Columns

Civic Skinny

January 20th, 2011 |



Wow! Boswell, Vilsack, impeachment, King and mendacity

 

Supporters of the Iowa Supreme Court — caught more or less flat-footed by the successful campaign to oust three judges in November — are taking very seriously the talk in the Iowa House about impeaching the four remaining justices. “I think it has a 50 percent chance of actually succeeding in the House,” says a seasoned pol who hates the idea.

And if it does....

First, the justices would have to step down until the impeachment trial was held in the Iowa Senate, and that could not happen until the end of a session. (“Impeachment” by the House is an accusation of “a misdemeanor or malfeasance.” The “malfeasance” apparently would be the unanimous decision to give gays equal rights by allowing civil marriage for them. The trial is then held in the Senate, and the House chooses seven members as prosecutors. The 50 members of the Senate are the jury.) That means Iowa could be without any Supreme Court justices — assuming the process to replace the three who were ousted would still be under way, which is probably an accurate assumption.

Second, that would bring the selection process for the three justices to a halt, because the chair of the nomination committee is by law the senior justice on the court who is not the chief. That’s Dave Wiggins, who is, of course, one of the remaining four who the Republican right wing would impeach.

Third, the governor would name temporary replacements for the four who would be impeached, according to the Iowa code. But how he would do that is unclear. The state constitution says “vacancies... shall be filled by appointment by the Governor from lists of nominees submitted by the appropriate judicial nominating commission.” And the nominating commission, as we noted, must be chaired by the senior justice who is not the chief. But must “temporary” justices be appointed the same way? The impeachment law does not say, but the Iowa Constitution makes no exception for “temporary” justices, so a statute giving the governor direct appointment power may be unconstitutional. You could end up with a situation where there were no justices. And If there were no justices, how could the nominating committee ever be chaired? Without a justice chairing the commission, it by definition would not meet constitutional standards.

Stay tuned. ...

“Now is not the time to cut and run,” Leonard Boswell told a room full of supporters and hangers-on at what Sen. Tom Harkin referred to as Boswell’s kick-off event for the 2012 election campaign. The fund-raiser Friday evening at the Cub Club came just a couple of days after Congress was sworn in for this session, and it served notice — in case notice had to be served — that the eight-term Congressman doesn’t plan to step aside for anyone, even though he turned 77 years old on Monday.

Anyone like, say, Christie Vilsack.

Vilsack and her supporters continue to explore a run for one of the four seats Iowa will be left with after the redistricting takes away a seat this spring. A top Democrat said that Teresa Vilmain — a consultant long used and trusted by Agriculture Secretary and former Gov. Tom Vilsack — called a meeting last week with Christie Vilsack and about 20 supporters. “Apparently she said that the White House told her husband that a possible run by her was OK with them,” this person reports.

If Vilsack runs, she has some options because of the redistricting. Her residence is in Des Moines, and if she kept that residence she’d almost certainly have to take on Boswell in a primary, with the winner probably facing Republican incumbent Tom Latham. But Congressmen have moved around as districts have shifted — Jim Leach and Boswell come quickly to mind— and Vilsack could declare residence in her home town of Mount Pleasant, which means she’d have to take on Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack. (Skinny hears he’ll probably move down the road from Mount Vernon to Iowa City, figuring that Linn County and Johnson County won’t be in the same district after the map is redrawn.) Or, if Steve King’s heavily Republican district is redrawn in a way that approaches Des Moines or its suburbs, she could take him on — where she’d probably have a clear shot with no primary opposition.

Stay tuned. ...

Latham, 62, who is in his ninth term and who now lives in Ames, is in an ever-better position to take on whomever he ends up facing. He’s probably the closest Congressional friend of new Speaker John Boehner, and Boehner can direct money to his pal. Also, there will be a dozen or so Republican presidential candidates roaming the state in the coming year, and they, too, will have money to distribute. And if the Democrats have a primary in the district, they’ll spend $2 million or so battling one another — $2 million the winner won’t have available to spend against Latham.

Stay tuned. ...

It’s been a tough time for King lately. His own party last week pushed him aside and named a California Congressman head of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. King, who wants to fence out immigrants, was the ranking Republican on the subcommittee and expected the chairmanship. Then in a speech on the House floor Friday he called his own leaders liars — inadvertently, obviously, because he doesn’t know the meaning of mendacity. The transcript:

“Mr. KING of Iowa. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I can tell you that I am pleased to address you, Mr. Speaker, here on the floor of the United States House of Representatives and welcome you to this great deliberative body which becomes instantly far more deliberative than it has been over the last four years. This is part of it. ...

“I would make the point that the leader and the Speaker have established their integrity and their mendacity for years in this Congress, and I don’t believe it can be effectively challenged, and those who do so actually cast aspersions on themselves for making wild accusations.”...

One guy suggested that perhaps Iowa should build a fence around King. …

It wasn’t a good week for the English language. Carolyn Washburn, who is leaving The Des Moines Register for The Cincinnati Enquirer, implied her family has actually lived at the Enquirer for generations. “This week I will start work as the editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer, the place where I grew up, where my family has lived for five generations, where my parents, brothers, sister, nieces, nephew, aunts, uncle, cousins all live.”

What with all the layoffs and furloughs, though, the building probably has plenty of room for all those relatives. The Register and other Gannett papers announced the other day that there will be another one-week furlough for everyone in the first quarter — in effect, a 2 percent annual pay cut — and who knows if the end of the cutbacks is in sight.

A former Register worker, noting the every-five-years turnover of Register editors under Gannett, wondered how many Pulitzer Prizes the paper won under Cowles ownership and then under Gannett guidance. The Pulitzer Prizes were founded in 1917; the Register won its first in 1924 and added 12 more before the paper was sold. Under Gannett management, it has picked up three more. So, 13 in 68 years of eligibility, three in 24 years. ...

Brent Mills, who worked in the state Treasurer’s office, then ran the Iowa Finance Authority and then the Department of Economic Development — a guy who obviously knows his way around — is going to work for developer James Conlin, Skinny hears. CV