Staff Editorial

Reynolds blocks Legislature's attempted power grab

Gov. Kim Reynolds is interviewed at the Educational Leadership and Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 6, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Gov. Kim Reynolds is interviewed at the Educational Leadership and Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 6, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Gov. Kim Reynolds put her veto pen to good use this week.

On Wednesday, Reynolds signed a $584 million funding bill for the state justice system, but employed a line-item veto to strike language that would have restricted the attorney general’s ability to join out-of-state lawsuits.

Those provisions were approved late in the legislative session by Republican lawmakers who are frustrated at Attorney General Tom Miller’s habit of joining multistate efforts against the federal government. It would have required the state’s top law enforcement authority to seek permission from the governor, executive council or Legislature before signing on to out-of-state legal challenges.

This was a poorly conceived policy idea. The attorney general is a duly elected statewide official, just like the governor, and it’s inappropriate for the legislative branch to impede the work of a judicial branch officer.

The political motivation was obvious. As Miller bluntly characterized it, “This means that generally I will not be suing the Trump administration.”

It’s worth noting that Miller earned 77 percent support in last November’s election, after the Republicans failed to nominate a candidate, and the Libertarian Party candidate, who is not an attorney, garnered just 23 percent of the vote.

In a statement attached to the bill, Reynolds wrote, “I am mindful that the Attorney General is also elected by, and directly accountable to, the people of Iowa.”

Credit to Reynolds for that.

Unfortunately, the governor did not offer a wholesale rejection of the frivolous language the Legislature sent her. Instead, she met privately with Miller to work out a compromise that seems to pursue the same goal as the provisions she vetoed.

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According to Reynolds’ statement, Miller has agreed not to sign on to court proceedings outside Iowa without the governor’s consent.

Under the agreement, Miller retains the right to join cases and author letters in his own name as Iowa attorney general, but not on behalf of the state.

While this apparently is a voluntary arrangement, it still infringes on the attorney general’s rights and responsibilities as an elected official. A clean veto, without behind-the-scenes maneuvering, would have been more laudable.

Despite those criticism, it’s encouraging to see Reynolds stand up to her Republican colleagues in the Legislature.

Throughout the legislative season, onlookers wondered when Reynolds might flex her executive muscle and push back against a General Assembly that did not take up several of her priorities. Her veto is a welcome sight.

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