# Iowa Constitution

One simple question, three non-answers on marriage

Everyone who moderates a debate this year could learn from the journalists who guided the May 1 Iowa Republican gubernatorial candidates’ debate: Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Paul Yeager of Iowa Public Television, and Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio. Too many journalists ask long-winded questions that are easy to evade, or ask about hot topics of no lasting importance, or ask about policies outside the scope of the office the candidates are seeking.

In contrast, almost every question the panelists asked during Saturday’s debate was direct and addressed an issue the next governor of Iowa will face. Here are a few examples:

“Can you name one service government provides today that it should stop providing in the interest of saving the budget?”

“If elected, will you continue to support the Iowa Values Fund, the business grant and loan program created during the Vilsack administration, and also the renewable energy grant program established by Governor Culver known as the Iowa Power Fund?”

“Is there a role that government should play in limiting premium increases by Iowa insurance companies?”

“Do you believe that obesity is a problem that should be addressed through government action such as limiting unhealthy ingredients in food?”

Mind you, asking a direct, unambiguous question doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a straight answer from a politician. Look what happened when Dorman asked the Republicans, “Can you identify one tangible way Iowa has been harmed during a full year of legal same-sex marriage?”

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Kent Sorenson wants to bring back Iowa Supreme Court elections (updated)

Republican State Representative Kent Sorenson is trying to amend the Iowa Constitution to bring back elections for the seven state Supreme Court justices.

Republicans Dwayne Alons and Jason Schultz joined Sorenson in introducing House Joint Resolution 2013 this week. It would amend the constitution to require Supreme Court justices to be elected to six-year terms. Lower-court judges would continue to be appointed, as they have been since Iowa approved a constitutional amendment in 1962 to eliminate judicial elections. Under the current system, the governor appoints district and Supreme Court judges from lists of nominees submitted by judicial nominating commissions.

Other social conservatives have vowed to defeat the three Supreme Court justices who are up for retention in 2010 because of last year’s Varnum v Brien ruling, which cleared the way for same-sex marriage in Iowa. But even that isn’t good enough for Sorenson and his allies. They are so upset about one court ruling that they would toss out a method for selecting judges which has worked well for nearly a half-century. The Des Moines-based American Judicature Society has plenty of resources on the importance of judicial independence and the benefits of a merit-based system over judicial elections. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United case lifted restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections, providing another reason not to mess with Iowa’s judicial selection process.

Sorenson’s constitutional amendment probably won’t go anywhere, but he may use the proposal as a rallying cry in his campaign against Staci Appel in Iowa Senate district 37 this year. Appel’s husband, Brent Appel, is an Iowa Supreme Court justice. He is not up for retention this November.

UPDATE: Via the latest from Todd Dorman I learned that State Representative Rod Roberts, a Republican candidate for governor, has introduced his own constitutional amendment:

His proposal, House Joint Resolution 2012, calls for appointing nine justices – one from each judicial district and one at-large. It would require justices to continue to live in the district as long as they sit on the court.

“Even people in the legal profession tell me this would help the court get connected at the grass roots level,” he said.

Dorman comments,

Justices should answer to the state constitution, the law and precedent, not to public sentiment. They’re appointed through a bipartisan, drama-free process that focuses on their experience and qualifications. They already face regular retention votes.

So explain to me why we would throw out that system in favor of open electioneering. It’s a horrible idea.

And picking them by geography instead of qualifications isn’t much better.

How is this stuff conservative?

You don’t want judges who “legislate from the bench,” so you elect them just like legislators?

The Iowa Bar Association opposes the proposals from Sorenson and Roberts.

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Terry Branstad's balancing act on gay marriage

In a private meeting last October, Terry Branstad warned social conservatives that gay marriage was “not going to be a central issue” in the gubernatorial campaign, and that Republicans “have to use finesse, and not overplay our hand.”

Since Branstad officially launched his candidacy last week, we’re starting to see how he intends to “finesse” the marriage issue before the Republican primary in June.

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Iowa recognizes all California marriages

I was so sorry to hear today’s news out of California. While I have no doubt that a future referendum will reverse Prop 8, that process will take years and resources that could have been spent organizing in other states.

Couples left in legal limbo should be aware that the state of Iowa recognizes the marriages of same-sex couples who tied the knot in California last year. Moving halfway across the country clearly won’t be an option for everyone, but Iowa has a low cost of living and a good quality of life (more affordable housing, relatively low rates of crime and unemployment, short commutes, and decent public schools in many communities).

