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Iowa House primary ground zero for gay marriage fight
Differences between the two Democrats competing for the Iowa House District 66 seat couldn’t be more stark. And although most observers think incumbent Ako Abdul-Samad is safe, the candidates’ differing views on same-sex marriage could turn the district into a testing ground for the fall campaign.
“This race is important and marriage equality is at the center of it,” said Ashlan Shaw, an intern with the Fairness Fund PAC who is working to get Abdul-Samad re-elected. The Fairness Fund is the political action committee for One Iowa, the state’s largest LGBT-rights organization.
“This election is crucial for keeping a pro-equality, community advocate in House District 66 and preventing discrimination from being written into the constitution,” Shaw said.
Abdul-Samad is facing a primary challenge from Clair Rudison Jr., an ordained minister that works with the Iowa Missionary and Educational Baptist State Convention. He is a former Texas resident who is married with 10 children. Rudison describes himself as pro-family, pro-life and pro-marriage. The Des Moines district is one of the most heavily Democratic in the state, meaning the winner of the primary is the overwhelming favorite to win in the fall.
So far, Rudison — who did not respond to requests for comment — has focused his campaign on issues like education and the state budget, pointing to the Forrest Avenue Library’s decision to close on Fridays and Saturdays due to budget cuts as a sign the legislature needs new blood. He’s sent out mailers attacking Abdul-Samad on increases to vehicle registration fees and for voting to create the Iowa Film Office. In a video posted on his Facebook page, Rudison says he is an “old-time Democrat who is concerned about the needs of the common man.”
Even though he hasn’t campaigned hard publicly on his opposition to same-sex marriage, the largest donation other than from himself to his campaign came from the Iowa Family Political Action Committee, the political arm of the social conservative and anti-gay organization Iowa Family Policy Center.
“The Iowa Family Policy Center’s attacks on Abdul-Samad and their alignment with Clair Rudison demonstrate Rudison’s focus on a divisive, narrow-minded, and anti-equality agenda,” said Carolyn Jenison, executive director of One Iowa. “Iowa needs leaders like Abdul-Samad who will focus on putting people back to work, improving our schools and rebuilding our infrastructure.”
One Iowa isn’t the only organization taking Rudison’s challenge seriously. Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, told The Iowa Independent his group is encouraging voters to “send the message that Iowa needs leaders like Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad who are focused on creating jobs, fixing the economy and building up our neighborhoods, and in doing so they will be rejecting a politics that divides our communities and plays on voters’ fears.”
In a recent interview with The Des Moines Register, Rudison said he would vote for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but he wanted to emphasize that he is “not anti-gay. I have members of my family that are gay, and we’ve never had issues.”
Ed Fallon, who easily won re-election in the district three times before stepping down in 2006 to run for governor, said voters in HD66 are far too progressive to ever consider supporting Rudison.
“This is a district that likes progressive Democrats,” Fallon said. “[Abdul-Samad] should win this easily, but he’s not taking anything for granted, which is smart.”
Fallon, who had endorsed Abdul-Samad, said he thinks Iowa Family Policy Center is using Rudison, a tactic that is sure to fail.
“I just can’t see how he could possibly win this district,” he said. Fallon also said he faced numerous primary challenges during his time representing the district, both for 8 years under previous district lines and for 6 more years after redistricting in 2000. So a conservative challenger isn’t all that unusual, although it has never been successful, he said.
Abdul-Samad — the founder of Creative Visions Human Development Center, a non-profit that helps Iowans find jobs and receive family assistance — had more than $11,000 cash on hand as of the May 19 filing deadline. According to disclosure reports filed earlier this week, Rudison has a negative campaign cash balance of more than $4,000.