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Vander Plaats: Fight to oust Iowa judges ‘most important election in our country’
Instead of mounting an independent bid for governor that he is sure would fail, Sioux City Republican Bob Vander Plaats will focus his efforts this fall on convincing Iowans the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices up for a retention vote on the Nov. 2 ballot should be kicked off the bench.
“This election, in my opinion, to remove these judges is one of, if not the most important election in our country,” Vander Plaats said Friday morning at a news conference on the steps of the Iowa Judicial Building in Des Moines.
After his second-place finish in the GOP gubernatorial primary, Vander Plaats refused to endorse the party’s nominee, Terry Branstad, and began openly mulling a third-party run of his own. His last public appearance came during the Republican Party of Iowa Convention earlier this summer, where he and his supporters unsuccessfully tried to force Branstad to place Vander Plaats on the ticket as his lieutenant governor nominee.
Vander Plaats said he had long felt that running as an independent or third-party candidate was only an option if he could win, saying, “I’m not interested in being a spoiler.” But he once again refused to endorse Branstad, and when asked by The Iowa Independent if he’s spoken with his party’s nominee since the state convention, Vander Plaats said, “That’s private.”
Moving forward, Vander Plaats said he will begin forming the campaign to oust the judges — Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit — and plans to announce partner organizations and fundraising goals in the coming weeks.
“My question is whether out-of-state extremists are going to be funding this effort to tamper with our judicial system,” said Carolyn Jenison, executive director of the LGBT-rights group One Iowa. She pointed to reports that the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage plans to spend $1 million in Iowa this fall based around their opposition to same-sex marriage.
Vander Plaats said he can’t say at this point who will be involved, but expects to be raising money in Iowa and across the country for the effort.
Vander Plaats said this idea has been one he’s pondered dating back to his primary bid for governor, but it was a ruling by a federal judge overturning a voter-approved gay marriage ban in California that solidified the idea for him.
“If the judges can do this to marriage, every one of your freedoms is up for grabs,” Vander Plaats said, pointing to gun rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion as possible future targets of a “runaway judiciary.”
While ousting the judges is important, Vander Plaats said Branstad needs to take another look at an idea that was the centerpiece of Vander Plaats gubernatorial bid: An executive order overturning the state Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling. Branstad said the idea was not legal and instead favored putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot declaring marriage as between one man and one woman.
Vander Plaats said Friday he still supports pushing for a constitutional amendment — and idea some former proponents are calling a pointless endeavor — but that it won’t be enough. The executive order, which has been dismissed as unconstitutional by legal scholars, has to be a part of the solution. Iowa should also change the way it selects judges, Vander Plaats said, and idea already being forwarded by Branstad.
Vander Plaats even questioned the unanimity of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling, saying the “conspiracy theorist in me” thinks the Justices conspired to make a unanimous ruling “to protect their seats on the court.”
When asked when, and if, he ever plans to endorse Branstad, Vander Plaats said he has no timeline set on making that decision.
The new campaign to oust the judges won’t impact One Iowa’s strategy for the fall, Jenison said.
“While we take this effort seriously, we expect this will be another losing effort by Bob Vander Plaats,” she said. “Iowa’s courts have a long history of fairness and impartiality. The Varnum ruling is an excellent example of why our courts must remain independent and free from the ever-shifting political winds. The bottom line is that Iowans do not want politics anywhere near our courts.”