Tag Archives: Bob Vander Plaats

ChetChase 2010 – The Week

It was a very active week in the race to become your Iowa governor.

Party of Five — Five Republican gubernatorial candidates/near-hopefuls/explorers met in a forum sponsored by Iowa Politics.com. If you couldn’t be there, I was not, Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson graciously posted the audio here.

There were gobs of agreement between Bob Vander Plaats, Chris Rants, Rod Roberts, Jerry Behn and Christian Fong. Another possible possibility, Paul McKinley, had a conflict and couldn’t make it.

They’re not crazy about the smoking ban, but nobody showed much interest in relighting that coffin nail.

Casinos? No more needed. State Budget? Chet messed it up big time. Medical marijuana? No thanks, although Sen. Behn, R-Boone, did wax nostalgically about the days of kinder, gentler pot. That’s just what he heard, anyway.

Speaking of nostalgia, the candidates were asked whether they’d welcome former Gov. Terry Branstad in the race. Polls show the old guy is still fly with folks who still use the term “fly.”

Here is the candidates’ composite answer, “I’d welcome such a fine statesman’s ideas. But, please, don’t dilly dally. Oh, and I’d just like to say future, future, future, future, future and, in conclusion, future.”

I wrote about the Branstad saga.

Kathie Obradovich did a better job here.

There were some disagreements at the forum. Rep. Roberts, R-Carroll, was the only one who doesn’t favor reinstating the death penalty. And although they all dislike gay marriage, only Vander Plaats thinks you can stop it with a magical/illegal executive order.

I guess Vander Plaats hasn’t explained to his rivals just how much fun impeachment would be.

So who won? You got me. Fong showed that he can hold his own and doesn’t need any training wheels. Rants had the best command of the issues. Vander Plaats didn’t stumble, but he also didn’t offer much evidence to prove why he’s the clear front-runner at this early date.

2. Roberts Fails to Tweet — What’s up with Rod Roberts, thinking he can get into the governor’s race with a thougthful speech to a room full of supporters that was all wordy with bio and viewpoints and stuff. Doesn’t he know he was supposed to send out a tweet?

Roberts does have a Web site, with a cool flag that waves. Neat!

3. That’s not My Name — Christopher Rants, who did tweet his announcement, is now Chris Rants, for the purposes of running for Iowa’s highest office. And he has a new Web site. It’s orange and blue, like the national champion Florida Gators. No waving flag, but there’s an odometer to show you how fast he’s wearing out his car.

He Chris, time for an oil change!

4. If I had $100,000 — I’d send out a press release, just like Christian Fong did earlier this week. His campaign reports raising that tidy sum in just its first three weeks of existence.

So who gave him the money? It’s a mystery that won’t be solved until disclosure supports are filed in January. Suspense is already building.

Perhaps the whiz kid will  use some of that scratch to finish his Web site.

5. Chetanooga Choo Chooo — Gov. Chet Culver will be riding the rails Sunday to officially promote passenger rail service. Any resemblance to a campaign whistle stop tour is completely coincidental.

Culver also started handing out I-Jobs bonding dollars for road and bridge projects. But then some pesky economists interviewed by The Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth questioned whether the huge program would actually stimulate anything.  

What? The governor couldn’t hear that over all the train noise. Sorry.

Retrolection 2009 — Democrat Harold Hughes and Republican Robert Ray were the big winners in last week’s retro gubernatorial primaries.

Hughes took 48 percent of the vote, holding off Tom Vilsack with 26 percent. Herschel Loveless and Ansel Briggs tied for third. Culver was 5th.

On the GOP side, Ray took 40 percent to Branstad’s 29. Samuel Kirkwood got 15 percent.

That sets up a dream Ray-Hughes match up.


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Don’t Go Changin’

State Rep. Christopher Rants stopped by my office Tuesday afternoon for a chat. I’ll be columnizing on our conversation over the weekend.

I’ve been writing about Rants for 12 years, since I was a cub Statehouse reporter for his hometown Sioux City Journal. And during all that time he’s been Christopher Rants.

House Majority Leader Christopher Rants, House Speaker Christopher Rants, House Minority Leader Christopher Rants etc.

Now that he’s exploring/running for governor, he’s going by Chris Rants.

I gave him some mild guff for making me change my ways. He explained.

“We walked around and…what do people assume my name is? They meet me for the first time?” Rants asked me.

“Chris,” I conceded.

“Exactly,” Rants said.  “I’ve got 2 million people I’m trying to meet. So you don’t start by telling them, `No, my name is something else.’

“It’s the name that my teachers in school called me. My Sunday school teacher called me Chris. My neighbors call me Chris. So it’s not like it’s a big deal.”

