One simple question, three non-answers on Iowa gay 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.

Mind you, asking an 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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One simple question, three non-answers on Iowa gay 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.

Mind you, asking an 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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IA-Sen: Could Grassley face a primary challenge from the right?

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 struck down the state's Defense of Marriage Act, 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.

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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Iowa House Democrats refuse to debate gay marriage ban

Following up on my last post, Iowa House Democrats rejected a second effort on Thursday to bring a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to the floor for debate.

On Thursday morning Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy ruled out of order an attempt to bring House Joint Resolution 6 to the floor. The bill was not approved by any House committee before the "funnel" deadline that passed last month. Republicans wanted to suspend the rules to allow the bill to be debated, but as the Des Moines Register explained,

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.

Republicans vowed not to give up, and during this afternoon's debate, Representative Chris Rants offered an amendment that

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.

Murphy ruled the amendment out of order, but Rants called for a suspension of the rules so his amendment could be debated. The motion to suspend failed on a 54-44 vote, with two Democrats voting with Republicans: Dolores Mertz and Geri Huser. Mertz is a co-sponsor of HJR 6 and a generally lousy Democrat (see here and here). I also learned today from Daily Kos commenter Queen Boudica that Mertz is active with the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. Geri Huser is a business-friendly Democrat who won't back key legislative priorities for organized labor. 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 any group out there is looking for state-level Democrats to primary in 2010, please add Mertz and Huser to your list. I would imagine that a lot of Iowa Democrats would enthusiastically back progressive challengers to these two. Mertz represents a conservative area of northwest Iowa, but even if a "better Democrat" lost the general election, I believe we would be better off without Mertz in the House Democratic caucus. Huser didn't even have a Republican challenger in 2008, so this is a prime district for electing a better Democrat.

All Iowans represented by one of the 54 House Democrats who stood firm with Speaker Murphy should call or e-mail to say thank you. A few other House Democrats have indicated that they are personally uncomfortable with same-sex marriage, but they did the right thing today by not letting Republicans hijack debate on a health and human services bill.

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."

In more good news, the Des Moines Register quoted Governor Chet Culver confirming that he opposes HJR 6:

"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 supporting the Iowa Supreme Court's 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

A few minutes ago 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 is the leading advocacy group for marriage equality in Iowa. If you support their cause, please donate to support their organizing and education efforts.

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.

ANOTHER 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

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.

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