Iowa legislative recap: Constitutional amendments

Iowa lawmakers went home for the year on May 5. In the coming weeks, Bleeding Heartland will catch up on some of the legislature’s significant work that attracted relatively little attention.

Two proposed state constitutional amendments passed both chambers and could appear on the 2020 general election ballot, if the House and Senate approve them in the same form during either 2019 or 2020.

Three other constitutional amendments cleared one chamber in 2017–in one case unanimously–then stalled in the other chamber as lawmakers completed this two-year session. Those ideas may resurface next year. But since changes to the state constitution must be passed by two consecutively elected legislatures before landing on the general election ballot (the last step in the process), Iowa voters would not be able to ratify those proposals until November 2022 at the earliest.

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Republican Ginny Caligiuri likely running for Congress in IA-02

Dr. Christopher Peters may soon have a Republican primary rival in Iowa’s second Congressional district. Multiple sources tell Bleeding Heartland that Ginny Caligiuri has been laying the groundwork to seek the GOP nomination and plans to have petitions out for activists to sign at the Republican Party of Iowa’s precinct caucuses on February 5. At this writing, the Federal Election Commission’s website has not published any statement of organization for a Caligiuri campaign. The would-be candidate has not replied to requests for comment.

Caligiuri is well-known in Iowa Christian conservative circles, having served as state director for the United States National Prayer Council, the Iowa Prayer Caucus, and National Governors’ Prayer Team. She’s on the committee planning this year’s Iowa Prayer Breakfast in March.

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How many more Iowa GOP women will find their voice on Donald Trump?

Melissa Gesing reached her limit this week. Four days after a 2005 video showed Donald Trump telling a reporter he could “do anything” to women, two days after Trump insisted in the second presidential debate that those comments were merely “locker room talk,” Gesing stepped down as president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women. In her October 11 resignation letter, she described her move as a “last resort,” saying she can’t “look at myself in the mirror each morning if I do not take a stand against the racism, sexism, and hate that Donald J. Trump continues to promote.” She explained her decision at greater length in a blog post called “Ending this bad and unhealthy relationship.”

So far, no other woman in the top echelon of Iowa Republican politics has jumped ship. The Iowa Federation of Republican Women named a new president today and restated its support for the Trump-Pence ticket.

But how long can that last, with more women coming forward every day to say Trump kissed or groped them without consent, and used his position of power to walk in on women or underage girls undressed?

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Smooth sailing for Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2016

Three of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who concurred in the historic Varnum v Brien ruling on marriage equality lost their jobs in the 2010 judicial retention elections. A fourth survived a similar campaign against retaining him in 2012.

The last three Varnum justices, including the author of the unanimous opinion striking down our state’s Defense of Marriage Act, will appear on Iowa ballots this November. At this writing, no one seems to be organizing any effort to vote them off the bench. Iowa’s anti-retention campaigns in 2010 and 2012 were well under way by the end of August, but the social conservatives who spearheaded those efforts have shown no interest in repeating the experience.

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Weekend open thread: Improbably smooth GOP state convention edition

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

The Republican Party of Iowa finished all party business at yesterday’s state convention in under six hours. (For comparison, all four of the Iowa Democratic Party’s district conventions lasted more than twice as long.) You’d never guess that a candidate not named Donald Trump won the Iowa Republican caucuses in February, or that his supporters dominated the four GOP district conventions last month. State party chair Jeff Kaufmann assured journalists that the project of uniting the party was well underway after a sometimes bitter primary season.

During their speeches to convention delegates, Governor Terry Branstad said, “We need to support Donald Trump and his choice for vice president because he will make America great again.” Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds echoed the call to stand united against Democrats. As O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst didn’t mention Trump’s name but argued, “We’ve got to come together, because you know what my motto is going to be this year? Never Hillary! Never!” A massive wall display symbolized the delegates’ commitment to “Stop Hillary” from becoming president.

