Early reaction to Branstad's choice of Kim Reynolds

A string of prominent Iowa Republicans spoke out today praising Terry Branstad’s choice of State Senator Kim Reynolds for lieutenant governor. IowaPolitics.com posted the Branstad campaign’s press releases with encouraging words from Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn, Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, Iowa House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, former Congressional candidate and tea party favorite Dave Funk, former gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong, and Iowa’s representatives on the Republican National Committee, Steve Scheffler and Kim Lehman. Scheffler heads the Iowa Christian Alliance, and Lehman is a past president of Iowa Right to Life.

The Branstad campaign is anxious to avoid an embarrassing display of support for Bob Vander Plaats at this Saturday’s Republican state convention. Today they hit convention delegates with an e-mail blast and robocalls stressing Reynolds’ “conservative credentials.” The strong words from Scheffler and Lehman in support of the ticket may prevent any media narrative from developing about religious conservatives rejecting Branstad. The Iowa Family Policy Center (viewed by many as a rival to the Iowa Christian Alliance) backed Bob Vander Plaats in the Republican primary and vowed not to endorse Branstad against Democratic Governor Chet Culver. That group recently affirmed that Branstad would need to undergo a “fundamental transformation” to win their support in the general election campaign.

Lehman wrote at the Caffeinated Thoughts blog today that Reynolds’ “record speaks for itself.” Lehman’s long list of conservative bills co-sponsored by Reynolds in the Iowa Senate impressed Caffeinated Thoughts blogmaster Shane Vander Hart. He supported Rod Roberts for governor and was a leader of the petition drive lobbying Branstad to choose Roberts as his running mate.

To my mind, Reynolds’ record in the Iowa Senate says only that she sticks with the consensus in the Republican caucus. She has not taken any unusual positions or been outspoken on any major issues under consideration. An acquaintance I spoke with today, who spends a lot of time at the capitol every year during the legislative session, had not even heard of Reynolds before this week. That’s how low her profile has been during her two years at the statehouse. Reynolds may be a reliable back-bencher for conservatives, but I don’t see her as a strong advocate for the religious right. She doesn’t have the stature to drive the agenda if Branstad is elected. Like Todd Dorman wrote yesterday, the lieutenant governor gets to do “whatever the governor lets you do. And in a Branstad administration, if the past is an indicator, his mate will be the special director of the Department of Not Much.”

Nor is there any indication that Reynolds would urge Branstad to make social issues a priority. I think this pick indicates the business wing of the Iowa GOP is fully in charge–or at least one faction in that wing. Others in the business community appear to have been pushing for Jeff Lamberti or Jim Gibbons to be selected as Branstad’s running mate.

Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge spoke about Reynolds today on behalf of the Culver campaign. She suggested that Reynolds may not help Branstad with the social conservatives who supported other candidates for governor, because she “comes out of the same camp as Terry and Doug Gross rather than out of the camp of Bob Vander Plaats or Mr. Roberts.” In a press release and news conference, Judge also emphasized that we don’t know much about Reynolds’ views on key issues, and that her learning curve will be steep, because she has relatively little experience at the statewide level: “It will take a lot of study on Kim’s part. […] If [Branstad] keeps her in the basement in a small office as he did [former Lieutenant Governor] Joy Corning, then she’s not going to have much of an opportunity to know what’s going on.” Say what you will about Patty Judge (I’m not a fan), but she did have a strong legislative record and eight years of holding statewide office going into the 2006 campaign. She has had real influence on policy in the Culver administration.

Being a blank slate may have its advantages, however. Iowa State University Professor Steffen Schmidt thinks Reynolds was a good choice because she is so unknown that she won’t turn voters off or take attention away from Branstad.

Share any thoughts about the Branstad/Reynolds ticket in this thread.

UPDATE: Jason Hancock pointed out at Iowa Independent:

Kim Lehman, another member of the Republican National Committee and formerly president of Iowa Right to Life, praised Reynolds’ selection and her legislative record, ticking through each of the bills she has sponsored since entering the state Senate in 2008 and concluding, “Reynolds went into office and took the bull by the horns and got busy.”

