In a surprise formal opinion issued today, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller concluded that Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds should not appoint a new lieutenant governor when she assumes the state’s highest office.
The opinion contradicts an informal opinion from Miller last year.
Republicans are sharply critical of the new advice.
In December, Miller’s office said it had researched Iowa law and consulted with the governor’s office.
“We concur with the governor’s conclusion that, upon resignation of Governor Branstad, Lt. Governor Reynolds will become governor and will have the authority to appoint a new lt. governor,” Miller’s office concluded.
The new advice is a formal opinion based on the Iowa Constitution. It was issued at the request of Sen. David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan).
“We’ve taken a much deeper look at the law, what's happened in other states, and what happened at the federal government and have come to this conclusion,” Miller said.
The formal opinion follows a months-long review by senior staff.
“What does the law say?” Miller said. “This is the best reading that we have of the law.
Governor Branstad, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, and other top Republicans were quick to criticize the opinion.
“This politically motivated decision defies common sense,” Governor Branstad said in a statement.
“With the law on our side we will move forward with his first conclusion,” Reynolds said, “as we examine our options in light of Tom Miller’s reversal.”
Republicans cite a 2009 Iowa law allowing a governor to appoint a lieutenant governor to fill a vacancy.
Miller said the state’s constitution would have to be changed to allow that.
“The framers intended that those in the gubernatorial line of succession be elected,” the opinion states.
Miller said if Reynolds proceeds with appointing a lieutenant governor once she becomes governor, that could be challenged in court.
The chairman of the Iowa Republican party called Miller’s opinion absurd.
"His 23-page clean-up document is a head-scratching display of pure political partisanship,” said Jeff Kaufmann.
If Reynolds follows the opinion and does not appoint a lieutenant governor, Senate President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) would be next in line to assume the governor’s office.