Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Why Rod Roberts should run for governor
When Rod Roberts embarked on his first Statehouse bid in 1998 I was skeptical to say the least. In fact, the candidacy of this ordained Christian conservative pastor frightened me.
With a passionate belief in separation of church and state I had visions of Rod as something of a localized Pat Robertson, an evangelical bent on Bible-beating his view of life and Christianity into his politics, his representation of us. Most of all I feared that if Roberts, a Republican, shirt-sleeved his brand of Protestantism, he'd expose rifts in this city that we've long since repaired to make way for collective progress and respect.
After hundreds of interviews with Roberts over the last decade and in interaction through Rotary and elsewhere I can now say that my initial suspicions, which I think Rod himself would admit were fair and not borne out of any malice, were dead wrong.
Simply put, Rod has demonstrated himself to be a member of that proud tradition of Christians in politics, those whose private faith informs their public acts. In hindsight this shouldn't have come as a surprise. Rod's father, Jack, now retired, was a longtime history and government teacher at the Colo-Nesco School District east of Ames. Rod probably learned about church-state separation somewhere around the time the training wheels came off his first bike.
Over his nine years in the Iowa House, Roberts, the Iowa development director with the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, has been a reliable vote on social conservative issues to be sure. He's vehemently opposed to abortion and is steadfast in his religiously based view that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Organizations such as the decidedly right-of-center Iowa Family Policy Center know this and tell us they're quite comfortable with the prospect of a Governor Rod Roberts. They trust him.
But it is not with social issues that Roberts has made his name in the Legislature and Iowa politics - or in Carroll. Specifically, Rod, a man who clearly keeps close counsel with successful economic-development leaders in Carroll, fought for legislation that has dispersed money from casino-rich counties to the rest of the state through Endow Iowa. Carroll County and other rural areas without slot-machine-fed streams of cash benefit enormously from this. It is a signature accomplishment.
On the education front, Roberts, a former member of the Carroll Community School Board, has shown a keen understanding of the state's public systems, which consume a lion's share of the tax dollars we send to Des Moines. What's more, he provided crucial advocacy for private schools with support of tuition tax credits and the rescue of logical state transportation programs for parochial students - funding that was under heavy assault at one point from former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
With regard to constituent service, an underrated but perhaps the best measure of a legislator, Rod's performed diligently. He's listened and delivered, most recently where the city of Carroll and a much-needed traffic signal project at U.S. Highway 30 and Griffith Road is concerned. I've personally never seen Rod Roberts unprepared or ill-informed on legislation. This teacher's son does his homework.
In an in-depth analysis of a potential Roberts gubernatorial bid we published Monday, fiscal-issues-first Des Moines Republican David Oman, former state chairman of that party, described Rod as having "a winning personality." This is right on the money for Rod is that rarest of political creatures with whom one can disagree but still hold in esteem, for while he's a sharp tactician and not afraid to mix it up, Rod isn't guided by guile.
In 2010 the Iowa GOP has a barn-door opening provided by an at times stumbling Chet Culver and overreaching Democratic Party, which appeared more interested in political paybacks than governing. But Republicans face political Siberia if they can't nominate a competitive candidate for Terrace Hill and shape an agenda that reaches out from the ideological single-issue madness of fringe players to life in the middle of Iowa, where most of us live.
There's every reason to believe Rod Roberts can erect the political bridges Republicans so desperately need.
Rod has what GOP insider and influential blogger Tim Albrecht calls a "gentle mannerism." Because Rod is so comfortable with himself, with his beliefs, and the necessary reconciliation on soul-searching matters like abortion and the death penalty, he doesn't have to spit-scream like a broker on a New York trading floor to prove who he is. There's no worry of a magically morphing Mitt Romney with Roberts.
Practically speaking, Roberts should enter the GOP gubernatorial primary because he has everything to gain and nothing to lose if he runs a clean campaign full of ideas and scrubbed of insults - which if history is a guide, there's ample reason to believe he will.
There are three possible results should he enter. Roberts could connect the Robert Ray moderates and Steve King conservatives in his party to capture the nomination. Or he could find himself positioned nicely for the lieutenant governor slot should a central Iowa moderate emerge as the GOP's top candidate. The worst-case scenario is that Roberts, who could drop out of the June 2010 primary in time to keep his House seat, would boost his name recognition, setting up future runs, perhaps for Congress or another statewide office or a prestigious leadership role in the Iowa House as its speaker or ranking member.
In the end, Rod should run because if he doesn't, he'll always wonder what could have been. Rod's earned this shot and should take it with the support of the Carroll area he's admirably represented.
This column first appeared in The Carroll Daily Times Herald.