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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