The only independent in the state legislature is asking Iowa’s attorney general to issue a written opinion on the proper transfer of power when Republican Governor Terry Branstad resigns to become ambassador to China.
“Although a number of legal experts believe it’s a settled issue, there are others that don’t,” Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedon said early this afternoon.
Johnson is a former Republican who switched his voter registration to “no party” this summer when Donald Trump became the GOP’s presidential nominee.
In December, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds said the constitution is clear and that she will become governor when Branstad resigns. Johnson today said there is “ambiguity” in the way the constitution is written and some analysts argue Reynolds may perform the duties of governor, but will not get the title of governor.
“Being an independent, I believe I don’t have any partisan dog in this game,” Johnson said. “…I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat. I can’t be accused of having any partisan leanings on this.”
Johnson has sent a formal request today, asking Attorney General Tom Miller to issue an opinion on the matter by February 15.
“We need to have this issue more clearly defined before the governor goes to China,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s asking the attorney general to weigh in on whether Reynolds has the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor and who would have the authority to swear her in as governor once Branstad leaves. Johnson suggests senators could be forced to vote on transfer of power issues based on what the attorney general may determine.
A spokesman for Attorney General Tom Miller said weeks ago that Miller agrees with the Branstad Administration, that Reynolds will become governor when Branstad leaves and that she’ll have the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor.
A spokesman for the Branstad/Reynolds Administration said the state’s constitution is “clear” and he dismissed Johnson as an attention-seeker.
“Two months ago, the Iowa Attorney General and the Iowa Secretary of State gave Iowans a definitive answer that Kim Reynolds will become Governor of Iowa and she will have the power to appoint a new Lt. Governor,” Ben Hammes said in a written statement. “…Suggesting anything else, even over six-pages, is simply political grandstanding.”
(This story was updated at 2:14 p.m. with additional information.)