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Longest-Ever Serving State Attorney General Defeated in Iowa (2)

Nov. 9, 2022, 5:51 PMUpdated: Nov. 10, 2022, 3:21 PM

Iowa Democrat Tom Miller, the longest-ever serving state attorney general who took on everyone from Big Tobacco to Microsoft Corp. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google, was defeated by a Republican challenger who has pledged to sue the Biden administration.

Miller conceded a close race Tuesday to Brenna Bird, a candidate endorsed by Donald Trump who has served as the elected Guthrie County attorney since 2018. Bird previously was a counsel to former Gov. Terry Branstad (R).

Miller’s high-profile role in multistate litigation gave his office unusual influence. “He became a very significant national legal figure,” said James Tierney, a Harvard Law School lecturer and former Maine attorney general, who donated to Miller’s campaign. “Iowa punched way, way over its weight.”

Miller also became a target for criticism from Republican elected officials in Iowa. He brokered a deal in 2019 with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, promising to ask for the governor’s permission before joining any multistate suits. In exchange, Reynolds vetoed a bill brought by Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature that would have limited Miller’s powers.

“I’m very thankful to the voters who gave me the chance 10 times, 40 years to be attorney general, it’s just a wonderful office and I’m deeply indebted to Iowans,” Miller said in comments broadcast by television station KCCI.

Bird, a University of Chicago Law School graduate, challenged Miller in 2010 and lost by 11 percentage points. This time, she emphasized her role as a county prosecutor and support for law enforcement while promising to take the Biden administration to court.

The Republican Attorneys General Association said it spent $2.6 million to support Bird’s campaign and Trump endorsed her as a “tough-as-nails” prosecutor. The Democratic Attorneys General Association spent more than $1 million on the Miller effort, it said.

Bird will join a caucus of Republican state attorneys general who have aggressively filed suit to challenge Biden administration priorities ranging from Covid-19 vaccine mandates to environmental regulation.

Antitrust

Miller leads Iowa’s participation in two coalitions of state attorneys general suing Google over alleged antitrust violations. One case targets the search giant’s alleged exclusionary control over the Google Play Store on Android devices, the other alleges it illegally dominates the market for online search and advertising services.

Miller’s defeat likely doesn’t signal much of a change in Iowa’s participation in future multistate antitrust suits, said Gwendolyn Cooley, Wisconsin’s assistant attorney general for antitrust. The Wisconsin AG’s office worked closely with Miller’s team over the years, she said.

“I think that from an antitrust perspective, you should still expect to see coordination with other states on issues important to Iowa, as well as local investigations of antitrust being handled capably by their office,” Cooley said.

Miller established the nation’s first farm division in a state attorney general’s office and pushed back against corporate consolidation in the agriculture industry. His focus on farmers “will be very hard to replace,” said Aaron Heley Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union.

Multistate Model

Miller grew up in Dubuque and attended Harvard Law School before working as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer and legal aid attorney in Baltimore. He returned to Iowa and opened a law practice in McGregor, a northeastern Iowa town with a population of less than 1,000.

Miller served as city attorney before getting elected state attorney general in 1978. Miller unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1990 and then spent four years in private practice. He was re-elected as attorney general in 1994.

His decades of successful multistate investigations date to challenging a 1977 Oldsmobile advertisement for a “rocket” engine. General Motors Co. settled claims it misled customers with false advertising.

Miller later employed the model against Phillip Morris USA Inc., and OxyContin maker Perdue Pharmaceuticals as well as the for-profit education and mortgage industries in suits that resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in relief for consumers. More recently, Miller targeted the market power of big technology companies.

“Doing things together on a multistate basis has enormous power,” Miller said in a 2019 interview with Bloomberg Law. “We are the only ones in the country that have the same job and the same concerns and pressures,” he said.

—With assistance from Courtney Rozen and Dan Papscun

(Adds spending by Democratic Attorneys General Association)

To contact the reporter on this story: Seth Stern in Washington at sstern@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com