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Iowa Politics Roundup: Dueling Bus Tours Make Cases on Judicial Retention PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 29 October 2010 13:16

Iowa’s November 2 vote November on whether to retain three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous ruling legalizing same-sex marriages in Iowa has national implications, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown said in helping to kick off the statewide Judge Bus Tour urging a “no” vote on retention.

“The whole country is looking at you,” Brown said. “What kind of country are we? Are we a country in which seven judges can take the entire constitutional and common-law history of marriage and throw it aside and the people will not have a say, or are we a country where the people of Iowa are going to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We just say ’no’ to activist judges.”

Brown and other key conservatives gathered October 26 outside the Iowa Capitol next to a special bus with “no” written on the faces of Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit, and David Baker. The vote on judicial retention is about standing up for the Constitution and Iowa’s way of life, said U.S. Representative Steve King (R-Kiron), one of the authors of Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act.

“We need to remove these three justices – Ternus, Streit and Baker. We need to vote no, no, and no,” King said. “Because it’s your right to do so. That’s your right. And don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have that right. And don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have good enough judgment to make that decision. And don’t let ’em try to tell you that somehow this upsets the system in such a way that we would have a scrambled Department of Justice. They have scrambled it, and you have the right to fire them. In fact, Iowa is an at-will state and these are at-will judges.”

Joining Brown and King were Republican National Committee member Kim Lehman and Texas U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, a former judge. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was not at the Des Moines event but planned to join the bus tour at later stops.

At a counter-rally held just up the steps of the Capitol a half-hour earlier, former Lieutenant Governor Art Neu, co-chair of Fair Courts for Us, said it would be devastating to public safety should Iowans vote “no” on 74 judges.

“What started out as targeting three Supreme Court justices has escalated into the single most dangerous threat to public safety and the function of courts in Iowa history,” Neu said. “Organizations sponsoring the statewide Judge Bus Tour are calling for Iowans to remove all 74 judges who are up for retention on November 2. ... The removal of judges across Iowa would shut down entire communities out of the courthouse and shut down our legal systems and deny Iowans their right to a speedy trial.”

Gene Meyer, commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, echoed those comments. “Removing more than 74 district-court judges has the potential to seriously impact the ability of law enforcement in this state to keep Iowans safe,” he said. “If a large number of judges leaves the bench at once, the amount of time it would take to find suitable replacements has serious consequences for public safety.”

But King maintained that the effort to encourage a “no” vote on judicial retention is focused only on the three Iowa Supreme Court justices, not on the other 71 judges across the state. “We’re not saying remove all 74 of them; we’re saying these three,” King said.

Former Attorney General Bonnie Campbell called the attacks on Iowa’s judicial system unprecedented. “Iowa, ahead of many states, understood that popular elections for judges lead to popular but not necessarily fair or impartial rulings,” she said.

The anti-retention bus tour rally at the Capitol was slightly larger than the one held by pro-retention advocates. The opponents had more than 60 supporters there, while supporters of the justices had about 50.

Film-Office Audit Identifies More than $25 Million in Improper Tax Credits

A special investigation of the Iowa Film Office and its film-, television-, and video-production promotion program identified nearly $25.6 million of tax-credit certificates that were improperly issued for 22 projects between May 2007 and September 2009, the state auditor’s office said this week.

After the release of the audit, Attorney General Tom Miller filed a lawsuit in Polk County District Court against the five principal individuals and four entities involved in producing or pursuing 15 movie projects, alleging that the defendants conspired to defraud the state out of film tax credits and seeking a minimum of $5.5 million in damages.

“This has been an exhaustive process, and we’re working hard to make sure that not one penny is spent on tax credits unnecessarily,” Miller said. “We will use the courts to challenge and recover any unjustified or ill-gotten state money. We’re also holding those accountable in criminal court, and we expect to pursue more criminal charges and seek justice.”

The tax-credit program was suspended on September 18, 2009, and Governor Chet Culver has indicated the program will not be reinstated. State Auditor David Vaudt nonetheless recommended improvements for the legislature to consider in the event this program is reinstated or a similar program is established.

He recommended improving definitions of qualified and unqualified expenditures, defining an Iowa-based business and resident, establishing specific documentation requirements, and providing adequate funding for administration of the program.

The report also includes recommendations appropriate for all tax-credit programs administered by state agencies.