However, a closer look at the bills Reynolds signed on to reveals she only sponsored one piece of legislation on her own – a requirement that the Department of Natural Resources develop depredation plans to fill harvest quotas of antlerless deer in each county that have not been met at the end of the last established deer hunting season each year.

Other than that, she nearly always joins with all or a large majority of the state Senate’s 18 Republicans to push bills.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Reynolds gave an interview to Kathie Obradovich and spoke about being a recovering alcoholic. This is not going to be an issue.

The Branstad campaign is trying to counter opposition to Reynolds over her support for a recreational lake project that angered some property rights advocates. Today the campaign released an endorsement from State Representative Jeff Kaufmann, who tried to intervene in that dispute on the side of property owners.

“I remain dedicated to the fight for private property rights in this state,” said Kaufmann. “The last four years of Democratic control of the Legislature has yielded no strengthening of these rights.  The Democratic majority has not allowed debate of a single property rights bill despite overwhelming support for the 2006 landmark legislation.”

“Our attempts to protect property rights will be thwarted, as usual, by Governor Culver and Democratic leadership without Republican control of the Legislature,” added Kaufmann. “To me, all other property rights discussions are secondary to that goal.  I look forward to working with Kim Reynolds in the future to protect property owners in the future.”

The Branstad campaign also sent conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart a statement from Reynolds about eminent domain:

I fully support the 2006 legislation that curtailed the use of eminent domain to take private property. I do not support eminent domain for commercial development purposes. I support eminent domain only for essential public services.

That answer satisfied Vander Hart. However, one issue with these recreational lake projects (like ones proposed for Page County, Clarke County and Madison County in recent years) is that the advocates will claim the land grab serves an essential public service, like providing more drinking water. However, analysts dispute whether the lake is really needed as a drinking water source, or whether that’s a ruse to obscure the real goal behind the project. A few people stand to make a lot of money if the farmland they own can be developed as lakeshore property. So the question is whether the state would allow other people’s farmland to be condemned in order to create a lake that’s basically a private commercial development.

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Caution: Now entering a fact- and logic-free zone

I’ve heard some strange arguments against marriage equality, but the latest from Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley is a doozy. Reacting to a new report on HIV and syphilis rates among gay and bisexual men, Hurley asserted,

“The Iowa Legislature outlawed smoking [in some public places] in an effort to improve health and reduce the medical costs that are often passed on to the state,” Hurley said. “The secondhand impacts of certain homosexual acts are arguably more destructive, and potentially more costly to society than smoking.” […]

“Iowa lawmakers need to pay attention to hard facts and not be persuaded by emotion laden half-truths,” he said. “Because of their unwillingness to correct the error of last April’s Iowa Supreme Court opinion, the Iowa Legislature is responsible for sanctioning activities that will lead to dramatically higher rates of HIV and syphilis in Iowa.”

Where to begin? Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and various respiratory ailments, causing an estimated 438,000 preventable deaths every year nationwide. In Iowa, smoking directly causes an estimated 4,400 deaths each year, and secondhand smoke claims another 440 lives. Smoking causes about $1 billion in health care costs every year in Iowa, of which about $301 million is covered by Medicaid.

AIDS is a serious health threat in the U.S., but not on the same scale as smoking. AIDS has caused fewer than 20,000 deaths nationwide per year in the past decade. The total number of AIDS deaths in this country since the epidemic began is estimated at just under 600,000. I was unable to find statistics showing how many Iowans have died of AIDS, but according to this report for the Iowa Department of Public Health, 114 Iowans were diagnosed with HIV in 2005, and 79 Iowans were diagnosed with AIDS the same year. The numbers may have increased somewhat since then, but AIDS is nowhere near as “destructive” and “costly” to Iowans as smoking. Iowa’s syphilis rate is far below the national average, and none of the states with the highest syphilis rates permit same-sex marriages. If Iowa legislators want to influence the syphilis rate, they should focus on providing adequate funding levels for STD testing and ensuring that young people have access to medically accurate sex education.

