Iowa marriage equality anniversary thread

One year ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court's Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect. From April 27, 2009 through the end of last year, at least 1,783 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Iowa. The real number is probably higher, because about 900 marriage licenses did not specify the gender of the couple involved. Despite a petition drive led by some Iowa Republicans and the Iowa Family Policy Center, not a single county recorder denied a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

Although all three Republican candidates for governor say they want to overturn the Varnum v Brien ruling, marriage equality is probably here to stay. Conservative groups are not urging voters to pass a ballot initiative calling for a constitutional convention, which would be the quickest path to amend the Iowa constitution. Bob Vander Plaats probably won't win the Republican nomination for governor, much less the November election, and even if he did, his plan to halt gay marriage by executive order is a non-starter.

That leaves the self-styled defenders of traditional marriage one path: approving an amendment restricting marriage rights in two separately elected Iowa legislatures, then convincing a majority of Iowans to vote for that amendment (in November 2014 at the earliest).

Republicans have an outside shot at winning a majority in the Iowa House in 2010, but they have virtually no chance of taking back the Iowa Senate this year. Democrats currently hold a 32-18 majority in the upper chamber. A net gain of four or five seats is the best-case scenario for the GOP, and I consider a net gain of two or three seats much more likely. That leaves Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal in a position to block all efforts to bring a constitutional amendment on marriage to a floor vote during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.

Gubernatorial candidate Rod Roberts claims he could force Democrats to allow a marriage vote. His plan is to veto all legislation, including the state budget, until the Iowa House and Senate have voted on a marriage amendment. I doubt a Republican could win that game of chicken even if Governor Chet Culver is defeated this November. Polling indicates that most Iowans are not eager to ban gay marriage and think the state legislature has more important things to do. Anyway, the most likely Republican nominee, Terry Branstad, has an incoherent position on gay marriage and probably would make only a token effort to get a constitutional amendment passed.

Share any thoughts about same-sex marriage in Iowa in this thread.

Speaking of civil rights, some reports indicate that the House of Representatives will vote this year to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which has ended far too many military careers. Click here to read a moving open letter to President Obama from an Air Force major who was discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

IA-Sen: Conlin outraises Grassley in 1Q

Iowa Democrat Roxanne Conlin raised more money than five-term incumbent Senator Chuck Grassley in the first quarter. She gave her U.S. Senate campaign $250,000 during the first three months of 2010 and raised nearly $630,000 from other donors. (She is not accepting any PAC contributions). Grassley raised $613,577 in the first quarter and has over $5 million cash on hand, compared to just $1 million for Conlin. Still, she has now raised "more than all of Grassley's past challengers combined," according to a campaign press release. More numbers from that release:

FACTS:

No PAC or Washington lobbyist funds.

81 percent of donors are Iowans.

78 percent of contributions are $100 or less.

Breakdown:

Campaign to date raised: $1,483,191

First Quarter 2010 raised: $629,615

Candidate contribution: $250,000

First Quarter PAC Money: $0

First Quarter Federal Lobbyist Money: $0

First Quarter 2010 total: $879,615

Cash on hand: $1,000,455

Those are impressive numbers for a challenger, especially since Grassley is not considered one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents. Grassley's last Democratic opponent, Art Small, only raised about $136,000 during the whole 2004 campaign, and about $70,000 of that total came from the candidate himself.

I knew Conlin was holding a lot of fundraisers, but I am surprised that she was able to out-raise the incumbent for the quarter even if you don't count her own large contribution to the campaign. While she won't be able to match Grassley's spending, she will have the resources to run a statewide campaign, assuming she wins the June 8 Democratic primary. I haven't seen first-quarter numbers for the other Democratic candidates, Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen, but at year-end Fiegen had about $400 on hand, and Krause had about $3,500.

At Iowa Independent, Jason Hancock covered a recent dustup among the Democratic candidates over debates before the primary. I hope we will see some debates in addition to candidate forums, and I hope the final weeks of the primary campaign won't become too divisive. I plan to vote for Conlin, whose work I have long admired and who is best positioned to make the race competitive. Not only has she raised money, she will have a strong volunteer base. Just in my own precinct I know several Democrats who are not inclined to volunteer for Governor Chet Culver but will knock on doors or make phone calls for Conlin. By next Monday she will have held campaign events in all 99 Iowa counties.

IA-Sen: Grassley Embarrasses Majority of Iowans; Less Than Half Would Re-Elect

New polling by Research 2000 finds that Republican Chuck Grassley is far more vulnerable than the conventional wisdom gives him (dis)credit for.

When asked if Grassley should be re-elected, only 42% said re-elect, while 31% said it was time for someone new, and 27% were not sure. (Remember, being unsure about an incumbent of twenty-nine years bodes poorly for the incumbent.) Among independents, only 39% said re-elect. Not too hot.

The money question of the poll was:

When Senator Chuck Grassley says President Obama and Democrats would QUOTE "pull the plug on grandma" UNQUOTE do you think that does Iowa proud in Congress or embarrasses Iowa?

By more than a 2-to-1 margin (53% to 26%), Iowans responded that Grassley's comments embarrassed them rather than made them proud. Among independents, the embarrass-proud ratio was an overwhelming 61-21. Research 2000 broke down the responses by Congressional district. Outside of right-wing radical Steve King's 5th Congressional district (which saw a 30-51 embarrass-proud ratio), every other district was overwhelmingly embarrassed by Grassley's remarks. The other four Congressional districts ranged from 53-64% embarrassed while only 19-24% proud.