No, it’s not. And it could be worse. He could have shortened it to C-Ra or something like that. Chris also takes up less space than Christopher, which is a bonus for a columnist trying to squeeze his long-winded pontifications into a shrinking piece of newspaper real estate.

And lots of politicians make little changes when they think about climbing the political ladder. It’s not unusual.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, lost his mustache and updated his discount wardrobe a few years ago when he toyed with the idea of running for governor.  Former Senate President Jeff Lamberti, R-Ankeny, also shaved his mustache before he ran for Congress in 2006.

Names sometimes get shorter. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Conn. insisted that Iowans just call him Joe when he ran for president in 2004. It made him so appealing here that he opted to skip the caucuses.

The pretentious-sounding Malcom Stevenson Forbes Jr. became just good old flat-taxing Steve Forbes when he tried, twice, to win the caucuses.

The emerging 2010 GOP gubernatorial field is full of short names – Bob (Vander Plaats), Rod (Roberts), Paul (McKinley), Jerry (Behn) and Chris (Rants). Vander Plaats has run for governor enough times to also earn the JFK-esque shorthand moniker “BVP”

Christian (Fong) is an exception, but his name has its obvious advantages.  

And of course the winner will be up against Democratic Gov. Chet, not Chester, Culver.


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Column — Republicans Thinking Retro

Republicans trying to figure out how best to chase Chet from Terrace Hill are feeling nostalgic yearnings.

They’re thinking about going back to the ’90s, when one of their guys held the veto pen and the ribbon-cutting scissors and could call out the National Guard.

That guy was Terry Branstad. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to put that four-term band back together for a 2010 encore.

A poll commissioned by TheIowaRepublican.com showed Branstad clocking Democratic Gov. Chet Culver 53-37. Culver beats GOP hopefuls such as Bob Vander Plaats and Chris Rants. But a retro rival could take him down.

“I learned a long time ago that you never want to say never. But my focus is here at Des Moines University,” Branstad, DMU’s president, said Monday. “It’s flattering. But you know, a poll is a poll.”

There’s just enough wiggle room there to make this intriguing. But is this really the way Republicans want to go?

It’s always tempting for a party lost in the weeds to look backward to get its bearings. Democrats went through it earlier this decade. That sentimental journey led many to think a back-to-the-future presidential candidate such as Hillary Clinton would be just the ticket. Early polls confirmed their leanings. The Clinton brand was still unbeatable.

But elections are about what’s next, not about nostalgia. Clinton found that out. Branstad could get the same lesson.

He would be formidable and favored early, but it’s unlikely that the growing sea of GOP candidates would simply part to make way for a Branstad candidacy. The former governor would almost certainly find himself surrounded in a competitive primary and beset by fresher voices, hungry to be the future of the party.

Frankly, a noisy primary focused squarely on the future is what the Republican Party in Iowa needs. And when the dust settles, Republicans should present Iowans with a new release, not an ’80s classic.

I came of age during the Branstad years and covered the final two years of his tenure. He understood Iowa, had sound political instincts and is still widely admired.

But his 16 years were also marked by serious budget problems and ugly fights with lawmakers, even after the GOP took control of the Legislature in 1996. The Branstad years weren’t all sunshine and cupcakes, no matter how good they look in the rearview mirror.

And in 2010, Republicans will be better off keeping their eyes on the road ahead.


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ChetChase 2010 – The Week

This week’s developments in Iowa’s race for governor.

1. Vander Poll— TheIowaRepublican.com continued releasing tasty tidbits from its  612-part poll, including numbers that showBob Vander Plaats leading the big ‘ol field of GOP hopefuls and potential hopefuls. Vander Plaats got support from 46 percent of Republicans polled, followed by Don’t Know at 27 percent and state Rep. Christopher Rants at 14 percent.

Vander Plaats was happy to grab front-runner status. John Deeth says that’s good news for Culver. Bleeding Heartland says, not so fast, it’s too early to be doing any anointing.

The TIR poll also showed Vander Plaats and Rants within striking distanceof Democratic Gov. Chet Culver in early head-to-head match ups. Culver led Vander Plaats 48-39 and beat Rants 46-36.

2. Parental Supervision— Republican candidate Christian Fong announced this week that Marlys Popma, a veteran Republican activist, will be guiding his upstart campaign.

The good news is that Popma lends some conservative heft to Fong’s fledgling effort. She’s got church cred with the religious right and could help Fong convince some skeptical conservatives that he’s the real deal, even though he contributed to a few Dems and says Republicans shouldn’t emphasize the whole gay marriage thing.

Popma also worked for Phil Gramm, Gary Bauer and John McCain, so she doesn’t always pick a winner.

3. Republican Roberts Reveals Readiness — State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, has called a Statehouse press conference Tuesday, apparently to jump into the governor’s race. He’s an ordained minister who has served five terms in the House. And he promises to add a dose of much-needed alliteration to the campaign.

4. Fallon Out of Lug Love — Former state rep. and failed governor/congressional candidate Ed Fallon says Culver is in trouble unless he dances cheek-to-cheek with the Democratic Party’s liberal base. Some flowers might also be nice. Maybe a spa day.

Fallon contends Culver has sidestepped issues such as campaign finance reform that are important to liberals. Fallon also contends that although it’s nice to be important, it’s also important to make your former rivals feel important.  He laid out his arguments in an an op-ed piece:

Few leading Iowa Democrats will admit it publicly, but Governor Culver is in deep trouble. If something doesn’t change, and soon, he could be the first incumbent Iowa Governor ousted from office since Norman Erbe lost to Harold Hughes in 1962.

Gov. Erbe could not be reached for comment.

5. Nostalgia Polling— TheIowaRepublican also jumped in the wayback machine, releasing polls on how a 2006 rematch between Culver and Republican Jim Nussle would look today. They also matched up Culver against former Gov. Terry Branstad. There’s been some buzz lately that Branstad might try for a comeback.

Culver edged Nussle, but a Branstad reunion tour pasted Culver 53-37.

That gave me the idea to do some legacy polling of my own. This week, you can vote in the Republican and Democratic nostalgia primaries. Next week, the general election.


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Tuesday Column — Culver Visits Denial

Misplacing a governor is never good, as we’ve learned in recent days.

You think he’s hiking and it turns out he’s crying in Argentina. So it’s important for Iowans to keep track of our governor, for his sake and ours.

So where is Gov. Chet Culver?

“It’s just like he’s in a state of denial,” said former Gov. Terry Branstad, who, after serving four terms, is an authority on governor tracking.

But I’m not familiar with Denial. Maybe it’s somewhere between Manly and Fertile.

A second opinion?

“He’s living in Fantasyland,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican making his third try to become a located governor.

It turns out Denial and Fantasyland are suburbs of Whopping Budget Mess. And that’s what our governor is sitting in the middle of right now. I suspect he’d rather be in Argentina.

He insists everything’s fine. Nothing to see here, all is well. But the numbers won’t go away.

Revenues are plunging. Conservative estimates say lawmakers will face a $903 million budget shortfall in January, more than double what the state has in reserves. The budget year that ends at midnight tonight is probably well into the red. The budget that takes effect Wednesday is likely far too big to be sustained. It’s time to start scouring ditches for cans.

Culver may be forced to call a special legislative session later this summer or early this fall to plug the most immediate leaks. He’s desperate to avoid that, so he’s fudging the numbers and hoping for the best. This is especially rich political theater around here. Massive flooding doesn’t rate special legislative attention, but lousy arithmetic is another matter.

It’s a critical stretch of Culver’s governorship. The budget could be his biggest vulnerability. And someone needs to tell him that it’s way too late for “everything’s just dandy!” We expect a reality-based response when it comes to our government and our money.

The reality is things are bad and getting worse. “It makes one wonder if he really has a handle on what’s going on,” said state Rep. Christopher Rants, a GOP candidate for governor.

Another former governor, Tom Vilsack, was back last week. And that reminded me of the last budget crisis. Vilsack was no stranger to big spending and fiscal shuffling, but when the budget collapsed, he played it straight, took control of the situation and projected competence.

That’s why, when Doug Gross tried in 2002 to label Vilsack as a reckless spender, it didn’t stick.

Culver needs to show competence at this moment, or the charges are going to start sticking. He’ll be in Big Political Trouble. That’s just down the road from Denial.


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Tuesday Column — A Bill of Goods

(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.


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Be The Poll — GOP Gov Primary

Several Republicans are exploring, contemplating, mulling and considering the prospect of running for governor. They think Democratic Gov. Chet Culver may be vulnerable and they’d like a shot knocking him off.

Bob Vander Plaats is already in. State Rep. Christopher Rants formally created a campaign committee today.

Several others are thinking it over, including state U.S. Rep. Steve King of Kiron, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Rep. Rod Roberts from Carroll, former Senate President Jeff Lamberti of Ankeny, state Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone, Iowa Machine Shed restaurateur Mike Whalen and University of Dubuque President Jeffrey Bullock.

It’s early. The June 2010 primary is still a ways off. Anything can happen.

But who cares? Let’s have a fake vote now, just for fun.


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