Saturday, November 13, 2010

Iowa Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage: Council Bluffs' Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal Not Budging

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal was interviewed by moderator Dean Borg and AP Senior Political Writer Mike Glober and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Anderson in a broadcast of Iowa Press aired 11/12/10.
Glover: One of the issues that was dealt with in the last election was gay marriage and you used your position during the last session of the legislature to block debate on whether a resolution ought to go to voters to vote on writing a ban on gay marriage in the state's constitution.  Will that be your strategy again this year given the narrower majority?

Gronstal: I don't think I've really wavered on this subject.  I have said it kind of from start to finish on this whole discussion.  I'm not going to put discrimination into the constitution of the state of Iowa.

Henderson: The senate republican leader, the recently re-elected senate republican leader Paul McKinley said this past week that it lays at your feet the defeat of the three justices because you took that position and did not allow the wheels to be set in motion for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment.  Do you bear responsibility for the defeat of those three justices who were up for retention?

Gronstal: I bear the responsibility of saying I'm not going to move forward with putting discrimination in the constitution of the state of Iowa.  Everybody else can do whatever it is they need to do.  I feel very strongly on that.  So, I'm not inclined to move forward on a constitutional amendment that will put -- not my job.  I voted for the judges.  The people of Iowa have that right every year to vote judges up or down.  That is their choice.

Henderson: Has the landscape of judicial retention elections been forever changed?

Gronstal: It's hard to tell, it's hard to tell.  Look, you had a national group come into this state with over a million dollars to run a campaign against judges in this state.  That certainly had some impact, I don't know whether that is going to come back in two years or not.  We'll have to wait and see.

Borg: One thing that is being contemplated and that has been criticized in this whole process is the nominating commission -- the entire selection process.  As you look at it and as you have reviewed it now in light of losing three justices and the fact that they're going to have to be replaced, should the nominating, the way that they are nominated be changed, the selection process?

Gronstal: I don't believe the selection process should be changed.  I'm certainly willing to look at that but I can remember democrats in the 80s when Terry Branstad was governor and when we had had republican governors for decades in this state I remember democrats complaining that the judicial nominating system was biased in favor of republicans and only republican names got advanced for judgeships.  So, I remember the same criticism from the other side.  Here is what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says, they say we have one of the best systems of courts in the country.  We have competent judges in charge, not influenced by political pressures and that that is good.  They rate our state very highly from a business perspective as to our courts.  That is -- I think we have been well served by the current system.

Henderson: What is your advice to the four justices who remain?  Bob Vander Plaats, the spokesperson for the group which led the campaign to oust the three justices, has suggested at the end of this week that the four who remain should resign.  Would your advice be to them to become politicians, to start raising money for retention elections in the future and campaign actively for retention?

Gronstal: First of all, I do think there will be an effort in coming years to provide greater support for judges in the tough decisions that they have to make and to not politicize those decisions.  So, I think some level of increased political activity on the side of retaining judges is likely to happen.  But let me say this, I'm not going to give a lot of advice to the judicial branch.  They know what they can do.  They know what is within their purview.  They don't give me a lot of advice as to how to find 26 votes in the Iowa Senate, I'm not going to give them a lot of advice on how to do their jobs.  They are a separate, co-equal branch of government.

Glover: Tell me a little bit about what you think voters were saying when they tossed those judges out?  Were they voting on the issue?  Was it just an angry electorate that was just mad at the court system?  It struck me that towards the end of that campaign most of the ads were not about same-sex marriage, most of the ads were about activist judges.

Gronstal: I think it is hard to read what the public at large was saying about that and I think there will be people that will evaluate that.  It looks like there were significantly more people that voted in the judge's race this time than last time and that is not really surprising when a group from Mississippi comes into your state and pours in a million bucks.  That is going to have some impact in that world.  So, the question is whether the effort on that side of anti-judges is going to be sustained for the future, whether they are going to continue that track or other tracks.

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