(I blogged a bit on this last week but expanded my thoughts today in something we old timers call the newspaper)
Bob Vander Plaats is selling Republican voters a bill of goods.
Last week, the Republican candidate for governor put out a media release again peddling the notion that, if elected, he would use an executive order to nullify an Iowa Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. And this time, he also slapped his GOP primary rival, state Rep. Christopher Rants, for suggesting, correctly, that a governor doesn’t have that authority.
“Executives need to lead. This is not about winning the office, it’s about leading. That’s what separates me from anyone else out there,” Vander Plaats said.
Vander Plaats is a well-educated, thoughtful guy. But he’s wrong on two counts. Issuing an illegal executive order is not leading. And making promises you can’t deliver doesn’t separate you from other politicians. It makes you one of them.
Basically, and thankfully, a governor does not have the power to set aside a court ruling he or she doesn’t like. “A governor definitely does not have that authority,” said Mark McCormick, a former Supreme Court justice. “The system depends on the willingness of parties to abide by decisions.”
McCormick contends that Vander Plaats is “suggesting lawlessness.”
Before you dismiss McCormick as just another Democrat, remember he represented conservatives led by U.S. Rep. Steve King, who overturned Gov. Tom Vilsack’s gay rights executive order in 2000. That order was a minor executive overreach compared with the major power grab Vander Plaats advocates.
And not only is such an order unconstitutional, it simply won’t work.
If an order were issued, a court challenge would be filed immediately, ending in certain defeat for the governor. It’s likely that within hours the attorney general also would issue a formal opinion calling the order illegal. And any county attorney worth his or her law license will tell recorders to stick with the Supreme Court ruling and ignore the executive order.
The notion that Vander Plaats can ride in on a white horse and smite same-sex marriage with a magic pen is a cynical fairy tale.
And, if Vander Plaats wins the nomination, he’ll have to explain to general election voters that, even with huge economic challenges, a busted state budget and other pressing concerns, he plans to spend the opening months of his first term tied up in a legal battle over marriage.
Rants and other Republicans concede the only way to get past the court ruling is to amend the Constitution. It’s a long process. I don’t believe they’ll persuade Iowans to march backward. But at least they’re selling voters a dose of reality.