Staff Columnist

Legislative overreach deserves a veto from Gov. Reynolds

Iowa attorney general Tom Miller speaks during the Hubbell-Hart Election Night Party at Embassy Suites by Hilton Des Moines Downtown in Des Moines on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa attorney general Tom Miller speaks during the Hubbell-Hart Election Night Party at Embassy Suites by Hilton Des Moines Downtown in Des Moines on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Last fall, Iowans re-elected Attorney General Tom Miller for the 10th time by a wide margin. The Democrat, who is the nation’s longest-serving attorney general, faced a Libertarian Party opponent. Republicans did not nominate a challenger.

But the clear will of Iowa’s voters, and their own party’s failure to challenge Miller’s record in an election campaign, mattered little last week to Republicans who control the Legislature. They voted to curtail Miller’s authority to join legal actions filed outside of Iowa. To take part in those lawsuits, Miller would need permission from the Legislature, Republican governor or the GOP-controlled Executive Council.

Republicans didn’t take this remarkably misguided action through legislation subject to the scrutiny of a full committee process. They simply added an amendment to a budget bill funding Miller’s office and the state’s court system. After all, Miller’s office is part of the judicial branch of government.

It’s a reckless overreach, swiftly hatched in the final hours of the legislative session. We urge Gov. Kim Reynolds to use her line-item veto authority to strike the provision from the budget.

Miller has joined numerous national lawsuits during his long tenure, but Republicans moved to limit his authority only after he supported a series of multistate legal actions against Trump administration policies. The lawsuits involved family separations at the Mexican border, changes to the U.S. Census, efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and other issues.

Rather than accept the fact Iowans elected a Democratic attorney general who, naturally, wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with a GOP administration, Republicans sought political retribution through legislative action. If signed into law, a duly elected official within the judicial branch will be forced ask permission of the legislative and executive branches to do his job. An attorney general who sees Trump administration policies as harmful to Iowans will need to ask Trump backers for permission to intervene. It’s a power grab that flies in the face of separation of powers.

It also means Miller will be hampered in pursuing any national litigation that might benefit Iowa, or lead to settlements for victims of scams and other illegal behavior. Miller has successfully participated in many such lawsuits over the years. Now he’ll have to get a permission slip from Republicans.

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We urge the governor to rise above the petty politics of this action and carefully consider both the constitutional principles at stake and the damaging precedent being set. Together, they make a compelling case for gubernatorial veto.

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