Republicans cut Iowa AG Tom Miller’s budget because he opposes Trump policies

(Left to right) Pres. Donald Trump, Rep. Gary Worthan and Iowa AG Tom Miller. — illustration by Jordan Sellergren

An indignant Rep. Gary Worthan took the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives on Thursday night to deny Republicans are cutting the attorney general’s budget for partisan reasons, just before explaining that Republicans are cutting the attorney general’s budget for partisan reasons.

But the Storm Lake Republican who chairs the Justice Systems Appropriate Subcommittee, insisted the $600,000 cut the legislature is making to the attorney general office’s budget is entirely Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s fault, because Miller has joined with other state attorneys general to oppose certain Trump administration policies.

Miller’s first challenge to the Trump administration came in Feburary 2017, when he joined other state attorneys general in a friend of the court brief for a legal challenge to Trump’s so-called Muslim travel ban. Not all of the 38 official actions Miller has taken in opposition to the Trump administration have focused on immigration issues. In February of this year, Miller joined with 16 other state attorney generals in sending a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor, objecting to plans to overturn an Obama-era regulation that protects the tips of restaurant and bar workers.

“I find it extremely interesting that in 2017 alone, the attorney general has joined in 35 lawsuits against the current administration,” Worthan said. “In the four years prior, he participated in no lawsuits against the [Obama] administration.”

It should be noted that the Obama administration never attempted to ban travelers to the U.S. on the basis of religion, and actually tried to prevent restaurant and bar owners from taking tips away from workers.

Worthan said the Republican-led House had cut to Miller’s budget last year to send a message to him to stop opposing Trump. “But it… fell on deaf ears,” Worthan said. “The time for nuance and subtlety is over.”

There was nothing subtle or nuanced about Worthan’s floor speech; there was also nothing spontaneous about it. He read the speech, slowly and laboriously, from written notes.

Worthan claimed to be particularly concerned about Miller’s latest action opposing the Trump administration. In April, Miller announced he was joining a lawsuit brought by 18 states attorneys general, six cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors opposing the addition of questions on citizenship status to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Experts have said that adding the question, which has not been used on census from since 1950, would likely lead to an undercount in states with large immigrant populations, regardless of the immigration or citizenship status of members of those immigrant communities. In 2017, the U.S. Commerce Department came to the same conclusion, noting a “recent increase in [immigrant] respondents [in departmental studies] spontaneously expressing concerns about confidentiality,” and whether information provided to the census could be used against them or their families by other federal agencies. The Commerce Department professionals in charge of the census recommended against including the citizenship question, but were overruled by Trump’s secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross.

“If the citizenship question is not allowed, noncitizens will be accounted [sic], unduly influencing the calculations of apportioning the membership in the U.S. House of Representatives to each individual state,” Worthan warned during his speech. “It’s conceivable that Iowa could lose a U.S. congressman to a state like California or Arizona or Texas.”

Actually, Art. I Sec. 2 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the census should count “the whole Number of free Persons” in each state, not citizens. As Miller’s office noted in a press release when he joined the lawsuit, “Non-citizens are required to be counted in the Census for the purposes of federal funds, apportioning of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, and the drawing of state and local districts.”

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Worthan did not elaborate on why he chose three states with fast growing Latino populations to stoke fears that Iowa might lose representation if the census doesn’t include a citizenship question.

As Worthan started the last section of his speech, it came to an abrupt halt. Just as Worthan was saying, “The message today is unambiguous: the blatant partisanship of the attorney general….” Rep. Brian Meyer, a Democrat from Dubuque, objected, raising a point of order.

“He’s not talking about budgets,” Meyer said. “He’s attacking the attorney general and that’s inappropriate.”

After a brief consultation with presiding office, Rep. Matt Windschit, a Marshalltown Republican best known for proposing legislation to allow concealed carry of firearms at the Iowa State Fair, Worthan picked up where he left off. He did, however, read remainder of his speech at a noticeably faster rate than before Meyer’s objection.

The Iowa House voted to offset most of the $600,000 cut by transferring $500,000 from the Consumer Education and Litigation Fund to the attorney general office’s general operating budget. The 2007 law creating fund specifically states “moneys credited to the fund shall not revert to any other fund.” This will be the second year in a row the legislature has raided the fund to partially cover cuts to the attorney general’s budget.

Attorney General Tom Miller is a Democrat, and was first elected to his office in 1978. He is running unopposed for reelection this year.

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