Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Branstad says he won’t tell Iowans how to vote in this fall’s judicial retention election.

The chairman of the Iowa Republican Party last week called on Iowans to vote “no” on Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, but it won’t be just Wiggins whose name is on the November ballot.

The three new justices Branstad just appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2011 will be on the judicial retention ballot as well.

“I have a lot of respect for Iowa voters and their ability to intelligently review and determine who should be retained and who shouldn’t,” Branstad says. “I would point out in the last election the district court judges were all retained. There were three supreme court judges that weren’t.”

The court’s chief justice and two other justices were tossed off the bench in the 2010 judicial retention election. Critics accused the court of “legislating from the bench” when it unanimously decided a case that paved the way for same-sex marriage in Iowa. That same criticism is being aimed at Justice Wiggins, who joined that unanimous ruling on same-sex marriage and whose name will be on the 2012 General Election ballot. Branstad says the chairman of the Iowa GOP has a right to express his opinion about Wiggins, but Branstad says as governor he’s staying out of it — and won’t be advocating for the justices he’s appointed to the court either.

“My position has always been, as it was in the 2010 election, that this retention of judges is a decision to be made by the voters and that I should not try to influence people’s decision,” Branstad says, “that they ought look at each individual justice, based on their record, and determine whether or not they as an individual voter think they should be retained.”

In April of last year Branstad predicted Wiggins would face a challenge in this year’s retention election because of the way Wiggins conducted himself as chairman of the group that selected nine nominees for the three openings on the court. Branstad said he heard complaints about Wiggins’ “lack of temperment” and other “grave concerns” about Wiggins’ role on the court.

Branstad was asked about this year’s retention election this morning near the end of his half-hour-long weekly news conference. Find the audio here.