Terry Branstad's family values

Anyone following the Iowa governor’s race must read Todd Dorman’s recent interview with Republican front-runner Terry Branstad. The Branstad so many Iowans remember from his four terms as governor shines through.

Branstad is at his most incoherent when speaking about gay marriage, but his answer to an open-ended question about the state budget was also revealing. The whole interview is worth your time. I discuss a few of my favorite excerpts after the jump.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, Branstad sticks to the new politically-correct Republican talking points: the people should be able to vote on an "issue of this magnitude" (as if we are in the habit of putting minority rights to a majority vote in this country). Dorman asked why Branstad was so uncomfortable with same-sex marriage and got this answer:

“Well, it’s got to do with the whole structure of the American society. And, uh, a lot of people say when other ancient societies have gone this direction, it was the beginning of the end of their society. Because, the building blocks of really having stable culture is really having one man, one woman marriage. So I think that is an important part.

Historians debate the extent to which same-sex marriages existed in ancient Greece and Rome. What social conservatives never acknowledge is that after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, homosexual unions and relations were prohibited and punished harshly. Should we conclude that adopting Christianity caused the decline of Rome? Of course not. Other factors were much more important, especially an over-extended military empire.

Getting back to Branstad’s point, he claims heterosexual marriage is the basis for a stable culture. You might infer that he’s against homosexual relationships, but you’d be wrong:

What do you say to a gay couple with a child who wants that same stability?

“I don’t have any problem, I just don’t think it has to be a marriage. I just don’t. I guess my feeling is marriage is an institution that was and has been recognized for generations as a contract between one male and one female. I think it should stay that way.

“I don’t have a problem with people that want to live together and raise a child and things like that. In fact, Grace Copley, who was my clerk for years, or my secretary when I was lieutenant governor and governor, she has a son who’s gay, and he and his friend have adopted children and are raising the children. And Grace is a very conservative religious woman. It was a very difficult thing for her to deal with when this became the situation. But they did. And she still is not someone who is supportive of gay marriage, but she’s certainly supportive of her children and grandchildren.

How about civil union rights? Is that something that you’re […] take the word marriage out of it?

“Well, I don’t think people should be discriminated against. And you know, certainly I recognize the situation as far as the hospital and things like that. I don’t have a problem with that.”

Talk about trying to be all things to all people. Branstad doesn’t have a problem with same-sex couples living together, raising children, and having visitation rights. But give a same-sex couple a piece of paper saying they’re married, and oh no! Society is doomed!

If Branstad really doesn’t think “people should be discriminated against,” he should accept the unanimous conclusion of seven Iowa Supreme Court justices: “We are firmly convinced the exclusion of gay and lesbian people from the institution of civil marriage does not substantially further any important governmental objective. The legislature has excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification.” But unlike his former Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning, Branstad can’t extend his apparent tolerance for same-sex couples to its logical conclusion.

Dorman asked Branstad to clarify his position on convening a constitutional assembly to consider amendments outside the normal legislative process. That would be the fastest way to get a constitutional amendment to a public vote. Last week Republican blogger Craig Robinson suggested that Branstad supports using the constitutional convention route. But in his interview with Dorman, Branstad stressed that he isn’t advocating that approach and won’t be raising that issue in his gubernatorial campaign. He will leave it to Iowa voters to decide whether to approve the ballot initiative on calling a convention. I don’t know whether Robinson misinterpreted Branstad’s earlier remarks or whether Branstad deliberately left Robinson with the wrong impression. Robinson supports a constitutional convention.

The bottom line: Branstad’s balancing act on gay marriage is even less tenable than it seemed a week ago.

Another revealing moment in Dorman’s interview came when he asked Branstad an open-ended question about how he would cut government:

He said he’s still looking for ideas but did mention reforming the state’s mental health system and rolling back Medicaid, which has been expanded to cover more people, including children. He said state employees should pay for their health insurance like private sector employees.

He also questioned why the state has expanded its public school responsibilities to include early childhood education. When I said data shows that public schools do better when kids come to kindergarten ready to learn, he said Head Start and private preschools can do that, with some help for people who cant afford it.

So, Branstad has promised to reduce state government costs by 15 percent over five years, but he has no idea how he’ll do that. He’s still looking for ideas. Off the top of his head, he thinks we should roll back Medicaid and stop helping families send their four-year-olds to pre-school.

It reminds me of the episode Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal described around the 4:30 mark of this video. During the 1992 budget crisis, Branstad walked into a meeting with state lawmakers to negotiate in advance of a special legislative session. Branstad’s first idea for saving money was to cut spending on foster care. His second idea was to cut certain Medicaid programs, like one aimed at keeping senior citizens out of nursing homes and one that helped children buy eyeglasses.

When Terry Branstad wants to save money, programs that benefit the most vulnerable citizens are first on the chopping block.

Looking on the bright side, I’m sure thousands of Iowa families will appreciate being “protected” from gay marriage after Branstad cuts their kids off Medicaid and pre-school programs.

Note also that Branstad tells Dorman he would like to downgrade health insurance coverage for state employees. Maybe he wants revenge, having failed to summarily cut state employees’ pay in violation of their contract while he was governor.

Share any relevant thoughts or memories in this thread.

UPDATE: Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart read Dorman’s interview and concluded, “Governor Branstad is His Own Worst Enemy.”

TUESDAY UPDATE: Branstad’s campaign spokesman, Tim Albrecht, engaged in a little damage control:

Governor Branstad supports marriage as only between one man and one woman, and believes the people of Iowa should have the opportunity to vote on an issue of such importance, as they have in 31 other states.

Any adoption should be in the interest of the family and child and we have provisions within the law that provide for this. It is vital that every child has only the very best, safe, reliable and nurturing environment that society can provide. The governor believes that only in very rare circumstances could this standard be met by same-sex adoption. The governor believes that the professionals within the adoption agencies are best-equipped to determine which homes offer the care and support for the child.

The governor does not believe in state-sanctioned civil unions, but if an entity wishes to do so on their own accord, they have that right.

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