Very interestingly, while only 35% of respondents favored the Senate version of the health care reform bill, while 56% opposed it, 62% of respondents favored a public option (a 2-to-1 margin over the 31% of respondents that opposed a public option); and, moreover, by more than a 3-to-1 margin, Iowans want Democratic Senator Tom Harkin to fight harder for a public option and would respect him more if he did.

The message from these numbers is clear: Iowans are open to voting for an alternative to Republican Chuck Grassley, would support a public option (and many who opposed health care reform in Iowa simply feel that it didn't go far enough), and were embarrassed by Grassley's dishonest kowtowing to the teabaggers with his "pull the plug on grandma" routine.

The Iowa Independent reminds us:

The “pull the plug on grandma” statement, which was part of the death panel meme Pulitzer Prize winning Web site PolitiFact named its “Lie of the Year,” dogged Grassley throughout the last few months of 2009 and was cited by at least one of the three Democrats vying to unseat him as the reason for entering the race.

Grassley's own numbers must be telling him that his lies could constitute a politically fatal flub given how freaked out he got over the discussion of his comments and how he tripped over himself backpedaling:

By the end of the year, though, Grassley was blaming media reports for his association with the death panels meme. In a letter to a constituent forwarded to The Iowa Independent, Grassley said some “commentators” took his comments and twisted them as saying that health care reform would establish death panels.

“I said no such thing,” Grassley said. “As I said then, putting end-of-life consultations alongside cost containment and government-run health care causes legitimate concern.”

Who was that Democrat who cited Grassley's comments as a reason for entering the race? Attorney and Democratic former gubernatorial nominee Roxanne Conlin. She got into the race in late 2009, so this past quarter's fundraising report will be the first test of her campaign's financial viability. Word is, she's a fairly prodigious fundraiser.

On top of that, Grassley has handed her the issue and according message frames on which to run. Notably to me, Conlin has five grandchildren. In other words, she is a grandma. I think it would be powerfully resonant for Conlin to put out an ad highlighting Grassley's "pull the plug on grandma" comments that embarrassed a majority of Iowans and to close the ad (while talking to the camera, surrounded by her five grandchildren) with the line, "I'm Roxanne Conlin, and I approved this message because I'm a grandma and I'm embarrassed that Chuck Grassley is talking about pulling the plug on me."

Keep a close eye on IA-Sen; I'm expecting a competitive race that will surprise the traditional media.

For news and analysis on the U.S. Senate races around the country, regularly read Senate Guru.

Iowa marriage equality anniversary thread

One year ago today, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that our state's Defense of Marriage Act violated the equal protection provision of the Iowa Constitution. From the day that ruling went into effect through the end of 2009, at least 1,783 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Iowa. The real number is probably higher, because about 900 marriage licenses did not specify the gender of the couple involved.

Follow me after the jump for a review of news about marriage equality in Iowa, stories featuring happy couples, and thoughts about the future politics of this issue.

There's more...

IA-Gov: Culver won't have a primary challenger after all

Jonathan Narcisse told the Des Moines Register's Kathie Obradovich yesterday that he won't run against Governor Chet Culver in the Democratic primary. He plans to register for the ballot as an independent candidate. Narcisse served a term on the Des Moines School board is the publisher of several African-American and Latino-oriented publications. He also appears regularly on some talk radio programs in Iowa. His political views are an unusual blend, as you can see from reading his manifesto, An Iowa Worth Fighting For. Narcisse advocates some ideas commonly associated with Republican candidates (big reductions in corporate and property taxes and the size of government), as well as others usually heard on the political left (e.g. supporting living wage legislation and reform of drug laws and sentencing).

Obradovich reported yesterday,

Narcisse says he collected enough signatures to get on the ballot (the deadline is Friday), but he said his changed his mind about filing based on what he heard from Iowans as he’s traveled around the state. “They really want an independent voice,” he says, someone not tied to either party.

I asked Narcisse if he would be willing to release the signatures, because otherwise people will be skeptical that he was able to collect them. He didn’t outright refuse but he also didn’t say he would release them. He said he’s used to dealing with skepticism from the media but he’s focused on making his case to voters around the state. But if he’s going to say he’s collected them, he should prove it.

Obradovich posted a press release from Narcisse, which explained his decision and thanked the volunteers who "helped me obtain the signatures that I needed to be on the June 8th primary ballot."

Ever since Narcisse announced plans late last month to run for governor as a Democrat, many political observers have privately predicted that he would not be able to meet the signature requirements. Narcisse can speak knowledgeably about public policy for hours, but his campaign manager is a management consultant and former teacher with no previous political experience. Democrats seeking statewide office in Iowa had to submit more than 4,000 total signatures (0.5 percent of the party's statewide vote in the 2008 presidential election), including at least 1 percent of the party's vote total in that election in at least 10 counties. (Statewide Republican candidates needed to meet the same percentage targets, but that worked out to fewer total signatures because Barack Obama did so much better than John McCain in Iowa.)

A strong statewide organization could collect more than 4,000 signatures on short order; Republican candidate Rob Gettemy's campaign collected 3,000 in the second Congressional district in just two weeks. I agree with Obradovich that observers will remain skeptical about Narcisse's campaign if he doesn't release his nominating petitions. Republican blogger Craig Robinson writes today that Narcisse's story has shifted dramatically in the last three days. He concludes, "The inability for Narcisse to get on the Democratic primary ballot is a deadly blow to any credibility he may have had as a candidate."

Ed Fallon had been recruiting some Democrat other than Narcisse to challenge Culver, but nothing materialized. In my opinion, Culver didn't deserve a primary challenger despite the many complaints you hear about him from Iowa Democrats.

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