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Iowa Politics Roundup: Vander Plaats Launches Group to Target Supreme-Court Justices PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 13 August 2010 13:20

Bob Vander PlaatsStanding on the steps in front of the Iowa Judicial Building, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats of Sioux City on Wednesday announced the launch of Iowa for Freedom, a campaign aimed at unseating three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous Varnum V. Brien decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.

On "April 3, 2009, they clearly legislated from the bench by saying Iowa will be a same-sex-marriage state," said Vander Plaats, He added that the campaign is not only about marriage but about many issues, including gun rights, private-property rights, tax policy, educational choice, immigration laws, and business climate. "If we allow them to make law in this case, every one of our freedoms is up for grabs," he said.

Vander Plaats, who will serve as the campaign's state chair, described the new effort as a grassroots campaign that would be organized either as a political-action committee or as an independent-expenditure committee. The Reverend Brad Sherman of Solid Rock Christian Center spoke about how churches would support the effort, and how 800 church leaders previously signed a petition in support of traditional marriage between a man and woman.

But Vander Plaats provided few other details about how much money the group would need to raise and which groups are supporting the effort, although he said it has enough cash to provide office and staff, and engage volunteers. The American Family Association helped the campaign launch its Web site ( Vander Plaats said the National Organization for Marriage is supportive, but "that has not materialized into finances ... as of yet."

He added that "we don't have a set budget in mind," and "we are prepared to be significantly outspent."

About three-dozen people turned out to hear Vander Plaats' announcement on a sizzling day. The group included reporters, a state trooper, and opponents as well as supporters of gay marriage.

"I believe when we do this in Iowa, it will send a ripple effect across the country, and it will give hope to the people in California, and it will give hope to the people in Arizona and across the country that you can hold courts in check," Vander Plaats said. "We are going to take a stand. We're stepping intentionally into the crosshairs of this battle and of this fight because we believe it is worth fighting, and we believe it is worthwhile winning not only to restore traditional marriage, but to restore our separation of powers as well."

One Iowa Executive Director Carolyn Jenison attacked Vander Plaats following the announcement of his new campaign: "Bob Vander Plaats is a failed politician, and he's continuing to use this to play politics with the lives of real Iowans. He's made his sole mission to harm Iowa families, to divide communities and to demean Iowa families. He needed something else to do, honestly. The voters rejected his divisive talk in June, and now it's just one more way to get back out there and try it again. Iowans, I think they're going to reject this conversation in November."

Bipartisan Group Forms to Defend Judicial System

A bipartisan not-for-profit group called Iowans for Fair & Impartial Courts has been formed to tout Iowa's current system for selecting judges and to advocate against politicizing the process. News of the group came one day after formation of the Iowa for Freedom campaign aimed at unseating three Iowa Supreme Court justices who are up for a retention vote in the November 2 general election.

"We are interested in educating people about the Iowa court system and the selection and retention of judges -- why the system is a good system," said Norbert Kaut, a Des Moines attorney who's director and treasurer of Iowans for Fair & Impartial Courts.

Kaut said the effort was first discussed a year ago and did not come in response to Vander Plaats' formation of Iowa for Freedom. "We had been talking about doing this long before he ever started his campaign," Kaut said. "Other states have judicial elections. There's a strong perception [that] the quality of justice depends on whether you're a contributor. That's something that we've never had to deal with in Iowa."

The new educational campaign is a 501(c)(3) and is mostly a volunteer effort led by former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan and former Republican National Committee member Steve Roberts. Former state Representative Bob Rafferty of Davenport (a former chief of staff to Governor Terry Branstad) is also in the group. Kaut said fundraising will be modest, and activities will be focused on forums or speaking engagements, although TV ads are being considered.

Kaut said Iowans for Fair & Impartial Courts is similar to a group in Minnesota that was formed to keep politics out of the courts. "Iowa has always had a very good reputation of having the right kind of merit system, and fair and impartial courts," he said. "We're not advocating in favor or against any particular judges."

Vander Plaats described the opposition group as "the legal community lashing out": "The way in which a bipartisan group of political elites has organized to keep average Iowans from voicing their opinion is remarkable, but not overly surprising. The fact that these lawyers, who have held high office in both political parties, would so quickly come together to defend the unconstitutional actions of the Supreme Court just serves to illustrate that the power brokers and ruling class within the two political parties have more in common with each other than with average Iowans."