Moderate Republicans co-chair new group for retaining Supreme Court justices (updated)

Former Republican Governor Bob Ray is co-chairing a new group that will urge Iowans to retain three Supreme Court justices who are on the ballot:

The group, Fair Courts for US, plans to stage a direct mail and media advertising campaign as part of a statewide grassroots answer to several conservative advocacy groups that are urging Iowans to vote against retention of Chief Justice Marsha Ternus as well as Justices Michael Streit and David Baker.

Three of the four co-chairs are prominent Republicans: Ray, who was governor from 1969 to 1983, Art Neu, who was lieutenant governor from 1973 to 1979, and Sioux City attorney Dan Moore, a past-president of the Iowa State Bar Association and former secretary and treasurer of Bob Vander Plaats’ gubernatorial campaign. The fourth co-chair is Democrat Christie Vilsack, who was first lady from 1999 to 2007.

[Moore] said there are other avenues available to those who disagree with a court decision, such as appealing to a higher court or amending the state constitution, rather than targeting a judge or justice up for retention based just on one decision.

“The courts are accountable to the constitution and to the rule of law and not politicians. It’s not a popularity contest that’s run here,” Moore said. “(In) our system of justice, courts must look at the facts. They must apply the laws and make a determination for an outcome of a case. Our citizens deserve the very best courts that they can have access to and that’s what they have today.” […]

“Our system is far and away superior to those states where judges are elected every four years. That’s why Fair Courts For Us is urging Iowans to take a stand and vote ‘yes’ to retain the justices and preserve our system of jurisprudence,” Ray said.

I wish this effort every success, but I don’t know how much grassroots work can be accomplished with less than three weeks left before the election. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, nearly 250,000 Iowans had requested absentee ballots as of October 14, and nearly 120,000 ballots had already been returned.

I hope Fair Courts for Us has television and radio commercials featuring Ray ready to launch as soon as possible. Ray commands tremendous respect among Iowans who remember him as governor, and older Iowans are least likely to support the Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien decision on marriage. Backers of the Iowa for Freedom effort to oust the judges have been advertising statewide for a month already and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaign.

Two other groups are trying to educate the public about the benefits of Iowa’s current judicial system: the Justice, Not Politics coalition and Iowan for Fair & Impartial Courts. However, those advocates are not explicitly urging Iowans to vote yes on retaining Ternus, Streit and Baker.

UPDATE: Fair Courts for Us started running this 60-second radio commercial in seven major Iowa markets on October 15. My transcript:

Sound of football game, tackle, referee’s whistle, sports announcer’s voice: And the flags are flying. Looks like a questionable call.

Referee’s voice: Unnecessary roughness.

Sports announcer: I think we’re gonna see some fans calling for these refs’ jobs.

Bob Ray: Listen, we’ll never agree with every call, but you shouldn’t fire the good referees over just one call. The same is true for the Iowa Supreme Court. I’m Bob Ray, a Republican and former Iowa governor. The Iowa Supreme Court has been making solid judgments over the years. The court protected Iowa families by requiring convicted sex offenders to live at least 2,000 feet away from a school or child care center, protected Iowa seniors, and protected our individual property rights. Please join me, Bob Ray, in turning over the ballot and voting yes, yes, and yes to retain the Iowa Supreme Court. There’s enough politics out there. We don’t need it in our courts.

Announcer: Paid for by Fair Courts for Us.

I wouldn’t have picked Iowa’s ineffective sex-offender residency restrictions as the best example of how the Supreme Court has worked for Iowans. This law clusters sex offenders in a few areas, and “many of those who work most closely with sex offenders and say restrictions are not working and public safety would benefit from change.” That’s not to say the Supreme Court’s decision on this law was incorrect (similar laws have been upheld in other states), but Iowans weren’t “protected” by the law.

In any event, this commercial is obviously targeting a conservative audience who might be inclined to vote against the judges, as well as senior citizens who probably remember Ray as governor.  

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Republican field for governor becomes more crowded (updated)

Today State Representative Rod Roberts of Carroll formally announced the creation of an exploratory committee for a possible gubernatorial campaign. The Des Moines Register’s political columnist Kathie Obradovich covered the press conference on Twitter. (May I suggest the hashtag #iagov instead of #iaguv?)

It seems Roberts plans to run as a likeable version of fellow State Representative Chris Rants of Sioux City: Iowa needs a change, he’s for “rights of unborn” and “traditional marriage,” he’ll be “careful with your money,” he wants to amend constitution to ban gay marriage, and he thinks the Bob Vander Plaats approach of ending gay marriage by executive order won’t resolve the problem.

Douglas Burns knows Roberts and made the case for him as a strong candidate here. I have a hard time seeing his path to the Republican nomination. As an ordained minister, Roberts must have better people skills than Rants. As a veteran of the Iowa legislature, he has more political experience than Christian Fong. His stance on gay marriage shows that he is more pragmatic than Vander Plaats. Still, I don’t see how he distinguishes himself from the Republican pack on any issues. Maybe someone will ask him about this at tomorrow’s Iowa Politics forum for gubernatorial candidates. Does he have an answer other than saying that being relatively unknown is his advantage?

According to Obradovich, the Roberts committee includes Steve Siemens (who I assume is this motivational speaker), State Representative Jeff Kaufmann, and former Lieutenant Governor Art Neu. Frank Severino, an experienced lobbyist at the Iowa statehouse, will manage the Roberts campaign.

Other prominent Iowa Republicans attended Roberts’ press conference: onetime gubernatorial candidate David Oman (who worked for Governors Robert Ray and Terry Branstad), former RNC committeeman Steve Roberts, RNC committeewoman Kim Lehman, and Iowa Family Policy Center head Chuck Hurley. It’s not yet clear whether any of those people were endorsing Rod Roberts.

Steve Roberts is one of the “moderates, old-money and business Republicans” thought to be shopping around for an alternative to Vander Plaats and Rants. Unless Rod Roberts has lined up some major backers in central and eastern Iowa, I can’t see how he can raise enough money to be competitive in the Republican primary.

In related news, Paul McKinley told Mike Glover of the Associated Press that he will step down as Iowa Senate minority leader if he decides to run for governor. McKinley formed an exploratory committee a few weeks ago and is constructing a campaign narrative based on his experience as a 1980s small business owner. My prediction: McKinley won’t raise the money for a serious gubernatorial campaign and will decide to stay where he is in the Iowa Senate.

UPDATE: Fong’s campaign manager Marlys Popma stepped on Roberts’ big day by announcing that Fong has raised $100,000 in the past three weeks (checks in hand, not pledges). It appears that GOP donors are buying the non-threatening conservative package Fong is selling, with its strong echoes of Obama-like post-partisan, empowering rhetoric.

SECOND UPDATE: This piece at Iowa Independent reminded me that Rants has suggested Roberts should stay out of the governor’s race to deprive Democrats of a chance at winning his Iowa House seat (district 51). Democrats have not fielded a candidate against Roberts for several election cycles, even though they are competitive with the GOP in terms of party registration in House district 51.

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