The FAMiLY Leader's strange obsession with the Iowa Governor's Conference on LGBTQ Youth is well-established. Last year, the socially conservative organization led by Bob Vander Plaats was so focused on getting Governor Terry Branstad to drop his affiliation with this conference that they were too "busy" to protest as the governor wined and dined the future Communist ruler of China (world leader in coerced abortions).
The FAMiLY Leader was at it again last week, throwing a fit over the 8th Annual Governor's Conference on LGBTQ Youth scheduled for April 3. For this post, I don't want to focus on the "ludicrous" concerns raised by people like Chuck Hurley ("Stop coming after my kids and other people's kids with evil propaganda"). I don't want to focus on how Branstad "ducked rather than draw fire from name-callers" with this weak response to the controversy.
Today I'm more interested in sixteen Republican lawmakers who showed their solidarity with the FAMiLY Leader by making an idiotic promise they can't possibly keep.
On March 28, the FAMiLY Leader held a press conference to condemn the LGBT event organized annually by Iowa Safe Schools. Speakers included some conservative pastors and Republican National Committeewoman Tamara Scott (there in her capacity as director of Concerned Women for America of Iowa, not as a Republican Party official). Some of the clergymen asserted that the governor's conference promotes homosexuality and sin. Scott asserted that people of faith are more persecuted in schools than LGBTQ youth.
In a statement distributed to reporters last Thursday, sixteen Iowa lawmakers focused on one of the many conference sponsors: the Des Moines Area Community College Diversity Commission. Jennifer Jacobs published this document on the Des Moines Register's blog.
STATEMENT BY IOWA SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES ON TAX PAYER FUNDS BEING USED BY DMACC TO SPONSOR THE GOVERNORS LGBTQ YOUTH CONFERENCE
Based on our desire and commitment to be faithful stewards of our tax dollars, we cannot in good conscience vote to give taxpayer dollars to people or groups who pervert the Bible, teach our youth to engage in dangerous behavior, and target individuals like [conservative WHO talk radio host] Jan Mickelson for hatred and bullying.
We have proof that the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) Diversity Commission is using tuition and taxpayer monies to sponsor the Governors LGBTQ Youth Conference, as a result of information obtained by the DACC [sic] Young Americans for Freedom chapter, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Therefore, we Representatives of the people of Iowa, will vote against appropriations for (DMACC) unless they withhold taxpayer's dollars from the Governors LGBTQ Youth Conference.
Signed by the following legislators, all Republicans:
Senator David Johnson
Senator Mark Segebart
Senator Mark Chelgren
Senator Dennis Guth
Senator Bill Anderson
Senator Kent Sorenson
Senator Rick Bertrand
Representative Dwayne Alons
Representative Greg Heartsill
Representative Dean Fisher
Representative Rob Bacon
Representative Tom Shaw
Representative Jason Schultz
Representative Ralph Watts
Representative Larry Sheets
Representative Sandy Salmon
Bleeding Heartland readers will recognize some of those names: Alons, Schultz, and Watts are among Iowa's most clueless legislators. Shaw and several of the others co-sponsored the most extreme "personhood" legislation introduced this year. Sorenson is quite a piece of work.
Getting back to the point of this post, these sixteen Republicans are very upset about the governor's conference. How did they get from there to threatening to defund DMACC?
Sponsoring an LGBT event is appropriate for the Des Moines Area Community College Diversity Commission, which has a mission to help DMACC create a welcoming and inclusive culture. But even if it weren't, should more than 25,000 enrolled students at DMACC's nine locations be punished because lawmakers are upset over one conference?
The threat against DMACC is even more stupid because Iowa legislators are not in a position to withhold taxpayer money from one community college. The state budget sets aid levels for community colleges as a group. None of the lawmakers who signed this statement serve on the education appropriations subcommittees in the Iowa House or Senate, which may be one reason they don't seem to understand the process.
Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer downplayed any threat to community college funding during the latest edition of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program.
Obradovich: Representative Upmeyer, this week there was some controversy over the Governor's conference on gay and lesbian youth that is going on. Some representatives, including some in your caucus, have said that funding should be withheld from Des Moines Area Community College for hosting this conference. Do you think that that is something that is going to be discussed in the House?
Upmeyer: You know, when we start a new session people come from all over Iowa and people are diverse in their ideas and come together and I -- what I want to make sure people understand is that there's no confusion that the House republican caucus absolutely supports the community college system. The community college system is so important to us in providing workforce training and that is a skill set --
Borg: So what you're saying is you're not about in the House to penalize the Des Moines Area Community College for their contribution to this conference?
Upmeyer: Well, we'll look at the whole system. The community college system is funded as a unit and a whole system.
Most of the lawmakers who signed this ultimatum are relatively new legislators, but people like Alons and Johnson have been around long enough to know that you can't pull funding from one community college just because you're mad. In politics as in parenting, making rash threats you can't keep is the fastest way to get people to stop taking you seriously.
Looking on the bright side, only 16 statehouse Republicans joined the FAMiLY Leader's latest crusade. That's not even a quarter of the 77 GOP lawmakers (53 in the Iowa House, 24 in the Iowa Senate). Earlier this year, the FAMiLY Leader was able to get 18 Senate Republicans and 35 House Republicans to co-sponsor another big priority for the group: a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
I should also point out that some of these legislators may be opportunists rather than true believers in the FAMiLY Leader's cause. Chelgren and Bertrand will be the top two targeted Senate Republicans in the 2014 elections; both are first-term senators representing districts that lean Democratic. Sheets, Salmon, and Fisher all won their Iowa House seats for the first time in 2012 by narrow margins over their Democratic candidates. That said, I would guess that Sheets, Salmon, and Fisher are sincere, based on their support for other social conservative efforts.
Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Without naming names, The Iowa Republican blogger Kevin Hall writes,
At least one of the 16 Republican legislators threatening to pull taxpayer funding from DMACC because of their sponsorship of the LGBTQ conference is now having second thoughts. The legislator tells me he found out after signing onto the petition that DMACC uses only tuition money, not tax dollars, for "diversity" events like this and feels like he was "bamboozled" into signing on to it ...
However, during a 12-minute discussion after a press conference on Monday, DMACC Diversity Chair Marlana Schnell never denied taxpayer money was used, even when told directly by student Jake Dagel that he would continue to protest as long as they were using taxpayer dollars to sponsor the conference.