Of course, couples from California or anywhere else can still come to Iowa to get married.

Since the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect on April 27, hundreds of same-sex couples have been married here. More than half of Iowa’s 99 counties have issued at least one marriage license to a same-sex couple. Despite an extensive petition drive to pressure county recorders, no county recorder has refused to issue a marriage license to a couple seeking one.

In my opinion, a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling will not get anywhere. I explain why after the jump.

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Anti-gay marriage group targets Iowa Republican Senate leader

While visiting a friend in Pella today, I found an orange piece of paper lying on her doorstep. I picked it up, expecting to see publicity for some local event like next month’s Tulip Time festival.

Instead, I found a flier comparing Iowa Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley to a “chicken,” because he “refuses to do what it takes to get a vote on the Iowa Marriage Amendment.” McKinley asked Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal to co-sponsor a leadership bill with him so that the Senate could debate a constitutional amendment on marriage, but Gronstal refused.

Public Advocate of the US, a right-wing group based in Falls Church, Virginia, paid for this flier, according to text at the bottom. That group’s president, Eugene Delgaudio, has been using direct mail and “conservative political street theater” to advance anti-gay views for years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show up in Iowa on Monday, when same-sex marriages become legal.

The stated goal of the flier is to generate phone calls urging McKinley to take bolder action on the Iowa Marriage Amendment, but I wonder whether the real purpose is to support different leadership for the Senate Republican caucus. McKinley was elected Senate Republican leader last November on a pledge “to rebuild this party from the ground up,” but according to the Iowa Republican blog, some conservatives,

including WHO Radio talk show host Steve Deace, don’t think that the Republicans in the Senate have done all they can since they have not made a motion to suspend the Senate rules and force the Democrats’ hand.

Republican State Representative Chris Rants tried to attach a marriage amendment to unrelated legislation in the House and forced a vote on suspending House rules. Only two House Democrats, Geri Huser and Dolores Mertz, voted with Republicans on the procedural motion. Presumably Republican candidates and interest groups will attack the other 54 House Democrats next fall for not backing up Rants.

Alternatively, the flier could be nothing more than an opportunistic attempt to raise the profile (and mailing list) of Delgaudio’s group in Iowa. Does any Bleeding Heartland reader know whether Public Advocate of the US has ties to any rival of McKinley’s within the Republican Party of Iowa?

I don’t know whether this piece is being circulated in conservative neighborhoods across Iowa, or mainly in heavily Republican Pella. If you’ve seen it in your town or county, please post a comment in this thread or send an e-mail to desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

The full text of the one-sided, 8 1/2 by 11-inch flier is after the jump.

UPDATE: McKinley criticized the Iowa Senate’s failure to take up the marriage amendment in his closing remarks on the final day of the 2009 session.

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The case for marriage equality on a tv screen near you

One Iowa is airing this television commercial in five markets around Iowa:

The full transcript of the ad is after the jump. I like the way the commercial places marriage equality and the Supreme Court’s decision within the long tradition of diverse people finding freedom in Iowa under our state’s Constitution. (Democratic legislative leaders cited Iowa’s tradition of leadership in civil rights in their statement welcoming the Varnum v Brien decision. The historical landmarks they cited prompted Lambda Legal attorney Camilla Taylor to start building a case for marriage equality in Iowa in 2002.)

One Iowa’s commercial also reminds viewers that the Supreme Court unanimously struck down discrimination and that the ruling “will not change religious marriage or how each religion defines that.”

Visually, the ad mostly contains photos of Iowa landscapes, buildings and families (gay and straight), with a few words shown against a blank screen for emphasis. When the voice-over says, “some things remain the same,” the word “hope” appears on the screen. When the voice-over says the Supreme Court “justices were not divided,” the word “courage” appears on the screen. When the voice-over admonishes “those outsiders who want to put discrimination into our constitution,” the word “respect” appears on the screen.

According to Iowa Politics, One Iowa is spending $75,000 to run this commercial for a week “in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Quad Cities and Sioux City media markets; on cable stations like CNN, MSNBC, HLN, Lifetime, and HGTV; and on Des Moines broadcast stations as well.”

Donating to One Iowa will help keep this ad on the air. It’s a welcome contrast to the absurd scare-mongering of the National Organization for Marriage’s television ad attacking gay marriage. That commercial has already been debunked by Human Rights Campaign and brutally parodied on the Colbert Report.

