Democrats in the Iowa Senate suggest one of Republican Governor Branstad’s picks for the board that governs the state universities may be too much of a “lightning rod” for controversy. Board of Regents nominee Robert Cramer — a construction company executive — is also chairman of the board for The Family Leader, an organization that seeks to ban same-sex marriage.
“My personal religious beliefs are that we’re created by a loving God, created male and female, and he created marriage and so marriage should be between a man and a woman,” Cramer said today, “but I understand that other people have different views of that.”
Cramer has publicly spoken against what he calls “the homosexual agenda” and celebrated the defeat of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who paved the way for same-sex marriage in Iowa. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, told reporters he’s concerned Cramer might promote an atmosphere of intolerance on the campuses.
“You know, over the last decade a lot of people have, let’s say, evolved in their views with regard to sexual orientation and gay rights,” Quirmbach said. “I was not persuaded today that he has.”
This afternoon Cramer appeared before the Senate Education Committee. Cramer, who often used the word “bias” to describe his own views, told lawmakers he would follow the law if he is confirmed to serve on the Board of Regents.
“I don’t have any visions of changing any policies that are in place right now, but if you brought me a policy that was trying to endorse and encourage and promote, you know, homosexual behavior I’d say, ‘No, no. I don’t think that’s the place for the university,'” Cramer said. “If you brought me (a policy) trying to promote any other, you know, proselytize people on any other — even on a conservative issue, I would say, ‘No, no. The university is not a place to promote or proselytize. It’s the place to be fair and treat people equally.'”
Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines who is gay, said Cramer will likely bring “political poison” to the Board.
“You do have some very, very conservative and very outspoken views,” McCoy said. “You have taken positions that are far outside the norm.”
Cramer told senators he wants to be on the Board of Regents to help guide the multi-million dollar construction projects on the university campuses rather than promote a social agenda.
“You and I have these differing views,” Cramer told McCoy. “I can guarantee you that you and I can sit down and we can talk and we can talk through them and try to come up with win-win solutions and to come up with policies that tolerate each other’s views.”
McCoy has received letters from people in the Johnston School District who urge senators to vote against Cramer because of Cramer’s role in a book-banning case when he was on the Johnston School Board.
“There are concerns about your lightning-rod politics that you bring into the process,” McCoy said.
Cramer was a member of the Johnston School Board for nine years. Cramer argues he was responding to parents who did not want their kids forced to read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” — an autobiography about the turbulent life of an African-American woman.
“The only thing that people are talking about out of those nine years is this one issue and it’s been blown out of proportion,” Cramer said.
One of Governor Branstad’s aides refused to allow reporters to ask questions of Cramer after Cramer’s public meeting with senators.
Webster City physician Subhash Sahai — another nominee for the Board of Regents — also appeared before the Senate Education Committee today. Sahai told senators he’s “not a fanatic about anything” and would support embryonic research at the University of Iowa. Sahai came with his family from India to Iowa in 1967 when he was 18 years old. He went to the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State and earned his medical degree from the University of Iowa. He’s been a doctor in Webster City since 1976.
AUDIO of Cramer & Sahai appearing before Senate Education Committee (mp3 runs 1 hour & 10 minutes)
AUDIO of Sahai’s closing statement
AUDIO of Cramer’s closing statement