Barely a month after being on a winning team, Bob Vander Plaats appears determined not to let anyone forget that he's the biggest loser in Iowa politics.
Vander Plaats was riding high after the Iowa caucuses. The top dog in the social conservative group FAMiLY Leader got on the Rick Santorum bandwagon at the right time. His personal endorsement probably didn't contribute much to Santorum's momentum in Iowa, but it overshadowed the FAMiLY Leader's "marriage vow" litmus test, which was too much even for world-class panderers like Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney.
The ink was barely dry on Santorum's uncertified Iowa caucus victory when the FAMiLY Leader claimed in an e-mail to supporters that Governor Terry Branstad's office was asking to have his title removed from the seventh annual Iowa Governors Conference on LGBTQ Youth.
The Governor's office told us last week that they have asked the conference organizers to remove the word "Governor's" from the event. The Governor's spokesman also indicated that state government agencies would not be participating in the conference, like they did under Governors Vilsack and Culver.
Branstad's office originally declined to comment on the story, but a few days later Branstad said at a press conference, "I believe in treating everybody with respect and dignity and certainly we want to make sure that nobody is bullied." The governor also sent this letter to Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools:
Dear Mr. Monson,
As you know, I am regrettably not able to attend your upcoming conference because of a scheduling conflict. However, I support the conference and its goal of eliminating bullying and making Iowa schools safe for all students. I do not object to you including the word "Governor's" in the conference title in keeping with the historical name and the emphasis on its importance to Iowa schools.
As you know, I have already officially proclaimed September 1 "Safe Schools Day." I hope that in my absence, you will read that proclamation to conference attendees.
You have my very best wishes for a successful conference this year and in future years.
Terry E. Branstad
Most people would be embarrassed to have bragged about something that didn't happen, but Vander Plaats upped the ante with a long press release about the conference on February 6. Todd Dorman posted the whole statement. Excerpts:
This is an obvious change in his position. On January 18th, a spokesman for Governor Branstad's office told The FAMILY LEADER that the administration was planning to contact event coordinators and request the exclusion of the word "Governor's" from the Governor's Conference on LGBTQ Youth. The FAMILY LEADER publicly complimented the Governor's action via an email alert. [...]
Bob Vander Plaats, President and CEO of The FAMILY LEADER, says, "Governor Branstad needs to be held accountable for his support of this conference and the promotion of a very radical and dangerous left-wing agenda."
As a former teacher, coach, and high school principal, Vander Plaats reiterated his and The FAMILY LEADER's opposition to harassment and bullying of any type within a school setting. Bob remarked, "Effective leaders in education provide safe learning environments. However, effective educational leaders also lead with a focus on academic achievement versus agenda acceleration. It is greatly disappointing and, frankly, disturbing that Branstad and his administration have chosen to be puppets to a far-left agenda versus being effective educational leaders."
According to the conference website (http://iowasafeschools.org/content/view/13/82/), the mission of the Annual Iowa Governor's Conference on LGBTQ Youth is to a) engage and educate students, educators, parents, community leaders, youth-serving professionals, policy makers, and others concerned about issues relevant to the LGBTQ community, and b) encourage networking and activism to inspire our communities to promote diversity, equality, and social justice. The website also claims goals of eliminating bullying in Iowa schools and creating leadership opportunities for LGBTQ youth.
According to the event's website, about half of the attendees are students. The FAMILY LEADER is particularly disturbed by some of the components of the Governor's Conference noting that special bathroom instructions are provided in the conference FAQ's saying "transgender friendly restrooms will be available for the gender any individual identifies with". Parents can only conclude that their teenage daughter may well be sharing a restroom with a male who "identifies" as a female. Also troubling is the fact that exhibitors are allowed to distribute condoms and/or safe sex kits.
The FAMILY LEADER does not support LGBTQ behavior and believes that a conference of this nature approves, promotes, and accelerates this behavior among students. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), "men who have sex with men and people exposed through high-risk heterosexual contact account for 82% of all HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in 2006". Therefore, The FAMILY LEADER concludes that this conference is encouraging dangerous and unhealthy behavior while claiming to "provide a safe and supportive place in which to learn" as stated on their website. [...]
