Gay marriage and a quick start to the next gubernatorial campaign are among the top political stories of 2009.
This year Iowa became the third state in the country to legalize gay marriage.The Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling in early April which paved the way for same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses in Iowa. Danny Carroll of Grinnell, chairman of the Iowa Family Policy Center’s board of directors, railed against the court ruling on the day it was issued.
“A handful of people who were not elected to office — they were appointed — have rendered a decision, a decision that is contrary to the will of the people, it is contrary to God’s law and it’s time for the people through their elected officials and elected representatives to decide what the law is going to be in this state,” Carroll said.
But soon after the court’s ruling, Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs promised to block a legislative vote to set up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Iowa.
“Last Friday night, I hugged my wife — you know I’ve been married for 37 years….I felt like our love was just a little more meaningful last Friday night because thousands of other Iowa citizens could hug each other and have the State of Iowa recognize their love for each other,” Gronstal said during a short speech on the floor of the Iowa Senate.
Opponents of gay marriage held two rallies at the statehouse this spring.
Opponents of some income tax changes that were proposed by Democrats in the legislature gathered for a statehouse rally, too. The crowd of nearly 600 was ordered out of the Iowa House when chaos erupted during a public hearing.
Public campaigning for the 2010 gubernatorial race got underway early in 2009, with six Republican candidates emerging by July. State Representative Chris Rants of Sioux City announced his candidacy via Twitter. In September, Bob Vander Plaats went to his hometown of Sheldon to formally kick-off his third bid to be the G.O.P.’s gubernatorial nominee.
“People are discouraged with kind of the entitlement, the establishment,” Vander Plaats said during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa in early September. “They want fresh blood.”
In October, former Governor Terry Branstad retired from his job as president of Des Moines University to seek a fifth term as governor. Branstad said his wife, Chris, asked why he had to run when there were already a handful of candidates.
“They don’t have the name-recognition that I have. They don’t have the experience that I have,” Branstad said during a news conference at D.M.U. “And I guess I think that at this point in time the people of Iowa by the thousands are saying, ‘We want a leader with experience, that we know proven ability to do it.'”
Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, intends to seek a second term in 2010.
In the fall of 2009, Culver ordered a 10-percent, across-the-board cut in the state executive branch budget.
“We can debate all day long about how we got here, what caused it. I don’t think that’s very productive,” Culver said in early December. “The question is: what are we going to do about it?”
In November, two unions representing workers in the executive branch of state government voted to accept wage and benefit reductions in order to avoid layoffs.
In other political news this year, the town hall meetings Iowa’s congressional delegation held this August were sometimes heated. Hundreds showed up for the town hall meetings Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, held in August. Vicki Crawford of Granger drew repeated bursts of applause as she spoke out against health care reform.
“This is no less than liberty versus tyranny, good versus evil and there is no middle ground,” Crawford told Grassley. “With whom will you choose to stand?”
Grassley stood on an outdoor statue in a Winterset park for one of his August town hall meetings, and drew national attention for this remark about a provision in the House health care plan: “You know, I don’t have any problem with things like living wills, but they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.”
By the end of 2009, former state legislators Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen and Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin announced they were seeking the Democratic Party’s 2010 U.S. Senate nomination — for a chance to face-off against Grassley next fall.
The 2012 Iowa Caucuses are over two years away, but a few potential Republican candidates of the future stopped in Iowa this past year, including former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
Former Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, made two speeches in Iowa this fall, but during an interview with Radio Iowa the Republican said he’s far from declaring himself a candidate for the G.O.P.’s 2012 presidential nomination. However, Santorum said he’s been prompted to think more seriously about a run for the White House because of the attention his visit to Iowa received after he discussed the trip with Politico.
“If you Googled ‘Santorum in Iowa’ before I did that Politico interview, there were 350…entries that would come up on the search. I Googled it this morning. You know how many came up? Guess….1,360,000 entries!” Santorum said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “That surprised me, you know, I mean, when I see that…it makes you step back and think when I actually wasn’t thinking about it.”