) 398-8262; email@example.com
Opinion content represents the viewpoint of the author or The Gazette editorial board. You can join the conversation by submitting a letter to the editor or guest column or by suggesting a topic for an editorial to firstname.lastname@example.org