Vander Plaats commented on the irony of Branstad's support for a left-wing agenda while former Iowa governors, Vilsack and Culver, chose to remove their title of "Governor" from the annual Governor's Prayer Breakfast. "Vilsack and Culver had no problem upsetting the conservative base when they removed their title from a prayer breakfast, while Branstad surrendered to political pressure and abandoned his alleged conservative principles." "Leaders .... lead," expressed Vander Plaats, "Branstad caved."
I particularly love the obligatory expression of "opposition to harassment or bullying of any type within a school setting." That's so thoughtful.
And it's pretty rich, considering that much of the rest of the statement is spent outlining reasons why our family leaders believe strongly that these kids are a danger to society that should be shunned and feared.
Branstad and his staff "laughed when a reporter read Vander Plaats' statement aloud." Of course they did. The governor and several staffers are being sued for allegedly discriminating against an openly gay state official. The FAMiLY Leader just handed them a golden opportunity to show how tolerant they are toward the LGBT community.
Branstad's spokesman Tim Albrecht declined my request for comment on whether the governor's staffer Todd Schultz ever told the FAMiLY Leader's Danny Carroll that the governor was asking to have his title removed from the conference.
The whole episode sounds like something Vander Plaats would want to forget. Instead, he brought it up again in a Valentine's Day press release, phrased as an open letter to Branstad. O.Kay Henderson posted the full text. Excerpts:
As an educator and as a person of faith, I share your goals to eliminate bullying and harassment of any person for any reason. Writing this letter on Valentine's Day is a good reminder of our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Our goal at The FAMiLY LEADER is to speak the truth in love. Ironically, the upcoming 7th Annual Iowa Governor's Conference on LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bis*xual, Transgender, Questioning) Youth is exchanging truth for acceptance and tolerance of harmful behavior. As parents, we love our children so much that we do not accept or tolerate his/her desire to play dodge ball in a busy street. If we did, that tolerance could result in serious injury or worse.
In like manner, this is how I view the conference. I have deep love and concern for the 14-18 year old students who will be attending and who may be negatively influenced by the messages they will hear at the conference. And although I may not share their view of God's design for sexuality, I would do everything in my power to prevent their harassment or bullying.
My ongoing concern regarding this conference is the message we are sending to our youth under your title of Governor. I can only assume when you grant the use of your title, Governor, that you approve of the conference and all of its components.
For example, beyond workshops on bullying, there are vendors who will be distributing condoms and "safe" s*x kits. I ask you, "What is the message being communicated to Iowa's youth?"
In addition, the conference claims that in order to provide transgender friendly restrooms, girls will be allowed to use boys' restrooms and boys will be allowed to use the girls' restrooms. It all depends upon "which gender you identify with". Do you think that moms and dads will approve of allowing boys to share restroom facilities with their daughters?
And finally, the keynote speaker is featured in the series, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy". Do you really believe that an authentic anti-harassment conference would feature such a "keynote" speaker? [...]
In exchange for the removal of your title from the 7th Annual Iowa Governor's Conference on LGBTQ Youth, I, along with my team at The FAMiLY LEADER, would be willing to join you and your administration in the development of a privately funded, comprehensive safe schools conference with the goal of promoting healthy, safe behavior, and ridding our schools from all bullying and harassment.
This conference would address the harassment that takes place against minority kids, overweight kids, skinny kids, poor kids, disabled kids, red headed kids, kids confused about their s*xuality...ALL kids! This comprehensive approach is especially important since the Iowa Safe Schools bullying statistics show that only about 10% of bullying incidents are related to s*xual orientation, while the remaining 90% are a result of race, physical attributes, and other categories.
Instead of passing out "safe" s*x kits to students, the conference could provide abstinence-based education, emphasizing healthy behavior and the healthy aspects of preventing unwanted pregnancies, STD's, depression, and other problems resulting from sexual activity outside of marriage. [...]
Please feel free to contact me at your convenience to fully discuss our teaming for such a conference. Until then, I will be praying for your leadership that honors God and our youth!
"It is hard these days to take anything seriously that comes from Bob Vander Plaats or the Family Leader," Jeff Boeyink, Branstad's chief of staff said today. "It is sad and attention-seeking, and does nothing to move our state forward."
I didn't think Iowa social conservatives could ever top the idiocy of their "homosexuals are co-opting Valentine's Day" routine from a few years back. I was wrong. This ranks up there with the dumbest things Vander Plaats has said. Maybe this posturing will help him raise money from core supporters of the FAMiLY Leader, but why advertise that no one in the governor's office takes you seriously?
Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.