Gracious Joy Corning was one of the last GOP moderates. Kim Reynolds needs to brush up on history (and grammar).

Civic Skinny


Joy Corning wasn’t the last of the moderate Republicans politicians in the state, but she was one of the last. She was a throwback to the moderate state party that produced National Chairwoman Mary Louise Smith, that was in effect led by Bob Ray for more than a decade, and that had such terrific legislators as Art Neu and Phil Hill and John Murray and Brice Oakley and Andy Varley among others.

She was thoughtful, but not doctrinaire; kind, and never rude. She saw both sides — or maybe 12 sides — of every issue, and she always came down on the side that she thought was best for the people of Iowa. She was long an advocate for women and women’s rights, and she was loyal and generous to her alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, the town she lived in for much of her life and the town she represented in the Iowa Senate for six years before serving as Iowa’s 43rd lieutenant governor for eight.

She was a mainstream Republican — when the main stream was the middle branch. But the party left her years ago, stranding her along with Steve and Dawn Roberts and David Oman and Mike Mahaffey and a few others. She was a supporter and defender of Planned Parenthood, especially, and of early childhood education — an organization and an issue that her party has abandoned.

She was as graceful in approaching death as she was in living life. Her obituary — which she wrote — was modest, in length and in fact. She praised her three daughters and said that marrying Burt Corning “was the smartest thing I did in my life.”

Joy Corning was 84 when she died the other day.

[CORNING, a onetime teacher, might have shuddered at the last line of the nice statement issued by the current lieutenant governor, Kim Reynolds: “The entire Corning family is in Kevin and I’s thoughts and prayers.”]

REYNOLDS HAS a lot (other than grammar) to learn as she takes over the duties of the governorship — anyone would — but one thing she needs to learn is that Attorney General Tom Miller is not her lawyer.

Miller threw a monkey wrench into the plans of Reynolds and the Republican Party when he gave an official opinion that when Terry Branstad departed for China the duties of the governorship flowed down to her as lieutenant governor — and while she acquired all the powers of a governor “she does not ascend or rise to the office of Governor” and therefore cannot appoint a new lieutenant governor since she still holds that position.

That 23-page ruling by Democrat Miller mightily irked Republican Reynolds and many others of her party. Complaining about the ruling to The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich, she said, “I don’t know what our relationship is going to be like, a little bit strained, going forward.” She added, “I mean, I had my legal counsel tell me one thing and then five minutes later he reversed from what he told me in December. So that causes some problems.”

THE PROBLEM WITH that: Miller is not the lieutenant governor’s legal counsel. He is the chief legal officer of the state, and his duty is to prosecute or defend all matters in which the state is a party or is interested in. He must also “give an opinion in writing, when requested, upon all questions of law” raised by a legislator or state official. And that is what he did when State Sen. David Johnson, the legislature’s lone independent, asked whether Reynolds would become governor with the power to appoint her successor after Branstad stepped down.

The attorney general is no more the lawyer for Kim Reynolds than he is for David Johnson or Mike Fitzgerald or Bill Northey or any other state officer. He is elected by the people.

At the moment, Larry Johnson Jr. is the counsel to the governor and lieutenant governor. He is appointed by the governor.

THE STATE HAS agreed to hire a Washington law firm to represent the University of Iowa Hospital as it challenges a Medicare rule relating to payments for the education of medical students. Billing rates will range from $820 per hour for lead counsel Mark Polston to $440 per hour for junior associates. The fees and costs will be paid by the state-owned hospital.

The state, which earlier hired the Belin McCormick law firm in the lawsuit AFSCME has filed challenging the legislation that in effect strips it of most of its power, now has retained the same firm to represent it in a similar suit filed by the Iowa State Education Association. Work on that suit, by Belin lawyer Mike Reck, will be billed at $345 an hour. It’s a good bet fees in the two suits will total hundreds of thousands of dollars before the issues are decided.

KENT SORENSON, the imprisoned Iowa legislator who illegally sold his allegiance in the 2012 presidential caucuses, has been assigned to the U.S. penitentiary in Thomson, Ill., which is just across the Mississippi River and north of Clinton. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison by Senior Federal Judge Robert Pratt and has appealed to the Eighth Circuit.  His release date is April 13, 2018.

CITYVIEW JOINS those noting with sadness the death of former House Speaker Don Avenson and with tears the death of six-year-old Ella Vilsack.

— Michael Gartner