DES MOINES — Hoping to head off a legal challenge, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday appointed state Public Defender Adam Gregg to be her acting lieutenant governor.
It's a hybrid position that makes him a “full partner” in her administration but leaves him out of the line of constitutional succession.
Gregg, 34, of Johnston, called Reynolds’ selection of him “the honor of a lifetime,” while the governor said it removes a distraction and allows her new team to focus on creating “a better Iowa.”
The new Republican governor said she would work with the Legislature next year to resolve the constitutional dispute raised by her taking over from Terry Branstad, who resigned Wednesday to become ambassador to China.
The legal cloud arose from a recent formal opinion published by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. He said research found that an individual ascending midterm from lieutenant governor to governor, as did Reynolds, does not have the constitutional authority to appoint a new lieutenant.
Reynolds told reporters Thursday she thinks the attorney general is wrong, “but battling over who is going to be second in line in succession is a distraction and it is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars at this point.”
Miller, a Democrat, came under fire for issuing a legal opinion that contradicted what he had informally said just months earlier.
Reynolds appointed Gregg to conduct the duties of the lieutenant but without officially holding the office.
“We are going to be focused on doing the job, we’re going to be focused on building a better Iowa, and I’m not going to have the taxpayers of Iowa in a potential lawsuit pay millions of dollars toward something that will be settled in 18 months” with the 2018 election, she said.
Miller called the action “a new concept” that deserves further study, but he said he was pleased Reynolds chose to make “the right decision” by not attempting to alter the line of succession. Should Reynolds at any point be unable to serve as governor, Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, would be next in line without an elected official serving as the lieutenant governor.
“I think the constitutional question has been addressed, and it’s been the right way,” Miller said Thursday. “We’ve had a bit of a controversy here going back and forth, and there’s a winner on this, and the winner is the Constitution. The Constitution has prevailed as it should.”
Reynolds’ aides called the decision “unprecedented” to have an acting lieutenant do the administrative and ceremonial duties of the office and draw the $103,212 yearly salary but be outside gubernatorial succession.
“Despite the high drama behind the attorney general’s reversal of opinion, this does not need to be a crisis or chaotic,” said Tim Albrecht, Reynolds’ deputy chief of staff.
Reynolds said Gregg will be a full partner who travels to every county and is involved in developing policy and guiding initiatives.
“Call it whatever you want,” Gregg said when asked about the “acting” part of his title. “It’s not going to change the way that I serve. I’m going to work as hard as I can for the people of Iowa. I’m excited to get to work. I haven’t even really processed this yet, quite frankly.”
Gregg, who ran an unsuccessful 2014 statewide GOP bid for Iowa attorney general, reintroduced himself to Iowans as “an ordinary Iowa guy” who grew up in small-town Hawarden, married his high-school sweetheart, Cari, and now has two kids, a mortgage and college debt after graduating from Central College with degrees in political science and history and from the Drake University Law School in 2009.
“I am honored and humbled by the trust that Gov. Reynolds has put in me,” Gregg said. “Over the last six years, she has revolutionized and rejuvenated the role of lieutenant governor. To follow her in that role, and to serve alongside her as she now leads this state, is the honor of a lifetime.”
Gregg previously served as Branstad’s legislative liaison beginning in 2012 and worked on initiatives to reform education, cut property taxes and revamp the state’s health care system. After the 2014 election, Branstad appointed Gregg as the state public defender, where Reynolds said he became “a trusted member” of the administration’s Cabinet.
“He proved to me that he could accomplish big things,” Reynolds said, “but he also proved that he could do it in a bipartisan way and that he could build a coalition.”
Reynolds interviewed several people for the position but chose Gregg because “I value his opinion, I trust his judgment, he is respected by leaders on both sides of the aisle, he knows how to get things done and has a record to prove it.”
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Derek Eadon said Reynolds, in her first major decision as governor, appointed someone who shares responsibility for “helping craft a disastrous state budget that jeopardizes the future of Iowa.”
“Gov. Reynolds had an opportunity to assure Iowans that she would make Iowa’s economy a priority,” he said in a statement. "Instead, she has sent a clear signal that her administration will continue the reckless economic policies that have led to massive budget shortfalls, forcing drastic cuts to education, health care, and other essential services in the state."
Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, countered that Reynolds stepped up in the face of Miller’s “ridiculous, partisan political stunt.”