Proposals being considered in the Iowa House and Senate would clarify who gets to be governor and lieutenant governor if there’s a vacancy. Senator Roby Smith of Bettendorf said the plan is good insurance for the state.
“When you buy insurance, you hope you never have to use it,” Smith said during a senate subcommittee meeting. “This is something that’s insurance that we’re putting in the state constitution. I hope we never have to use it, but it’s there…if we need it or the next generation needs it.”
Questions arose when Terry Branstad resigned nearly 20 months ago and Kim Reynolds took over as governor. Iowa’s attorney general ruled Reynolds did not have authority to name a new lieutenant governor. Pete McRoberts worked for Governor Chet Culver a decade ago and he’s been working with legislators since last year to craft a constitutional response.
“This is obviously not something that is limited to any one governor, but the good news is when questions like this gets in the news, constitutional defects and constitutional opportunities become very obvious,” McRoberts said.
A year ago legislators overwhelmingly endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment on the topic, but the secretary of state failed to publish the plan in newspapers last fall, which is required by law. Senator Smith is working to change that.
“In general, if a secretary of state does not want a constitutional amendment to go on to the voters, he or she could just pocket it and not publish it in the newspaper,” Smith said. “I don’t think that’s what we wanted when we set this up years ago.”
Smith envisions having a non-partisan legislative agency submit proposed constitutional amendments to newspapers for publication and have the proposals posted online. 2022 is the earliest this constitutional amendment about gubernatorial succession could be voted upon by Iowans. The secretary of state failed to publish a proposed constitutional amendment on gun rights as well and lawmakers have restarted the process for that, too.