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Dream scenario: A primary challenger for Grassley

Angry social conservatives are speculating that Senator Chuck Grassley could face a primary challenge in 2010. The religious right has been dissatisfied with Grassley for a long time (see here and here).

After the Iowa Supreme Court announced the Varnum v Brien decision, Grassley issued a statement saying he supported “traditional marriage” and had backed federal legislation and a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But when hundreds of marriage equality opponents rallied at the state capitol last Thursday, and Republicans tried to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the Iowa House floor, Grassley refused to say whether he supported their efforts to change Iowa’s constitution:

“You better ask me in a month, after I’ve had a chance to think,” Grassley, the state’s senior Republican official, said after a health care forum in Mason City.

Grassley has supported legislation in the past decade to establish marriage as between a man and a woman, and to enact an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage. […]

“But it doesn’t have to be marriage,” he added. “There’s things like civil unions.”

Grassley said the amendment he supported left the issue of government acknowledgment of same-sex relationships, such as civil unions, up to states

to allow or ban.

Wingnut Bill Salier, who almost won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2002, says conservatives are becoming “more and more incensed [the] more they start to pay attention to how far [Grassley] has drifted.”

Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn denies that party activists are unhappy with Grassley. I hope Salier is right and Grassley gets a primary challenge, for reasons I’ll explain after the jump.  

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Steve King news roundup

Congressman Steve King is still “royally ticked” about the “unanimous decision on the part of seven unelected Iowa judges who decided to take the law into their own hands and usurp the legitimate authority of the Iowa Legislature […].” He doesn’t seem real clear on the concept of judicial review, whereby courts can strike down laws that violate citizens’ constitutional rights.

Then again, maybe King does understand that legislators can’t pass unconstitutional laws. As David Waldman pointed out, last month King complained that a bill to restrict bonus payments to executives from bailed-out financial institutions was “a dangerous and unconstitutional disruption of America’s free-market system.”

In any event, King is bringing his crusade against marriage equality to a telephone near you. Several Bleeding Heartland readers in different parts of the state have told me that they received the robocall corncam diaried here. Paid for by the National Organization for Marriage, the call features King asking if you are a registered voter in Iowa. If you say yes, King asks if you believe marriage should be between one man and one woman. If you say no, King thanks you and says good-bye.

We need someone to say yes, take detailed notes about the rest of this robocall, and post a diary here about it. Obviously it’s a voter ID call for a group that will be campaigning to overturn the Varnum v Brien ruling, but what talking points are they using, and what information are they collecting from sympathetic respondents?

Some people have wondered whether King recorded this call in order to raise his profile for a future statewide campaign. Last week King told the Omaha World-Herald that he would be more likely to run for governor in 2010 if Chet Culver did not work hard to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v Brien. Although I’d love for King to leave Congress, I agree with Iowa Senate Democratic leader Mike Gronstal, who says “Steve King’s too chicken to run for governor because he knows he’d get his butt beat.”

King responded by accusing Gronstal of being “afraid to allow a vote on marriage,” which made me laugh. If Gronstal were afraid of backlash on this issue, he would be making cautious statements that grudgingly accept the Supreme Court ruling while emphasizing his own belief in “traditional marriage.” Instead, Gronstal has made clear that he welcomes marriage equality and will not “insert discrimination into our state constitution.”

The Steve Kings of the world are scared because they know Iowans and Americans increasingly support legal recognition of committed relationships, regardless of sexual orientation.  

Speaking of campaigns, Politico reported on April 3 that the Federal Election Commission has questioned why King’s campaign committee paid the Congressman’s son Jeff King $156,000 during the past five years. An attorney for the campaign committee responded that Jeff King is the sole full-time employee of the campaign, and that he was paid a “fair market value” salary for “bona fide campaign-related services.”

King isn’t the most energetic campaigner, so I find it surprising that he employs a full-time year-round campaign staffer, but to me this is a non-issue. Many politicians employ close relatives on their campaigns. If King’s contributors don’t mind his paying his son $30,000 a year, then who am I to argue?

What bothers me are the elected officials who hire close relatives to do taxpayer-funded work–especially when those officials pretend to care about allegedly unethical campaign payments.

Culver confirms opposition to constitutional amendment on marriage

Thursday was a great day for marriage equality in Iowa. All but two Iowa House Democrats stood firm against Republican efforts to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the House floor.

