Memo to the Iowa Legislature: In the next general assembly, please follow the example of compromise that Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller demonstrated last week. The two reached an agreement that required considerable sacrifice by each one to benefit the people of Iowa. This compromise serves the common good, which should be the focus of every general assembly.
The common good is described as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily’ (Gaudium et Spes, no. 26).”
The details leading up to compromise: The Iowa Legislature passed a bill at the session’s end this year, HF 615, that included a provision limiting the Iowa Attorney General’s ability to bring litigation outside the state courts of Iowa. Miller filed what he called a “selective number of lawsuits against the Trump administration in the last two-plus years.” He believed the cases were well-grounded in the law, according to his May 22 letter describing the compromise. Among the cases were two involving immigration — Dreamers, and the separation of children from parents. He said the majority of Iowans supported the actions, according to available polling data and as evidenced by his re-election.
Gov. Reynolds vetoed HF 615, choosing democracy over party affiliation. In her statement released May 22, she wrote: “I share many of the concerns expressed by members of the Legislature about the past actions of Attorney General Tom Miller in courts outside of Iowa. He has participated in litigation throughout the nation, repeatedly taking positions in the name of the State of Iowa that are in conflict with Iowa’s statutes, the policy goals of the Legislature and Governor, and the best interests of Iowans. But I am cautious about approving a provision that redefines the scope of the Attorney General’s duties because I am mindful that the Attorney General is also elected by, and directly accountable to, the people of Iowa.”
The governor and attorney general chose the common good, coming together for what Reynolds described as “a thoughtful discussion about the appropriate balance of authority between the Governor and the Attorney General with respect to Iowa’s involvement in litigation.”
The compromise: Miller agreed that he will get the governor’s consent to bring out-of-state cases when the State of Iowa is the plaintiff, but not when the Attorney General of Iowa is the plaintiff. “This means that generally I will not be suing the Trump administration.”
Miller also agreed to comply with requests by the governor to prosecute an action or proceeding or file an amicus brief in any court — or facilitate outside counsel to do so. Participation in such actions will be conducted in the name of the State of Iowa, Reynolds said.
She views the agreement as ensuring that the state speaks “with one consistent voice when it participates in court proceedings outside of our state. And it respects the Attorney General’s independent authority and accountability to the people of Iowa.”
In today’s political climate, aided and abetted by one-sided media sources, we’d rather be right for our sake, at the expense of the common good.
Miller said his priority has always been the office of the Attorney General and its powers and duties — not his own interests. “By vetoing the legislation, Governor Reynolds is protecting this interest and concern.”
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (the bishops’ public policy arm) commended the healthy dialogue that the governor and attorney general engaged in. “It’s an example of what we don’t always see now. People are trumpeting their positions in the media but have no desire to talk to one another.”
The Iowa Legislature’s next session begins in January. We have plenty of time to contact and encourage our state legislators to engage in thoughtful discussion and have the courage to compromise, for the common good.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor