Political Animal


August 19, 2012 11:38 AM Same Sex Marriage Still An Issue In Iowa

By Ben Jacobs

Ever since its unanimous decision legalizing gay marriage in the state, Iowa’s Supreme Court has been in the crosshairs of conservative activists. A successful election effort in 2010 led to three judges losing their retention elections and Iowa social conservatives, with the backing of the state Republican Party, are already mounting a strong effort to defeat a fourth. However, according to today’s Des Moines Register that judge is not mounting any effort of his own this year.

Opponents of same-sex marriage last weekend declared an all-out battle to oust Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, but the pending fight has sparked no sign so far that Wiggins intends to mount a conventional political campaign in return. In Florida, three Supreme Court justices threatened with a campaign to boot them from office already have raised nearly $1 million for an expected fall media blitz of television and newspaper ads aimed at counteracting the tea party forces aligned against them. Wiggins, in contrast, spent the Thursday noon hour addressing members of a Des Moines Rotary group without ever asking attendees for either their votes or their money.

This judicial election could have a major impact on the Presidential race in November. It is the only other statewide office besides the Presidency on the ballot in Iowa and opposition to gay marriage has energized the state’s social conservatives to turn out in the past. If Wiggins doesn’t put up much of a fight, it will give Republicans an extra advantage in the state. Opponents of gay marriage will be turning out social conservatives in traditionally Republican parts of the state without any operation to counter them among supporters of same-sex marriage. In a state decided by razor-thin margins in 2000 and 2004, this edge could be enough to swing Iowa’s six electoral votes in November.

Ben Jacobs is a journalist living in New York. He is a former reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and contributor to the Boston Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @bencjacobs.


  • Daryl McCullough on August 19, 2012 12:23 PM:

    Unfortunately, an issue like gay marriage can get conservative voters all fired up and boost turnout, but many liberals tend to think along the lines of: Both parties are basically the same, voting won't change anything.

  • James E. Powell on August 19, 2012 12:31 PM:

    Opponents of gay marriage will be turning out social conservatives in traditionally Republican parts of the state without any operation to counter them among supporters of same-sex marriage.

    This is one of those issues where the people who are against are both passionate and supported by the ruling class. The ruling class has no other way to get their votes than to inflame their anxiety and bigotry about gays and lesbians, specifically, and also about changes, generally.

    Most of the people on the other side of this issue do not have anxiety, bigotry, or the huge dollars offered by the ruling class. That's why this issue continues to lose at the ballot box.

  • charlie don't surf on August 19, 2012 12:32 PM:

    This is a classic Rovian political move, just like the last state election in Iowa. Conservative factions started a campaign that would motivate single-issue voters to go to the polls, when they normally wouldn't even bother to vote. These conservatives came out in droves to vote out the judges in the campaign. While they were at the polls, they voted for the Republican gubernatorial candidate. So the GOP won and Brandstadt (R) was elected Governor. That's how Rovian tactics work. Find a demographic group that would vote for your main issue, and that can be driven to the polls over a secondary issue.

    The result, a Republican Governor who has authorized the Secretary of State to spend $250k prosecuting non-existent voter fraud. This is an attempt by the State to force County governments, including solid Democratic governments, to comply with GOP anti-voter initiatives. It was announced that some of the money will be used to fund voter caging. They are hiring outside companies to compile lists of "suspicious" voters, mostly in low income neighborhoods where people change residences often, and which unsurprisingly are predominantly Democratic. What they do is devious. They send out postcards to "verify" that the voter is at that address. But they send them out with envelopes marked "Republican Party Registration" or some such, and Democrats toss them out. If the voters do not return the postcard in the letter, the Republicans will challenge their registration, claiming they do not live at that residence. The voter won't even know his registration is challenged, and can't defend it. In 2008, I discovered this happened at the voting precinct where I was a Precinct Chairman. I had people come in to vote, carrying their voter registration card that was issued within the last 2 months, but their name was stricken from the registered voter list. I re-registered about 10% of the entire voter turnout for the precinct under new Election Day Registration rules. I will link to a story I wrote about that, under a pseudonym.


    So now they are at it again. Another judge is targeted, like the interim election. But now Iowa is in play for the Presidential election. The conservatives are funding another Rovian effort to turn out the conservative vote on a single issue, voting one judge out. He's not even defending himself, probably because he knows their ouster will succeed. But that's not the point of this campaign. While those conservatives are at the polls to vote on this single issue, they will vote for Romney. The vote in Iowa will all depend on turnout. High turnout favors Democrats. This is why the GOP has a two pronged effort to suppress turnout in predominantly Democratic precincts, and to get conservatives to turn out at the polls.

  • c u n d gulag on August 19, 2012 12:33 PM:

    It doesn't take much to energize social conservatives.

    They're kind of like self-winding watches - they'll get wound-up no matter what.
    And once they're wound-up, just point them in the direction you want them to hate.

    So maybe Judge Wiggins is trying to keep a low profile.

    Maybe he's afraid that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council will want an eye for an eye, or, rather, a shot in Wiggins' head for the shot in the left arm of that guard at Perkins' Home of Hate.

    Well, Liberals in Iowa, looks like you've got to help stop the Hate Zombies on your own.

  • Hedda Peraz on August 19, 2012 12:34 PM:

    I was skeptical about this whole 'evolution theory'. Until I visited Iowa.
    -And beat a hasty retreat to New England, where my Darwin fish bumper sticker was one again among friends.

