Staff Columnist

A backdoor power grab prevails in the Iowa Legislature

The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Statehouse Republicans are so agitated by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s conduct in office they failed to nominate anyone to run against him in 2018. That’ll show him.

Instead, the Republican-controlled Iowa House decided this week to slash Miller’s legal authority using an amendment tacked onto a budget bill. It would force Miller to get permission from the Legislature, governor or Executive Council before he can join any multistate legal action. It seems no other state attorney general wears similar handcuffs.

If you can’t beat him, try a backdoor power grab. That’ll show us what kind of Legislature we have.

Truth is, I’m hardly Miller’s biggest fan. I, too, think he’s spent too much time over the years chasing high-profile national litigation and too little time on small Iowa matters, such as rigorously enforcing open meetings and records laws.

But that’s an argument for opposing Miller’s re-election, not to justify the latest House action. On Tuesday night, House Republicans rejected an effort to halt the attack on Miller on a 51-48 vote. Two Republicans did join Democrats in seeking to do the right thing. The House sent the bill to the Senate.

(Update: Republicans who control the Senate accepted the House’s language this afternoon, sending it on to Gov. Kim Reynolds. She declined to this week to offer an opinion on the limiting Miller’s authority.)

Miller has been elected 11 times, including 2018 when he received more than 880,000 votes. But that’s not good enough for Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, who chairs a budget panel that funds Miller’s office and is spearheading the drive to curtail his powers.

The reason? Trump, of course.

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Miller has been pursuing multistate cases for years. But it’s the half-dozen lawsuits Miller has joined challenging Trump administration policies that has Worthan worked up, including suits related to family separations at the Mexican border, altering the U.S. Census to discourage immigrant participation and the push to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. The attorney general has filed documents in support of several more cases involving the administration, all at scant cost to taxpayers.

Miller is after all, a Democrat. He has been for years, and voters have been briefed. But Worthan insists in a state with a Republican Legislature and governor, Miller’s agenda flies in the face of Iowa’s GOP agenda. And that agenda includes, apparently, yanking kids away from their parents, denying health coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and deporting young DACA immigrants.

Maybe Worthan wishes Miller were more like U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who clearly is more willing to fully embrace all things Trump.

But this is the sort of score-settling and petty politics we’ve seen too often from the Legislature under GOP control.

The attorney general pursues cases you don’t like, take away his authority. Ditto with local government leaders who aren’t following the Republican playbook. Don’t like the way the courts rule? Change the way judges are picked to give the GOP more power over the process. Public-sector unions throw support to Democrats? Take away most of their collective bargaining rights. The list goes on.

See things the Republican way, or else. On a totally unrelated note, Rep. Andy McKean of Anamosa, the GOP’s majority’s longest-serving lawmaker, announced Tuesday he’s leaving the Republican Party.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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