The same day, the Des Moines Register quoted Governor Chet Culver confirming that he opposes such an amendment:

“I think we have to be very respectful of the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. This court in a unanimous decision has stated that it is discriminatory to deny people rights that they’re given under the current Constitution,” [Culver] said.

Culver released a statement accepting the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling on April 7, four days after the court announced its decision. Most other prominent Iowa Democrats reacted more quickly, but Culver told the Des Moines Register that he didn’t want to make a “knee-jerk reaction”:

“I think it’s appropriate to take as much time as necessary, and in my case about four days, to thoroughly read the decision. … It’s 69 pages long. It involves a lot of complex legal arguments on both sides,” he said.

Culver said he sat down with Attorney General Tom Miller on Monday to talk about the ruling. He had conversations with other “interested parties.” He read many of the “thousands” of messages his office received.

Truth be told, I want to believe Bleeding Heartland user ragbrai08’s hunch about the reason for the delay:

Hopefully […] this means they conducted a quickie poll and found little enthusiasm for amending the constitution.

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Iowa House Speaker rejects attempt to bring constitutional amendment for vote (updated)

Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy ruled out of order an attempt by Republicans to bring a resolution to the floor on amending Iowa’s constitution to ban gay marriage. The resolution did not pass any House committee before last month’s “funnel” deadline, so could only have reached the floor if leadership made an exception for it.

I will update this post as more news becomes available. You can read a couple of different play-by-play accounts on the Twitter feeds of journalist Charlotte Eby and Republican Representative Renee Schulte. It sounds as if leadership conferred for a while before Murphy ruled the resolution out of order. Iowa Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal, who refused to let a similar bill come to the Senate floor on Monday, was in the House chamber this morning speaking with House leaders.

Earlier today marriage equality opponents and supporters rallied at the Iowa capitol. I wasn’t there, but Charlotte Eby provided the highlights. Former State Representative Danny Carroll told the crowd that politicians who don’t listen to the word of God should be replaced. Someone doesn’t seem to understand the constitution too well. Unfortunately for Carroll and fortunately for us, the voters of Iowa House district 75 sent him packing in 2006, and voted him down by a larger margin in his rematch against Eric Palmer last year.

One Iowa also had supporters at the capitol this morning. If you were there, please post a comment or a diary about what you saw.

UPDATE with background: The bill in question, House Joint Resolution 6, proposes an amendment to the Iowa constitution stipulating that marriage is between one man and one woman (here is the text). The co-sponsors of HJR 6 are Republican Dwayne Alons (not one of the brightest lights in Iowa politics) and Democrat Dolores Mertz (the kind of Democrat who votes against good labor bills and buries bills that would reduce pollution from factory farms).

The Iowa legislature’s “funnel” date passed in early March. Under the normal rules of operation, bills that did not clear at least one House or Senate committee by that time were dead for the 2009 session.

SECOND UPDATE: One Iowa says this is not over yet and is urging supporters of marriage equality to contact their representatives today.

House Switchboard: 515-281-3221

Tell them to stand firm with legislative leadership and oppose this distracting and divisive move. With all the challenges Iowa is facing, it’s time for our elected officials to get back to work for Iowa families!

The Des Moines Register explains House Speaker Murphy’s ruling:

Murphy’s ruling today stemmed from the fact that the House cannot suspend rules it has enacted jointly with the Senate. House members can only suspend their own rules.

The only way to suspend the joint rules is for someone to introduce a resolution in the Rules and Administration Committee. If it starts in the House, then there’s a vote in House committee and in the full House. If it passes, it goes to Senate committee then a vote of the full Senate.

That explains why Senate leader Gronstal was in the House chamber this morning. The bill is HJR 6.

The Des Moines Register article also makes clear that House Republicans aren’t giving up:

But Republicans hinted that they will make another run at the issue later today.

“We’ll just let the day unfold,” said House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha. He later added. “The Legislature has a whole mass of rules and while you can use them sometimes to hide behind, sometimes they work to your advantage in other situations.”

I don’t pretend to know what rules he is referring to, but please tell all your friends in Iowa to contact their House representatives and ask them to respect the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v Brien.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: More drama this afternoon, as Republican Chris Rants tried to attach an amendment banning gay marriage to a bill on health care, according to Charlotte Eby. House Speaker Murphy ruled the amendment out of order, but Rants moved to suspend rules. Eby said “some Ds” voted with Republicans and named Mertz and Geri Huser, but the motion failed. I don’t know whether Mertz and Huser were the only Democrats voting with Republicans on that bill.