Hurley’s argument is not only fact-free, but also illogical on several levels. He seems to think that allowing same-gender couples to get married is going to encourage many more Iowans to experiment with gay sex. Do you know anyone who decided to become gay because they knew they’d be able to get married? Has homosexual activity diminished in New York and New Jersey since those states’ legislatures declined to legalize same-sex marriage? Did California’s Proposition 8 reduce the number of gays and lesbians having sex there?

If Hurley is worried about promiscuity and sexually-transmitted diseases, he should be happy to see gay couples settle down and get married.

Contrary to the strange fantasies of the Iowa Family Policy Center crowd, the Iowa Supreme Court didn’t make the sky fall last April. Fortunately, most Iowans understand that our state legislators have more important things to do than overturn same-sex marriage rights. They also sense that giving legal recognition to the relationships of committed same-sex couples does no harm to other people. More than 90 percent of respondents in a statewide poll conducted last September said gay marriage had caused “no real change” in their lives.

Hurley’s position on gay marriage is more coherent than, say, Terry Branstad’s, but it’s also more detached from reality. Maybe his latest comments aren’t the worst argument ever against gay marriage, but they are certainly a contender.

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Dream recruit may spark Republican infighting in Senate district 45

Iowa Republicans have landed Sandy Greiner, their dream candidate against first-term Democratic State Senator Becky Schmitz in Senate district 45. The southeast Iowa district includes all of Washington, Jefferson, and Van Buren counties, plus part of Wapello and Johnson counties (map here). Schmitz defeated Republican incumbent David Miller by 184 votes in 2006, but the area leans slightly Republican in terms of voter registration.

Greiner represented Iowa House district 89, which makes up half of Senate district 45, for four terms (1993 to 2001). She then served for two years in the Iowa Senate before redistricting prompted her to return to House district 89 for another three terms (2003-2009). Consequently, she starts the race with high name recognition in the area and will be able to campaign almost as an incumbent. Republican blogger Craig Robinson sounds ready to declare this seat won for the GOP.

Greiner will be a stronger opponent for Schmitz than the three Republicans who had previously declared for the seat (Richard Marlar, Randy Besick and Dan Cesar). However, I would not assume that local Republicans will be united behind her this fall. Greiner is linked to business elites who have battled with activists on the religious right for control over the direction of the Iowa GOP.

Join me after the jump for more background on Greiner and why I suspect some social conservatives will fight her candidacy.

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Iowa Chief Justice: retention elections will test commitment to impartial judiciary

Shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously cleared the way for same-sex marriage rights in April 2009, prominent social conservatives in Iowa vowed to vote out three Supreme Court justices who face retention elections in November 2010. Those are Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices Michael Streit and David Baker.

Judges do not campaign actively for retention, but today Ternus commented on the upcoming elections during an Iowa Public Radio appearance. (continues after the jump)

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Terry Branstad's balancing act on gay marriage

In a private meeting last October, Terry Branstad warned social conservatives that gay marriage was “not going to be a central issue” in the gubernatorial campaign, and that Republicans “have to use finesse, and not overplay our hand.”

Since Branstad officially launched his candidacy last week, we’re starting to see how he intends to “finesse” the marriage issue before the Republican primary in June.

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Silver linings of a Branstad candidacy

Terry Branstad is kicking off his “official” candidacy for governor today, launching a tour around the state. His campaign announced fairly strong fundraising numbers last week and just leaked an internal Republican primary poll showing Branstad leading Bob Vander Plaats by 63 percent to 18 percent.

It’s conceivable that Vander Plaats’ campaign could take off in the coming months. Right-winger Marco Rubio is now considered likely to defeat Florida Governor Charlie Crist in that state’s U.S. Senate primary, despite commanding leads Crist had in polls a few months ago. However, I assume Branstad will lock up the Republican nomination with little trouble.

Branstad will undoubtedly be a tough general-election opponent for Governor Chet Culver. The biggest hurdles for a challenger are usually name recognition, fundraising, and getting voters to imagine the challenger doing the job he’s seeking. Branstad is well-known, has done the job before, and has wealthy donors behind him. Frankly, I’d rather not have him in this race.

But my mother taught me not to focus too much on the negative. After the jump I offer some silver linings of a Branstad candidacy.  

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