Friday, July 03, 2009

Vander Plaats: Election can turn on marriage, smoking

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats says the 2010 election can be won on opposition to same-sex marriage and the one-year-old Iowa smoking ban, issues that provoke powerful feelings on their own but also serve as metaphors for increasing government intrusion into Iowa life.

"Those are issues that resonate with people and resonate quickly, and to be quite honest, are emotional issues, issues that I think can win an election or lose an election," Vander Plaats said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Times Herald that moved from the economy to the future of the Republican Party itself to other matters, Vander Plaats said gay marriage and smoking would be swing issues with Iowans in the governor's race.

"There's a couple of issues I think people are really starting to wrestle with," Vander Plaats said. "One is the marriage issue and separation of powers."

He added, "That's a huge issue that they understand and understand big-time."

Vander Plaats argues that the Iowa Supreme Court outreached its authority in early April and made law with a decision allowing gay marriage.

"It's not just about marriage," Vander Plaats said. "It's a court overstepping its bounds from the bench."

Vander Plaats has suggested a controversial remedy, saying that if governor he would issue an executive order staying same-sex marriages until the Legislature - and therefore the people - can deal with it.

"That's part of the balance of power," he said. "But what we've done too long I think in this country and in this state is we've said whatever the Supreme Court says goes. They can't do certain things."

Some conservatives have challenged Vander Plaats' proposal as a dangerous usurping of power that would give the governor's office, including possible future ones peopled by liberals, too much power. Legal scholars also have questioned the executive stay that Vander Plaats defended in the interview as appropriate.

"The people of Iowa didn't get to vote on this," Vander Plaats said. "I guarantee you so many people in Carroll woke up on April 4 or April 3, whatever, and said, 'What? We're a same- sex marriage state? Are you kidding me? When did that come about?'"

Vander Plaats said Gov. Chet Culver should have done everything in his power to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal.

"I believe he displayed absolutely no executive leadership," Vander Plaats said. "It was within his power to hold them in check and he chose not to and I believe the reason he chose not to is because of the far left wing of his party."

In terms of tapping into voter frustration, Vander Plaats said, "No. 2 is the smoking issue."

Vander Plaats himself doesn't smoke, although he said in the interview that contrary to popular portrayal, he will have a beer now and again.

Vander Plaats said the smoking ban, which turned a year-old July 1, is a direct assault on private-property rights served with a heaping helping of government hypocrisy with a casino exemption.

"You mean all these private establishments can't have smoking but your state-run casinos can?" Vander Plaats said.

Vander Plaats said he "would deal" with the smoking ban as governor.

"Freedom is really founded in private property," Vander Plaats said.

He added, "With the smoking issue, that should be a marketplace decision. That's how we operate."

All of that said, Vander Plaats acknowledged the challenge of repealing or altering existing law, particularly one that is so high profile and on which most people have an opinion.

"There is a lot of legislation that I wish never came to be," Vander Plaats said. "To go back and change legislation, that is a very difficult task."

A Sioux City businessman Vander Plaats is currently president and CEO of MVP Leadership Inc. MVP specializes in strategic vision and executive leadership for business and industry, economic development, education, health care, human services, and private foundations.

Vander Plaats, a Sheldon native who graduated from Northwestern College in Orange City, is a former teacher and a head basketball coach in Jefferson. He and wife, Darla, have four sons.

The 2010 race will be Vander Plaats' third consecutive run for governor. He was in the last primary for a time before signing on as Republican Jim Nussle's lieutenant governor candidate. Vander Plaats also ran for his party's nomination in 2002.

While he's been unsuccessful in three political runs, Vander Plaats built considerable political clout in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses as he chaired the campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the first-in-the-nation Republican presidential nominating contest.

"I believe we have a great network throughout the entire state of Iowa," Vander Plaats said. "We have really good name identification throughout the state of Iowa in particular with Republican voters."

Vander Plaats said he senses the mood today among Iowans is one of wanting people in political office with "real life leadership" and "real life experience."

"I think what they're saying is we'd like to get back to a citizens' form of government," Vander Plaats said.

Other GOP candidates in the emerging field, such as State Rep. Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, and State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, have legislative records that can be easily attacked by Culver.

"I believe Chet Culver does not want to run on his record," Vander Plaats said. "I believe he wants to run by attacking somebody else's record."

Vander Plaats said while he may agree with the voting records of Roberts or Rants he thinks they make his fellow Republicans more vulnerable to negative advertising.

"There's always something in a bill that you can exploit," he said.

He added, "Culver with Jim Nussle, all he did, was hang Jim Nussle with his record."

Vander Plaats said another defining political choice Iowa Republicans face when sending a candidate to challenge Culver is this: do they stick to core values or moderate or water down positions in an attempt to reach out to independents and Democrats.

"One of the reasons I'm a Republican is because I'm pro-life," Vander Plaats said. "One of the reasons I'm a Republican is I'm pro one man-one woman marriage. Those are vital planks to our party."

Last week, at a major GOP event in Des Moines, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour urged his party to open a "big tent" and accept candidates and members who are pro-choice on abortion.

"From what I've heard, when he made those comments, it was eerily quiet," Vander Plaats said.

That's an accurate description of the response about 1,000 Republicans activists gave Barbour at the Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.

"I am not going to compromise my stance on who I am for the sanctity of life, who I am for the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, the way it was designed," Vander Plaats said.

Vander Plaats warns the GOP about compromising with a moderate Republican, someone who could be a "Manchurian candidate" for liberal forces looking to cripple conservatism in the state from within the Republican Party.

On the economy, Vander Plaats said the state has an environment that is hostile to business. He pledges to focus on streamlining government and creating competitive tax and regulatory climates.

Specifically, he advocates simpler tax forms and a system that is "more flat."

Vander Plaats advocates corporate state income tax reduction with an aim of eliminating it.

"We need venture capital in this state," he said.

Vander Plaats also said property taxes are killing small-town businesses.

He said instructional money for K-12 public schools and mental health services now provided by the counties should be funded by the state, not through local property taxes.

This first appeared in Carroll Daily Times Herald.

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