Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Vander Plaats bets it all on executive order

(Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 13, 2009)

"I'm betting my whole campaign on that executive order," Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats told me a few hours before the Johnson County Republican Party's Reagan Society Dinner on July 3.

I couldn't agree more. And, because each new candidate entering the race increases the likelihood of the Republican nomination being decided at 2010 state convention rather than the June primary, it might just prove to be a winning bet for the Sioux City businessman and former educator.

After barely missing the Republican nomination in 2002 and after earning the nomination nod for lieutenant governor in 2006, Vander Plaats said he is staking his 2010 campaign on the proposition that the members of Iowa Supreme Court overreached their authority when they unanimously ordered county recorders to issue marriages licenses to otherwise qualifying same-sex couples. Although Vander Plaats acknowledges the court had the power to declare the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, he said the justices then should have deferred to the earlier law, which makes no provisions for same-sex marriage.

In ordering the county attorneys to issue licenses, "they both legislated and executed from the bench," Vander Plaats said.

Immediately after the April 2 decision, Vander Plaats called on Democratic Gov. Chet Culver to live up to an earlier promise to do everything in his power to defend marriage as a contract between one man and one woman. Eventually -- after what Vander Plaats called "a hundred hours of silence" -- Culver said he was loathe to advocate any course of action that the Iowa Supreme Court would consider discriminatory.

In the months since, Vander Plaats repeatedly has called on Culver to issue an executive order to stay the state high court ruling until the Iowa Legislature could bring the measure before the voters as a proposed constitutional amendment. He vows that, if elected governor, one of his first actions will be to issue that executive order himself -- despite how issuing such an order would throw the state into a constitutional crisis.

"Even if you agree with this particular ruling," Vander Plaats said, "you want me to issue the executive order."

Otherwise, the candidate continued, seven appointed justices have complete power to undo the intent of the people and their elected representatives. Otherwise, he said, Iowa government has an imbalance of power in which the judiciary becomes the most powerful branch.

And Vander Plaats doesn't stop with trying to restore balance to the three branches of government. He said the executive order also would help heal the fractures within the Republican Party -- divisions he tried to avoid causing when he agreed to the lieutenant governor slot on the 2006 Republican ticket rather than see the party torn apart in a one-on-one battle against Rep. Jim Nussle.

"It's the executive order that unites the social conservatives and the fiscal conservatives," Vander Plaats said. "It's what the Tea Parties are all about."

Iowa Republicans, he said, would be united through the same anti-Washington sentiment that eventually undermined a 2006 Republican state ticket that had a Congressman running on the top slot.

Vander Plaats said he doesn't think he's changed since he started campaigning for governor eight years ago. Nor does he think Iowans have changed much in that time. But he has noticed a growing groundswell of support as he gets his message out about less government and more local control in education, health care and human services.

"The primary cry from educators right now isn't more money," he said, "it's, 'Just let me teach.'"

The full strength of Vander Plaats' base was re-confirmed for him early last year when his efforts as the Iowa chairman for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign culminated with a come-from-behind win in the caucuses. It's those supporters that Vander Plaats expects to carry him to the nomination as well as to the governor's mansion.

"We're not doing anything different for the primary," he said. "If I get the nomination, I know I can take the general election."

Huckabee recently returned the favor by endorsing Vander Plaats very early in the gubernatorial race. Some of the pundits say the endorsement shows that Huckabee, now a commentator for Fox News, is no longer serious about a presidential run in 2012.

But Huckabee has shown he knows Iowa Republicans pretty well. So, it just might be that he thinks Vander Plaats is as a safe bet as Vander Plaats thinks his executive order is.

Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at or 319-887-5435.

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