Letters to the Editor

BY DI READERS | MAY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Understanding separation of power

Janet Lyness has served Johnson County extremely well as our county attorney. She knows that the very backbone of government is the concept of the “separation of powers,” established by our Iowa Constitution. What does that mean for County Attorney Lyness?

First, she understands that the Legislature is one branch of government and that she’s not part of it. She knows the legislative branch is deemed closer and more responsive to the public. The public thus entrusts the Legislature (not prosecutors) to make policy decisions and to use those decisions to make laws. Then, if the public doesn’t like those decisions, it merely elects new legislators. The new legislators, in turn, make policy decisions in line with the public’s wishes and draft laws more to the public’s liking. Janet also knows the Constitution designed the Legislature to make sound policy by making it out of deliberative bodies of many persons, who have the time and money to study, take public comment, investigate, hold hearings, and debate. These are all things the drafters of the Constitution felt important to the making of sound policy and good laws.

Second, she knows that her office in Iowa (like U. S. attorneys in the federal government and “DAs” in other government structures), are a part of our executive branch. County attorneys are not deemed as responsive to the people as are legislators. In fact, in many jurisdictions (including our U. S. government), prosecutors are not elected. Instead, they are appointed by the president. County attorneys are not empowered or prepared to make sound, informed policy decisions. County attorneys can’t debate with peers, study matters, investigate, hold hearings, or take public comment. County attorneys are instead legal specialists. They should work to ensure only that all the laws — mostly criminal laws — are enforced fairly.

Janet Lyness understands and works within the framework of the Iowa Constitution’s separation of powers. She does not expropriate power to make policy decisions that Constitution entrusts to only the Legislature.

Johnson County residents should not be fooled by a candidate who ignores the separation of powers. It is heady stuff to decide important policy questions on your own, instead of among 100 or 50 peers and after extensive study and public comment. But it makes for ignoring the views of whole portions of the public. I ask you: If a candidate expropriates the power to make policy regarding marijuana, what policy decision will he usurp next? The one concerning hashish? The one concerning the legal drinking age? The one outlawing prostitution? Just where will it end?

Paul McAndrew Jr.

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