Iowa NAACP head needs a history lesson

Sioux City businessman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats got a surprising endorsement on Monday from Keith Ratliff, pastor of the Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines and president of the Iowa-Nebraska chapter of the NAACP.

Vander Plaats was the front-runner in the Republican field until former Governor Terry Branstad entered the race. Ratliff said Vander Plaats' position on same-sex marriage rights was "an important factor" in his endorsement.

The Des Moines Register also reported,

Ratliff, a registered Democrat, said there were other factors in his decision, such as his dissatisfaction with Gov. Chet Culver's progress fixing discriminatory hiring practices unearthed under his predecessor, Gov. Tom Vilsack. Both Culver and Vilsack are Democrats.

"I believe marriage is between one man and one woman," Ratliff said. "But I also feel there are many other issues that have to be addressed."

Vander Plaats said he sought Ratliff's endorsement. Vander Plaats also said that, until now, he had not spoken during the campaign about the minority hiring practices or offered a plan for addressing them.

If Ratliff were merely upset about Culver's work on state hiring practices, he could have waited until after the Republican primary and endorsed the GOP nominee. Yet he jumped in early for Vander Plaats, who has never spoken out about minority hiring practices.

Let's get real. Vander Plaats sought Ratliff's support because both men were involved in public protests against the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling in Varnum v Brien.

Moreover, Vander Plaats is the only gubernatorial candidate who promises to issue an executive order on day one halting same-sex marriages until Iowans have had a chance to vote on the issue. Other Republican candidates understand that the governor lacks the power to overturn a Supreme Court ruling. Simple facts about the separation of powers are lost on Vander Plaats and his wingnut endorsers like Bill Salier and Kent Sorenson.

Ratcliff's endorsement is valuable for Vander Plaats, who needs to persuade Republicans that he has enough crossover appeal to defeat Culver. Many GOP power-brokers have thrown in their lot with Branstad, believing that "bold-color conservative" Vander Plaats would lose the general.

Although Ratliff was not speaking on behalf of the NAACP yesterday, it astounds me that the head of any NAACP chapter would get behind a candidate like Vander Plaats. I mean, what could go wrong when a governor unlawfully uses executive powers to defy a court ruling protecting minority rights? I get that the reverend is icked out by same-sex marriage, but you would think that anyone representing the NAACP would recognize the danger of encouraging governors to overrule the courts. But no, Ratliff "rejects the notion the gay rights movement is akin to the civil rights movement for blacks."

Vander Plaats has advocated some wacky ideas, but none more dangerous than letting the governor pick and choose which Supreme Court rulings to respect. The NAACP should distance itself from Ratliff's politics.

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"Isn't that what it's all about?"

Great new ad from the No on 1 campaign in Maine:

I feel optimistic about this election.

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Iowans not eager to overturn marriage equality

Marriage equality is here to stay in Iowa, if the latest statewide poll for the Des Moines Register is any guide:

Forty-one percent say they would vote for a [constitutional amendment to] ban [same-sex marriage], and 40 percent say they would vote to continue gay marriage. The rest either would not vote or say they are not sure. [...]

The overwhelming majority of Iowans - 92 percent - say gay marriage has brought no real change to their lives. [...]

The poll shows that 26 percent of Iowans favor April's unanimous court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 43 percent oppose it and 31 percent don't care much or are not sure.

Despite the 43 percent opposition to the ruling, 61 percent of Iowans say other issues will influence their decision on whether to vote to retain Iowa Supreme Court justices in the 2010 elections.

Selzer and Co. surveyed 803 Iowans between September 14 and 16, and the poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

I recommend clicking through to view the chart showing the breakdown by party affiliation on this issue. Among independents, only 44 percent either oppose or strongly oppose the Iowa Supreme Court's decision that cleared the way for marriage equality, while 32 percent "don't care much" and 22 percent either favor or strongly favor it.

Many Iowa Republicans are convinced that they can gain traction in next year's legislative elections by bashing statehouse Democrats who oppose a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. However, the Republican candidate fell just short in the recent special election in Iowa House district 90, even though the National Organization for Marriage poured nearly $90,000 into ads supporting the Republican because of the marriage issue. (The NOM plans to be involved in next year's Iowa elections as well.)

