DES MOINES — Democrat Tom Miller, already the longest-serving state attorney general in U.S. history, is hoping to add another four years to his record run in 2022.
Miller, 77, a Dubuque native who is serving in his 10th term as Iowa’s attorney general, plans to announce his intention to seek re-election for another four-year stint as leader of Iowa's Department of Justice during an appearance at today’s Polk County steak fry fundraiser.
“I’m really grateful to the voters for giving me this many chances and I’m asking them for another one,” Miller said in an interview. “I continue to be challenged and energized and fulfilled by the office, and we’ve got a lot of unfinished business I think.”
At the top of that ongoing “to do” list are bipartisan, multistate antitrust actions against big-tech giants like Facebook and Google and ongoing efforts to direct proceeds from multibillion-dollar recoveries linked to Iowa’s role in holding pharmaceutical, tobacco and other conglomerates accountable for actions that were harmful to Iowa consumers.
“In some ways, I think we’re doing some of the best work that we’ve ever done in the AG’s office. We have some of the best people we’ve ever had in the office,” Miller noted. “This office is never boring. There are going to be a lot of significant issues that I’m not even aware right now that will pop up in the next four years that will be challenging and we’ll do our best on.”
Serving Iowans' interests has brought the Democrat up against some heavy-hitting foes in his legal battles — the tobacco industry, Microsoft, bank mortgage lenders and "Big Pharma" prescription drug companies. And earlier this year, Miller issued a report citing "overwhelming" incidents of abuse and "extensive" cover-up that spanned decades in detailing 50 complaints his office received about allegations of sexual impropriety by Catholic clergy, non-clergy or spiritual leaders — including 17 victims who had not previously come forward to report abuse to authorities.
Also, prosecutors in his office as of last year had worked with Iowa's 99 county attorneys to put more than 300 offenders behind bars for life prison terms during his two stints in office that ran from 1979 to 1991 and then from January 1995 to the present.
Miller said elevating consumer protection has been a very important part of his office’s mission, most notably his role in 1998 as a key player in the historic Master Settlement Agreement with major tobacco companies that has yielded over $1.36 billion for the state and saved countless lives as Americans made a cultural shift away from tobacco use and marketing practices. He also joined multistate efforts to successfully challenge Microsoft's monopolistic practices, secure a $600 million settlement over an Equifax data breach and make Iowa part of a $25 billion state-federal mortgage servicing settlement over foreclosure wrongs as well as establishing a helpline to aid Iowans struggling with mortgage payments during a period of deep recession nationally.
“I want to push consumer protection to even a higher level,” he said, by exploring ways to establish a better “early warning system” for the “classic frauds, like Social Security, IRS and grandparent fraud” and more “intractable” frauds, like telemarketing. Having a track record of aggressively combating sweepstakes, scams and other consumer frauds has sent a deterrent message to would-be criminals: “Don’t do business in Iowa because of the cases we’re brought and the recoveries we’ve made for Iowans,” he added.
“I think there’s a clear indication that by being aggressive we’re helping Iowans not only recover money but being preventive,” he said.
Miller was educated at Wahlert High School, Loras College and Harvard Law School before serving in several capacities including a city attorney in northeast Iowa and a legislative aide to then-U. S. Rep. John Culver, who he described as his "mentor and hero." Miller said he initially set his sights on Congress, but a series of events caused him to seek the Attorney General’s Office as the Democratic candidate instead.
After Iowa's U.S. Sen. Harold Hughes retired in 1974, Culver ran for his Senate seat and a close friend, Mike Blouin, announced for Culver's House seat and Miller ran for Iowa attorney general.
In 1974, Miller won the Democratic nomination but lost the general election to Republican incumbent Richard Turner. He was first elected to his current post in 1978 after defeating Turner in a rematch.
Miller's four-year hiatus from the office occurred in 1990 when he decided to seek his party's nomination for governor. But Don Avenson claimed that prize, and Miller spent four years in private law practice in Des Moines before running to reclaim the attorney general's position. He's held the job, which last fiscal year paid almost $124,000, since.
In the wake of a measure passed in 2019 by the Republican-led Iowa Legislature that would have limited the attorney general’s powers to go after Trump administration policies, Miller and GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds agreed he would seek her permission before joining any multistate lawsuits. Under that agreement, she vetoed the bill. The Associated Press reported last year that Reynolds had subsequently denied two-thirds of Miller’s requests.
Miller said in an interview that we was “really comfortable” with his decision to seek another term. “I have to go through a campaign, I recognize that, but I’m looking forward to another term if the voters choose me,” he said.