If we can’t defeat Huser in the 2010 primary with all the bad votes she’s cast, I don’t know what to say. I am not giving a penny to the House Democratic leadership fund as long as any money could be spend defending incumbents like Mertz and Huser.

FINAL UPDATE: According to The Des Moines Register, the amendment defeated this afternoon

would have gutted a $1.25 billion health and human services bill, House File 811, and replaced it with a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

That amendment failed on a 54-44 vote. Mertz and Huser were the only two House Democrats who voted with Republicans. Shame on them for trying to sacrifice a health care bill in order to pass an amendment that would put discrimination in our state constitution.

If your representative is one of the 54 Democrats who stood firm with Speaker Murphy, please call or e-mail to say thank you. I know that some of the House Democrats are personally uncomfortable with same-sex marriage, but they did the right thing today.

Murphy released this statement:

“The latest political stunt by House Republicans this afternoon proves this is all about politics.  It’s stunning that Republicans would choose to gut health care for our children, veterans, seniors and disabled Iowans to score political points.

Despite today’s political posturing and attempts to circumvent rules agreed to by Republicans earlier this year, my goal is to keep our focus

on helping middle class families struggling to make ends meet and balancing the state budget.

Iowans expect us to work together on the issues that unite us –good-paying jobs, affordable health care and a quality education.”

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Gronstal dares conservatives to push for Constitutional Convention

Iowa Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal is on a tear this week. On Monday he rejected Republican efforts to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the Senate floor. Read his remarks here (scroll to the bottom) or watch the video:

On Tuesday Gronstal in effect dared conservatives to push for a Constitutional Convention, which might consider adopting an amendment to ban gay marriage. From the Des Moines Register:

“I’m inclined to hope they succeed, if that’s their strategy,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, who has saluted Friday’s Iowa Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. “There’s a lot of good, progressive issues that we could pursue: a woman’s right to choose, guaranteed health care for all Iowa citizens, workers’ rights – so if there are people that want to help us get to a constitutional convention, that’s kind of my dream world.”

If Iowa voters approve a ballot initiative next November on calling a Constitutional Convention, the Iowa legislature will draw up rules for selecting delegates to that body. If the convention approves proposed constitutional amendments, a special election will be scheduled, and voters will consider each amendment separately, not as a bloc.

Some Iowa Republicans don’t sound eager to roll the dice on this procedure:

Sen. Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City, said he will likely vote against holding a convention. “We have bumps in the road but we’re operating pretty well without going in and messing with the Constitution,” Wieck said.

Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley said he will continue to push for a second route toward a constitutional amendment on gay marriage: votes by the Iowa House and Iowa Senate in two consecutive general assemblies followed by a vote of the people.

But McKinley understands why some might have an interest in a constitutional convention.

“I think the reason there is some appeal at least on the surface is citizens feel very disenfranchised from their government,” McKinley said. “Democracies are crazy things. Sometimes the people want to do things that maybe the elites don’t agree with.”

Although I’m confident that over time a large majority of Iowans will come to support marriage equality, I confess that I am a bit nervous about the issue coming to a statewide vote in 2010 or 2011. At the same time, like Gronstal, I can imagine lots of good amendments that might come out of a Constitutional Convention.

Share any relevant thoughts or speculation in this thread.

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The coming battle to amend the Iowa Constitution

There’s nothing opponents of marriage equality can do to stop gay and lesbian couples from getting married in Iowa starting on April 24. Over at Daily Kos, Wee Mama posted information about getting a marriage license in Iowa for those who live elsewhere. If you would like to have a religious ceremony, I recommend contacting The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa for help in finding a sympathetic officiant, most likely to be from a United Church of Christ, United Methodist or Unitarian Universalist congregation. Couples wanting a Jewish wedding should contact Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, if at least one partner is Jewish and the couple is open to raising children as Jews. Rabbi Kaufman has officiated at a same-sex commitment ceremony and published this blog post on Friday demolishing the arguments against legalizing gay marriage in Iowa.

The political battle over marriage equality will go on for a long time after wedding bells start ringing.

After the jump I will bring you up to date on prospects for amending Iowa’s constitution and the latest statewide opinion poll on same-sex marriage.

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom of this post to read a very strong statement Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal released the evening of April 6.  

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