Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Roberts makes first foray into governor's race

Carroll legislator joins four other likely candidates for GOP nomination at Sac County event

SAC CITY - State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, made his first public appearance Saturday as a potential candidate for governor. Roberts urged more than 50 party activists in Sac City to hold firm on core principles but understand that Republicans can't alienate independents and conservative Democrats if they are to take Terrace Hill.

"We need to be as thoughtful and considerate about the messenger who carries the message as the message itself," Roberts said.

Roberts noted that in representing Carroll County and parts of Sac and Crawford counties, he has a district with a high combined percentage of independent voters and Democrats - but he's still run unopposed in the last four elections.

"People have taken note of that," Roberts said.

He said Republicans can stand on principle but also need to be approachable and engaging in term of political style - traits Sac County Economic and Tourism executive director Shirley Phillips credited Roberts with possessing in her introduction on him.

Roberts, who is close to announcing an exploratory committee, was one of four likely GOP candidates for governor to speak at the Sac County Republican Central Committee's "Breakfast With Gubernatorial Candidates" in the historic Chautauqua Building in Sac City.

Bob Vander Plaats, a Sioux City businessman who has already announced his intention to run, State Rep. Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, who has formed an exploratory committee, and State Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, who said he's closer than ever to formally entering the race, attended the event.

For his part, Roberts said Iowans appear ready for a change from Democratic control of the Legislature and governor's office.

"I can detect that people are very interested in a change of direction," Roberts said.

Roberts, a five-term legislator, said Iowa government needs structural changes and promised to downsize bureaucracy.

Hitting on a theme that ran through all the GOP speeches Saturday, Roberts said the people of Iowa, not the state's seven-member Supreme Court, should make a decision on the definition of marriage. The Court ruled in April that gay marriage in Iowa is legal.

Gov. Chet Culver should allow Iowans to vote on the matter, Roberts said.

"What that signaled to a lot of Iowans is our leaders do not respect the people," Roberts said.

On that issue Behn urged voters to say "no" on judicial retention for the justices who are in the next ballot. Their decision to legalize gay marriage is the type of move that should be left to the elected lawmakers, the Boone Republican said.

"Let 'em run for the Legislature," Behn said.

Vander Plaats said marriage is a winning issue for Republicans in 2010. He says 70 percent of Iowans are with him on it.

"Republicans need to start talking about marriage between one man and one woman," Vander Plaats said.

Vander Plaats repeated a statement that has drawn fire from within his own party in saying he would issue an executive order as governor to stay the Court's decision on same-sex marriage until the Legislature can weigh in on the matter. Critics contend such a move, if legal at all, would confer too much power in the executive branch that could be exploited by future liberal governors as well.

Behn spent some of his remarks using Carroll as an example of a city in Iowa where competition between public and private K-12 education benefits both. He called for increasing the tuition tax credit for private schools - but didn't spell out a specific dollar figure. Additionally, Behn said, Iowa should establish a scholarship fund that would allow parents to get the same amount of money the state spends on their children for public education to help pay for private school.

Vander Plaats, who earned the most frequent and sustained applause at the event, said he would not retreat from socially conservative positions.

"You don't win the governorship by selling out who you are," Vander Plaats said. "Republicans need to be trusted."

Without specifically referencing the situation of South Carolina Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who acknowledged an extra-marital affair last week, Vander Plaats made it clear he believes such episodes need to be scrubbed from the party.

"If we campaign on family values, we better walk the walk of family values," Vander Plaats said.

Earlier in the week, Vander Plaats told the Daily Times Herald Republicans should be held to a higher standard on personal behavior because they often run on family-values issues.

In terms of a broader platform, Vander Plaats said Republicans can go after Culver's base with well-articulated policies in the arenas of health care and education.

Rants, the political veteran of the GOP's Saturday morning political foursome, focused his speech primarily on the economy, saying he would work on key indicators such as property-tax burden and friendliness of business starts.

The Democrats are making the state less competitive with its neighbors by advancing an aggressive anti-business agenda, Rants said.

At the same time, Rants said, he has a strong record in opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

The next GOP candidate for governor must cobble a coalition of fiscal and social conservatives, said Rants, a former House speaker now is his ninth term in the Legislature.

"I'm a Republican who has my feet planted squarely in both camps," Rants said.

After hearing the speeches, Sac County Republican Party chairman Brian Krause, pastor of Faith Bible Church in Sac City, told the Daily Times Herald, "It's going to be a tough choice."

Krause said Vander Plaats clearly had the strongest connection with the crowd, and Rants owns the credentials debate, having been elected as House speaker at just age 25. Krause said Roberts presented himself as "approachable" - something that is vital in winning independent voters.

"I think they all threw out a good message," said Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure.

This story first appeared in The Carroll Daily Times Herald.

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