Representative Steve King, who said a few days ago that he is “not ready” to endorse Trump yet, left little doubt yesterday that he will be able to do so by the time of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The at-large slate of RNC delegates chosen yesterday included Branstad, Reynolds, King, and Bob Vander Plaats, who like King was a high-profile endorser of Ted Cruz before the caucuses. Vander Plaats and Trump had a big dustup on Twitter in January. This week, Vander Plaats told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that he recently met one-on-one with Trump, adding that there was “no endorsement” but that the two men had a “good conversation.”

At least a handful of #NeverTrump types, such as conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart, were among the more than 1550 delegates at yesterday’s state convention, but they did not make their presence known in any organized or vocal way.

The party platform debate proceeded briskly, with no big floor fights. Planks approved by voice vote included one that would eliminate more than a half-dozen federal agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration along with the long-hated-by-Republicans Internal Revenue Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Education. The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble highlighted some platform planks that are at odds with Trump’s positions.

Some Iowa GOP conventions have involved intense battles over electing the man and woman to represent our state on the Republican National Committee. However, Tamara Scott was unopposed yesterday for re-election, and Steve Scheffler easily outpolled his little-known opponent David Dicks, a homeschooling dad from Des Moines.

Speaking of Scheffler, how about that guy’s survival skills? The founder of the Iowa Christian Alliance, whom conservative talk radio host Steve Deace has called the “least trustworthy & most gutless person in Iowa politics,” was first elected as RNC committeeman in 2008. His victory over a legend of the Iowa Republican establishment was seen as a sign the Iowa GOP was moving to the right. Scheffler held on as RNC committeeman in 2012 amid the takeover of Iowa GOP machinery by Ron Paul supporters, winning a spot on their approved delegate slate. (Craig Robinson described here how Scheffler did “a 180” on Paul.) The “Paulinista” faction was mostly swept away in 2014, but Scheffler is still standing.

His ability to align himself with establishment figures goes back a long way. Scheffler first made a name for himself as a “lead organizer” for Pat Robertson before the 1988 Iowa caucuses. Robertson’s second-place finish in that contest shocked the political world. Scheffler went on to become a prominent Christian Coalition activist but disappointed some allies in social conservative circles by endorsing Bob Dole before the 1996 caucuses. As head of the Iowa Christian Alliance in 2007, Scheffler did not endorse a presidential candidate but “often spoke highly” of Mitt Romney (see here) and “was accused of trying to undermine Mike Huckabee’s campaign,” which had much more support among Iowa evangelicals at that time. I’ve posted more background on Scheffler below.

UPDATE: Every Iowa Republican who has endorsed Trump should be asked about this article by David Cay Johnston: “Just What Were Donald Trump’s Ties to the Mob?” Johnston won a Pulitzer prize in 2001 for his reporting on loopholes and inequities in the U.S. tax code.

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Weekend open thread: Tamara Scott ignorance edition

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

I just caught up on some recent remarks by Iowa’s Republican National Committeewoman Tamara Scott. In addition to representing Iowa on the RNC, Scott lobbies the state legislature on behalf of Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization and leads the Iowa chapter of Concerned Women for America, an influential group on the religious right. She was speaking at the FAMiLY Leader’s southeast regional summit on April 9, an event four potential GOP presidential candidates attended. Scott used the Wiccan invocation that stirred controversy in the Iowa House to make a case for more public expressions of Christianity, including teaching the country’s dominant religion in public schools. (Scott has frequently advocated school prayer and alleged that various societal problems stem from removing Christian prayers from public schools during the 1970s.) Miranda Blue covered the FAMiLY Leader regional summit speech for Right Wing Watch; some excerpts are after the jump. For video of all speeches from the regional summit, click here.

I am continually struck by how clueless social conservatives are about the separation of church and state. Though Scott does not acknowledge this legal reality, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting any specific religious viewpoint. Every time a prominent Republican demands more government expressions and endorsements of Christianity, they are driving away Jews and probably members of other minority religious groups too, not to mention the growing number of Americans who do not identify with any religion.

In a fantastic column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Lynda Waddington offers her own Christian perspective on Scott’s prayer for a storm to disrupt the Wiccan invocation. I’ve enclosed excerpts below, but you should click through to read the whole piece. All I can say is, that Cabot witch sure demonstrated some amazing powers.

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