DES MOINES — Critics of a proposal in the Iowa Legislature to broaden the Iowa Attorney General’s authority say it could inject politics into the historically nonpartisan office.
Right now, county attorneys in Iowa can ask the state Attorney General for help investigating cases if they need it, and cooperation was long-standing under former Attorney General Tom Miller.
Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, said a new GOP-backed proposal would allow the new Attorney General, Republican Brenna Bird, to reach into local jurisdictions to investigate criminal and election-related cases regardless of whether county attorneys want assistance.
“What it has the potential to do here is disrupt that spirit of cooperation, and start setting out turf wars and an adversarial relationship between the state and the county, in terms of prosecuting crimes,” Boulton pointed out. “That’s what we really don’t want to see.”
Boulton argued it could be part of Republican efforts to reorganize state government. In her Condition of the State address, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowa government is operating inefficiently. She has proposed consolidating the number of state agencies from 37 to 16, merging state and local corrections departments, social services and more.
Typically, smaller counties call in the state Attorney General when they don’t have the resources to investigate. Critics said giving the state the power to step in at any time appears to be politically motivated, especially in election-related cases. Boulton thinks it would set a dangerous precedent for an office which has put bipartisanship first.
“What starts to become a problem is, if we have more and more politically motivated election prosecutions,” Boulton contended. “And in a state like Iowa, where we’ve handled this issue very well — we’ve seen misconduct, and it has been prosecuted — we don’t need to be realigning that process and potentially getting abuses in the system.”
An Iowa voter was convicted of a felony after attempting to cast two ballots for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and was fined $750.