  • POed Lib on August 19, 2012 12:53 PM:

    Gay marriage is a loser issue, and has remained such. It's the new version of gun control - when it's on the ballot, progressives lose. I keep wondering where the gay marriage supporters are, and who it is supposed to mobilize on the left. It's an issue that mobilizes but exclusively on the right. Gays constitute between 3 and 4 % of the populace, and the issue alienates both black voters and hispanic voters. SO, what's the huge payoff for this for liberals? I'm unitarian, so I support gay marriage, but electorally it sucks. It's gonna lose in MN and MD this year as well, and may cost us some important support in IA.

    I'm waiting for progressive in IA (and there are some, esp in college towns of U of I and ISU) to get off their butts.

  • jjm on August 19, 2012 12:59 PM:

    Well, it's a big issue for the GOPers in power, but gay marriage has lost its negative connotations for the majority of Americans. The opposition to gay marriage is largely based on racism: we need good, Aryan babies, and gee, here comes abortion and gay marriage to shrink the number of white babies.

    That's the length, breadth and depth of their hostility to gay marriage: waning white power.

  • Leopold Von Ranke on August 19, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Whether one agrees with "gay marriage" or not, Justice Cady wrote an extraordinarily well-reasoned opinion pursuant to the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. The hugely saving grace of Iowa's court system since well before I was admitted to its bar has been its non-politization. Whether you agreed with a decision or not, the modified Missouri Plan that undergirded the institution assured that, generally, from top to bottom, Iowa courts ruled on the facts and the law, whether or not judges associated themselves with the Republican or Democratic Parties.

    Retention elections were rather quiet affairs, in which quite competent judges routinely were "reupped," without much dissent. The worst problem I can think of is when Justice Snell wrote an opinion stating that a District Court had jurisdiction to hear a case regarding the parents' decision to have a mentally handicapped woman sterilized. The decision was a foregone conclusion -- of course the parents had no right to make such a decision and the District Court ruled accordingly.

    Liberals were up in arms about a simple decison regarding jurisdiction, a far cry from actually saying the District court could disregard the law, and, once this got explained by the Des Moines Register -- then a great newspaper, now not so much -- Justice Snell survived retention.

    This crap -- the ouster of three fine judges, and now perhaps a fourth -- irritates me greatly. I have disagreed with decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court in the past, and will no doubt do so in the future. The difference will be that in the past, I disagreed on the law or the facts, or both. Now, I get to worry about the damned politics.

    "Sheesh, Chooch," as Top Cat used to say. What am I, back in Ohio, where decisions are largely dependent on politics?

  • POed Lib on August 19, 2012 1:13 PM:

    We will see if the issue has lost it's power. Mostly deluded progressives HOPE that it lost its power. I see little losses of its power - I live out in the red rural upper midwest. The key will be MN. If the issue loses in MN, I will concede that its on the upswing. If MN puts it into the constitution, it's another huge loss for gay marriage, since MN trends progressive and will be on the Obama side. The only upside I can see is that its already been made unconstituional in a lot of states, and thus can't do more damage.

  • Paulza on August 19, 2012 1:24 PM:

    I live in Iowa, and the interesting thing about the campaign is its dog-whistle quality: All of the signs you see on a drive through rural areas simply say "Vote 'No' on Wiggins"--essentially, the people who know why are already in the know, and the rest just get a vague whiff that Wiggins must not be a good guy.

  • POed Lib on August 19, 2012 1:38 PM:

    Unfortunately, Leopold, the politicization of the judiciary is well established now. I agree with you - installation of judges should be non-politicial. I hate voting for judges, where they promise to be tough on criminals or help businesses. It's unseemly and wrong. I think that retention elections should be up-or-down on a specific judge, with maybe a 60 % no vote required to turn them out.

  • Leopold Von Ranke on August 19, 2012 2:47 PM:

    POed Lib --

    Iowa is basic retention. Up or down. The problem now is that the nuts have discovered that if you campaign and throw a lot of money at it, you can successfully unseat a judge, based not on whether they decide a case or cases based on law and facts, but based on ideology, which the judges may or may not share. This drives an ideological court, that ignores facts and law in specific cases. Never waived a jury in Ohio when I could get one. Would have considered it in Iowa up until November, 2010.

    And of course there is a certain amount of political ideology behind any decision of any court. That said, pure politics is something vastly different.

  • POed Lib on August 19, 2012 7:14 PM:

    Infuriating, extremely concerning. A book by one of those literary lawyers discusses exactly this. A huge firm throws a bunch of money at a retention election, gets the honorable Dem voted out, and then their case comes up, and the judge rules in their favor. This kind of shit is happening, and it will happen more and more and more. If big industry can purchase all the judges in a state, which they can, they can win all the lawsuits, and the ability of little people to win in court against big firms is even lower. It's wrong, and I don't think that the term "evil" is over-wrought.

  • jpeckjr on August 20, 2012 1:44 AM:

    Do these fools imagine that by turning out the judges who decided in a case in favor of same-sex marriage will result in a reversal of that decision? That getting a majority of judges who would have potentially decided against same-sex marriage will re-open the case and reverse it? Well, I suppose they do.

    Courts make decisions based on cases involving real people and parties. Someone will have to bring a case alleging that legal same-sex marriage has "damaged" them in some way. Who would possibly allege that on any legitimate legal basis? I'm not saying no one will try, just can't imagine the legal basis?

  • Robert Hagedorn on August 22, 2012 5:43 PM:

    Should the anus be used as a sex organ? Google First Scandal. When you get there, go to the top to the page and click on "Can you explain..." Please note: this website will be deleted on November 1, 2012.