I have seen dozens of opinion letters in publications across the state about the proposed legislative changes related to the selection of judges in Iowa. But there is one perspective I have not seen expressed, so I want to share it with you.
I spent my professional career at AEGON USA/Transamerica in Cedar Rapids, retiring as president and CEO a few years back. I currently sit on the boards of Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust and F&G Life Insurance Co. of Des Moines, as well as the board of ICR Iowa and the Cedar Rapids Airport Commission. While at AEGON/Transamerica, while not a lawyer, I was the business person responsible for overseeing the company’s litigation.
At a point in time when the company was trying to pick among eight locations within the United States to grow our business and to choose a state of domicile for our regulated insurance entities, our main criteria for selection was: quality and cost of labor, overall cost of living, and the fairness and consistency of the state’s judiciary. If states elected their state court judges or had another more political process in selecting judges, they were not considered.
In fact, we chose not to do certain parts of our business in those states where politics reigned in the judiciary. We chose Iowa, as other insurance companies have done, in large part because of its system of keeping politics out of the courts.
Therefore, I have deep concerns over the legislative proposal to move the nominating process for judges away from the non-partisan Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission system that exists today.
Under the proposed law, instead of citizen attorneys getting the opportunity to vote on some of the nominating commission members based on their professional reputation, political party leaders in the Legislature would gain that control.
No matter how you cut it, the proposal in the Legislature injects partisan politics into the selection process. Just having a proposal of this kind introduced by both chambers is chilling for business.
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The current nominating commission process allows the current governor to select half the members. All judges are subject to a retention vote by the citizens. There is already enough political consideration and accountability to the people.
In fact, if it were up to me, I would try to remove all political consideration except for the retention vote, but you know what?
Not only is the current system not broken, it works really well and is the envy of most other states.
Iowa has been blessed with judges who ignore politics, are faithful to our constitution and the rule of law. Judicial rulings over our state’s history have been consistent and fair. I can’t imagine the unintended consequences of putting politics first and foremost into our judiciary.
I can tell you, however, that as a business person and lifelong Iowan, this is an extraordinarily scary and chilling proposition.
The governor and Legislature have proposed plenty of initiatives that will make Iowa a more attractive place to do business, but I assure them from experience this is likely to have the opposite effect.
• Pat Baird is the retired president/CEO of AEGON USA/Transamerica.