Tom Miller should retire

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has been a good advocate for the people of Iowa, but in recent years has lost sight of what that advocacy means. Miller has served for 28 years as attorney general and will face re-election in 2014. It pains us to say that he should not seek re-election, and instead identify an heir who could take up where Miller left off as a younger man. Too much hubris has grown up around him.

Just this week Miller’s minions asked a judge to ignore the Attorney General’s own “Sunshine Advisory” that settlements involving public agencies are always open to the public. The motion before the court seeks to keep secret settlement documents from 2011 that arose from a lawsuit filed by a former surgeon at the University of Iowa. Previously a judge ordered that the settlement be made public. But Miller’s office continues to support efforts by the U of I and the former surgeon from making the deal known to the people who are paying for it — the taxpayers.

This latest move comes on the heels of the Attorney General’s Office obstructing the work of the Iowa Ombudsman in investigating complaints by whistleblowers in state and local government. Miller has become one of the chief advocates for secrecy in government. So much for consumer or taxpayer protection.

And then there was the AG’s office looking the other way a few years ago while traffic tickets got fixed by prosecutors around the state — including neighboring Clay County — who happen to be in the good ol’ boys club.

We have supported Tom Miller as he ran for attorney general and for governor. His office did yeoman’s work during the Farm Crisis. It used to go to bat for taxpayers who sought to find out how government operates. Its Consumer Protection Division at one time was the face of good government for the little guy in Iowa. Those are all vestiges of the past.

There are any number of outstanding attorneys who deserve a shot at attorney general. Miller should make a graceful exit before someone shoves him out.

Veiled veto threat

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack strongly hinted Tuesday that the Obama Administration will not countenance yet another extension of the current farm bill that expires on Sept. 30. Vilsack told the publication Politico in an interview that he has “very, very strong objections” to extending the law for a second time as the Congress has punted passing the five-year legislation so important to Iowa and Rural America.

“If there is an extension, they (the Obama Administration) are going to veto it,” said Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., told Politico, based on his own conversations with Vilsack. Peterson is the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee. “They believe that’s the only way they can force us to do a bill.”

The Senate passed on a bipartisan basis a farm bill that contained nutrition assistance (food stamps). The House refused to include nutrition in the farm bill. The two bills must go to a conference committee comprised of Senate and House negotiators. The resulting compromise then would go back to each chamber for general assent. That’s a problem. “I don’t see a bill that can pass both of them at this point,” Peterson said.

“We see an extension as a reward for continued failure,” Vilsack said.

The secretary said failure to pass a farm bill by Sept. 30 could imperil disaster payments for livestock producers and cotton producers in the near term. Ultimately it could expose funds to the crazy budget sequester and create real problems for crop insurance.

The House in particular is playing a dangerous brand of politics on the backs of farmers and needy people. The Senate already proposes cutting nutrition subsidies but the House wants to obliterate them. These games of brinksmanship must end and a farm bill must be approved. It behooves the Republican members of the Iowa Congressional Delegation to urge the House majority to get to work on a real farm bill that can attract urban support. That means a reasonable approach to nutrition and a farm safety net built around crop insurance.