A poll commissioned by The Iowa Republican blog in July indicated that two-thirds of Iowans wanted a public vote on same-sex marriage, but that poll framed the question as follows: "The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled gay marriages can legally be conducted in the state. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, do you think Iowa voters should have the chance to vote on a traditional marriage amendment to the constitution or is the issue best decided by the Supreme Court?" Todd Dorman was right to point out that it would have been more enlightening to ask respondents how they would vote on a marriage amendment.

The Register's poll could strengthen the hand of Republicans like Doug Gross, who have been saying all year that the GOP should downplay divisive social issues and focus on the economy in next year's elections. On the other hand, 51 percent of Republicans surveyed by Selzer and Co strongly oppose the Supreme Court decision, while 11 percent just oppose the decision, 27 percent don't care much and only 10 percent either favor or strongly favor it. Gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats promises to issue an executive order on day one halting same-sex marriages if elected, and he will find plenty of support among the Republican rank and file.

I've been telling my friends, "Don't worry, be happy," since the Iowa Supreme Court announced its Varnum v Brien decision in April. I figured that with each passing year, more Iowans would understand that no one is harmed and thousands are helped by granting gays and lesbians civil marriage rights. I also felt that Republicans would not be able to win many races on this issue in 2010, let alone in subsequent years. Still, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a poll this year showing majority support for overturning the Supreme Court ruling. Learning that a constitutional amendment on marriage lacks majority support even now makes me that much more optimistic.

Now it's imperative to defeat Proposition 1 in Maine this November. Please help if you can.

Update [2009-9-21 10:12:24 by desmoinesdem]: Forgot to mention that the constitutional amendment process is lengthy in Iowa.

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IA-Gov: Roundup of recent news

It's been a while since I posted a diary here about the Iowa governor's race.

Follow me after the jump for more than you probably wanted to know.

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Department of unconvincing spin

This article by Jason Clayworth in Thursday's Des Moines Register was good for a few laughs:

A group opposed to same-sex marriages failed to secure victory for Republicans in Iowa this week, but the massive injection of out-of-state money on the issue foreshadows what's to come in next year's elections, political scholars said Wednesday.

Despite the loss, the National Organization for Marriage succeeded in making gay marriage an issue, the head of the group said Wednesday. He vowed that its "Reclaim Iowa Project" will remain active in the 2010 state elections.

I'm sure "making gay marriage an issue" was just the kind of success the NOM's generous donors (whoever they are) were looking for. Why, Iowans in House district 90 might never have realized same-sex couples could marry if not for the NOM's major ad campaign.

Back to that Register article:

Jeff Boeyink, executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, said many no-party voters Tuesday supported [Stephen] Burgmeier. That was a victory itself, he said.

Voters want the opportunity to vote on the gay marriage issue, he said.

"We moved the needle a lot," Boeyink said. "We didn't get the victory, but we take away some real positives out of this."

Sure, Mr. Boeyink, you "moved the needle a lot." Your candidate, elected three times as a Jefferson County supervisor, lost his own county by more than 600 votes.

The marriage group did not lose the race for Burgmeier, said Chuck Hurley, a former Republican legislator and now president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, a group against gay marriage. He said the issue will be a major topic in the 2010 elections.

"Marriage won the day," Hurley said of the election. "I think it was a huge issue in the campaign."

Yes, Republicans tried to make marriage a huge issue in the campaign while Curt Hanson talked about jobs, economic development and renewable energy. The National Organization for Marriage's television ad used the same kind of rhetoric as the Iowa Family Policy Center's "Let Us Vote" campaign: instead of advocating discrimination against same-sex couples, the ads supported Burgmeier as someone who would "let voters have a say." Well, voters in House district 90 had their say.

I don't want to get too cocky. Tuesday's election could have gone the other way if not for the outstanding GOTV effort by organizers supporting Hanson. But the fact is, a special election a few months after the Iowa Supreme Court ruling went into effect is exactly the kind of race likely to be disproportionately influenced by same-sex marriage. The experience of Vermont and Massachusetts shows that any electoral backlash against supporters of marriage equality was short-lived. If the Iowa Family Policy Center (which designated a staffer to work on Burgmeier's campaign) and nearly $90,000 worth of NOM tv ads couldn't leverage this issue into a victory on Tuesday, I don't think Republicans will get far running against gay marriage 14 months from now.

For a more honest Republican assessment of Tuesday's special election results, read this post by Craig Robinson at The Iowa Republican blog.

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