From a political standpoint Bob Vander Plaats and I are near polar opposites, but that isn’t why I hope he drops off the radar of the national press.
Another caucus season, more national positioning of Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, as some ill-conceived GOP kingmaker in Iowa. How soon they forget.
Vander Plaats has been three times rejected by Iowa gubernatorial election voters — twice during GOP primaries. His largest claim to fame is taking millions in out-of-state money to campaign for the ouster of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who found a state ban on same-sex marriage violated equal protection clauses. The bus tours and demonstrations were so far removed from reality that many religious conservatives celebrated not the removal of the justices, but a wrong assumption that same-sex marriage had ended. Two years later, Vander Plaats’ push to oust remaining justices was a dismal failure.
Sure, Vander Plaats has backed religious conservative candidates who have gone on to win Iowa caucuses. Pray tell, what happened to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum after Iowa? And let’s not forget that the 2012 Santorum endorsement, at least according to Santorum, came with a money ask. Sources told ABC News that Vander Plaats was soliciting as much as $1 million from Santorum and other candidates to “help promote” his ultimate endorsement choice. A 2008 Mitt Romney staffer said Vander Plaats also sought money in connection with his 2008 endorsement.
While it is hardly the first time Iowa activists have engaged in “pay to play” caucus shenanigans — former state representative and senator Kent Sorenson resigned in 2013 under the shadow of payments from Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and was later found guilty — each such instance taints Iowa’s status as first-in-the-nation.
In 2010, while seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Vander Plaats not only ran on a promise that he would stop county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but also that he would invigorate the Iowa economy through “business expansions and job opportunities.” Key to this issue was support of alternative energy production and innovation “particularly in the areas of wind, solar, biomass, ethanol and algae” and creation of “an inviting business environment — including tax incentives, more research funding and additional encouragement and support” for those industries. In his campaign literature, Vander Plaats also advocated for “penalizing and shutting down businesses that deliberately and repeatedly abuse the environment.”
It’s a curious stance given Vander Plaats’ recent decision to endorse U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican opposed to many of the renewable fuel and energy advancements that economically benefit Iowa and other Midwestern states. “Encouragement and support” or “tax incentives” aren’t part of what Cruz believes.
“I don’t think Washington should be picking winners and losers,” Cruz said at a GOP-backed agriculture summit in Des Moines earlier this year. “When it comes to energy, we should have an all-of-the-above approach, but it should be driven by the market.” Cruz’s position on the Renewable Fuel Standard has been pitted against his longtime support of oil industry subsidies in campaign ads funded by Iowa-based America’s Renewable Future.
While Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley remain bullish on wind energy and the tax credit that has allowed the industry to claim a nearly 30 percent stake in the state’s energy, Cruz again believes such energy innovations should live or die by the market.
At a Des Moines forum last month, Cruz told caucusgoers, “if the body of Christ rises up as one and votes our values, we can turn this country around.” No doubt pulling at the heart strings of religious conservatives appeals to Vander Plaats, who has made similar statements the backbone of his political activism.
The two also share a history of political expediency.
Cruz called for a dramatic expansion in 2013 to the number of visas for high-tech, overseas workers to “create new jobs.” Last month, however, he said he opposes expansion because it might allow foreign workers to take jobs from Americans.
Last spring he praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but when conservative groups opposed it, he changed his mind. He’s previously been a defender of “birthright citizenship.”
Tough talk targeting Muslims might also appeal, especially when Cruz tells Iowa voters, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” It echoes Vander Plaats’ own sentiment, voiced at the “Life, Marriage and Family” rally last year, that the American government is an instrument of a Christian God.
“He has three institutions,” Vander Plaats explained. “He has the church. He has the family. And, he has the government. … The purpose of government: to promote righteousness.”
Vander Plaats has described “Sharia Islam” as a menace to American politics and praised Donald Trump’s birther crusade against President Barack Obama as “bold.” When Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law effectively banning speech in support of gay rights, Vander Plaats applauded the move.
“He’s taken what used to be our strengths, which has now defaulted into our weaknesses because of Barack Obama, no leadership, and he’s making them his strengths and he’s emerging now on the world stage as a newly discovered leader,” Vander Plaats noted.
We’ll need to wait and see if Vander Plaats and the Family Leader produce another “marriage pledge” for presidential candidates as they did in 2012 that suggests black families are more stable under slavery than they are now — and who will be foolish enough to sign it.
When you care about Iowa’s first-in-the-nation role in national politics, it’s difficult to quietly sit back as such extreme views are presented as normal or typical of our populace. It’s especially hard to watch rural Iowans support candidates that may share their religious beliefs, but work against their economic futures.
Most of all, it’s excruciating to watch national reporters fawn over Vander Plaats, who would have been justifiably relegated to the buffet table at some small town Pizza Ranch if not for their misguided and haphazardly documented interest.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on December 20, 2015.