Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz gave Jon Huntsman a “lesson in Iowa politics” Monday, via a press release declaring the former Utah governor “not ready for the big dance.” Schultz ridiculed Huntsman’s excuse for skipping the Iowa caucuses before rifling off a few conservative talking points about Huntsman’s record. National and local media picked up Schultz’s comments.
Schultz’s opinion of Huntsman wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy, but I question the wisdom of using the official Secretary of State’s website to push a political statement written in “smackdown” tone. More thoughts on who is and isn’t “ready for the big dance” are below.
UPDATE: On June 9 the Iowa Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint against Schultz; details are at the end of this post.
This statement appeared on the Iowa Secretary of State’s official website on June 6:
Huntsman Not Ready for the Big Dance
DES MOINES – Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz released the following statement today regarding Jon Huntsman’s comments on his intention to skip the Iowa Caucus due to his opposition to ethanol subsidies:
Over the years I have heard presidential candidates state reasons for skipping the Iowa caucuses. It always leaves me wondering if those are the real reasons for not coming to Iowa. The most recent example of this is Jon Huntsman’s announcement that he won’t compete in Iowa. Apparently, Huntsman believes that he will not get a fair shake in Iowa because he opposes ethanol subsidies. In my opinion, this excuse seems to have as much credibility as “the dog ate my homework.”
It is apparent that Mr. Huntsman is in need of a lesson in Iowa politics. Iowa is a bellwether state. We care about our families, our faith and our freedom. We are not single-issue voters. We just want to know how presidential candidates are going to make our country better. Hopefully Mr. Huntsman will change his mind and come to Iowa and explain how he plans on fixing the problems facing our country.
Iowans look forward to the opportunity to hear Mr. Huntsman’s vision for America. We will listen to him explain his support for Cap and Trade. We will listen to him explain why he took more than one billion dollars in federal stimulus money. We will listen to him explain why he wants to replace his former boss, Barack Obama. We will listen to him explain why he is distancing himself from his Mormon faith. Mr. Huntsman should know that Iowans elected me as their Secretary of State and my Mormon faith was never an issue.
Is Jon Huntsman not coming to Iowa because he opposes ethanol subsidies or because he is afraid to explain his positions on other issues? Iowa Congressman Steve King opposes ethanol subsidies and he continues to get reelected with large margins of victory. If Mr. Huntsman refuses to compete in a bellwether state like Iowa, he is not ready for the big dance. After all, our last two presidents won the Iowa Caucus before they went to the White House.
We all know ethanol wasn’t the only reason Huntsman decided not to compete here. The Iowa GOP caucus-goer universe would never tolerate someone who worked in the Obama administration and favors legal recognition (civil unions) for same-sex couples. But while I don’t find Huntsman credible, Schultz’s press release seems ill-advised in content and tone.
The Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t run the Iowa caucuses–the major political parties handle that. Nevertheless, as the chief election officer for the state of Iowa, Schultz should avoid getting too involved in Republican primary battles. It’s one thing to praise Iowa’s role in the nominating process. Everyone active in Iowa politics wants the caucuses to remain significant.
But why is Schultz going on about climate change policy and the federal stimulus bill? That has nothing to do with his official work. His opinions on those issues shouldn’t be on the Secretary of State’s website.
Schultz’s predecessor, Michael Mauro, endorsed Hillary Clinton at a public event a couple of weeks before the 2008 Iowa caucuses. However, he didn’t get involved in media spats over who was or wasn’t serious about Iowa, and he didn’t use his office to push talking points against Clinton’s Democratic rivals.
As for Schultz’s Mormon faith not hurting him in the 2010 campaign, I’ll tell you why it wasn’t an issue: Mauro didn’t take the low road. The same can’t be said for Schultz, whose online advertising and disgraceful “StopMauro.com” website (now offline) used Mauro’s Italian-American heritage to implicate a highly competent public servant in “machine” politics and voter fraud.
Taunting someone as “not ready for the big dance” doesn’t come across as a mature reaction from a statewide elected official. As Schultz continues to grow into his new job, he should use his campaign apparatus or set up a separate media contact list for issuing purely political statements.
P.S. Schultz could use a copy editor too.
UPDATE: The Under the Golden Dome blog suggests that Schultz ignored this provision in the state employee handbook: “Employees are prohibited from engaging in political activity during scheduled work hours, when using state equipment, or while on state property.”
SECOND UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party sent the following complaint to the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board:
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board
510 East 12th, Suite 1A
Des Moines, IA 50319
I am writing to file an official complaint against Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
On Monday, June 6, 2011, the Secretary of State’s office published a press release, titled “Huntsman Not Ready for the Big Dance.” This press release was distributed using state resources and is featured on the Secretary of State website. The statements made within the release by Secretary of State Schultz are of a highly political nature and clearly intended to impact public opinion of Jon Huntsman, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee.
This activity is in direct violation of Iowa Code § 68A.505, which states:
The state and the governing body of a county, city, or other political subdivision of the state shall not expend or permit the expenditure of public moneys for political purposes, including expressly advocating the passage or defeat of a ballot issue.
While Huntsman is not a “candidate” for state or local office in Iowa, he is clearly a candidate in the caucus process, which, while operated by the two major political parties, functions as Iowa’s Presidential primary. If his actions were permissible, state employees could make state resources available to candidates for federal office on an unlimited basis.
Instead of simply encouraging Huntsman to campaign in Iowa and bring his message to caucus goers, Secretary of State Schultz chose to highlight Huntsman’s positions on a wide range of issues. Many of these positions are unpopular among some Republican caucus goers. This makes the purpose of the press release inherently political as Secretary Schultz is advocating against Huntsman’s candidacy with public resources.
Given that the primary role of the Secretary of State’s Office is to administer elections, which should be conducted fairly without preferential treatment to a candidate, it is my hope that you investigate this matter and halt the politicization of this office.
Chair, Iowa Democratic Party