Weekend open thread: Ross Paustian "Sex After Sixty" edition

What’s on your mind this weekend? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The most important Iowa political story of the week was state Republican leaders hounding consultant Liz Mair out of a job with Scott Walker’s PAC. Colin Campbell compiled Mair’s tweets about the episode for Business Insider, and they are well worth reading. I’m still annoyed by the collective Republican temper tantrum and the Des Moines Register’s pandering.

A different Iowa political event drew even more attention, though, including a segment on ABC’s Good Morning America show. The fateful photo of Republican State Representative Ross Paustian might have been a footnote to a long Iowa House debate on a collective bargaining bill. But because the lawmaker was apparently reading a book called Sex After Sixty, the photo went viral and could easily become what Paustian is most remembered for when his political career is over. I enclose below background, Paustian’s explanation and a few thoughts on the sometimes cruel nature of politics.

On Tuesday night, Iowa House members were wading through a series of Democratic amendments to a collective bargaining bill when Des Moines Register statehouse correspondent Brianne Pfannenstiel snapped this photo and uploaded it to twitter, with the comment “Rep. Paustian clearly engaged in this debate.”

Pfannenstiel later reported for the Register,

Paustian said the book has made its way around the House today and was handed to him by fellow Rep. Robert Bacon, R-Slater.

“We could all use a laugh around here,” he said.

The book is gag gift, and the pages are blank, according to a quick Google search.

Note: According to the New York Daily News, this book is a real manual for older adults. UPDATE: The book is available at the University of Iowa’s Health Sciences library, for anyone who’s interested.

The Iowa House adjourned Tuesday night and picked up the collective bargaining bill the next morning, finally passing it on a party-line vote after about nine hours of floor debate. Erin Murphy and Pat Rynard explained what the bill would change for Iowa teachers’ contract negotiations–not that it matters, since this legislation is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate.

The Sex After Sixty photo lived on, however. On Wednesday, Paustian explained his actions to Erin Murphy.

Paustian said the book was a gag gift for Rep. Rob Bacon, R-Slater, who recently turned 60 and who sits next to Paustian on the House floor.

Paustian said he had just picked up the book to glance at it when the photo was taken. […]

“I’m getting a lot of pretty vicious emails from people, so I have to explain,” Paustian said. “The main thing is I was totally engaged in what was going on on the floor. … I knew what was going on. I knew how we were going to vote on amendments. So it wasn’t like I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on.

“If any of my constituents were offended, I apologize. I certainly wasn’t trying to offend anybody. I’m doing my job here for my constituents.”

Meanwhile, several national news organizations, the Washington Post, and at least one British newspaper picked up the story. ABC’s Good Morning America brought it to an even wider audience.

By this time I was starting to feel a little sorry for Paustian. No doubt many lawmakers were tuning out during the floor debate, and several of his colleagues had supposedly looked at the infamous book earlier in the day, but only Paustian got caught on camera.

I expect Pfannenstiel’s photo will make it into some direct mail during the 2016 campaign in Iowa House district 92. Paustian won his first term in 2010 but lost his re-election bid to Democrat Frank Wood in 2012. He won it back in last year’s GOP landslide, but with presidential-year turnout this seat covering parts of Scott County should be in play again.

It seems unfair that, for example, former State Senator Jeff Lamberti can remain chairman of a powerful state commission after being caught driving drunk, while Paustian is subjected to nationwide ridicule for picking up someone else’s gag gift.

On the other hand, politics ain’t beanbag. Many elected officials have dealt with worse fallout from a careless comment or an unflattering photo. I remember when President George H.W. Bush was slammed for looking at his watch during his 1992 town-hall debate with Bill Clinton. The gesture was interpreted as proof that Bush didn’t want to be there and thought the ritual of taking questions from ordinary Americans was beneath him. The former high school debater in me always thought it more likely that the president was simply checking to see how much time he had left to squeeze in whatever talking points he hadn’t yet mentioned.

In the more recent past, Bruce Braley took a huge hit last year for supposedly threatening a lawsuit over his neighbor’s chickens–a story that wasn’t even true, despite what you might have read in the Des Moines Register.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

  • Paustian

    I hope it leads to a little political turmoil for him, but I think most of his constituents will forgive him.

    I would hope that people would focus more on his voting record.  Complaining about what people “read” can be viewed as a form of censorship.

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