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June 3rd, 2010

Des Moines Tea Party Credibility Questioned Following Candidate Report Card

The Des Moines Tea Party unveiled its “Candidate Report Card” yesterday. The group said it will not endorse a candidate, but its actions of late tell a different story. Some of the group’s statements combined with the actions of its leader, Charlie Gruschow, raise questions about its long-term viability.

The group weighed in on the gubernatorial and 3rd Congressional District primaries in its recently release report card. Depending how you look at it, the group either endorsed or anti-endorsed selected candidates in advance of Tuesday’s primary.

In the gubernatorial race, the Des Moines Tea Party, gave “no” votes to former Governor Terry Branstad and State Representative Rod Roberts, while giving Vander Plaats a “yes.”

The Des Moines Tea Party’s report card said that Rep. Roberts, “[w]on’t reign in judicial activism, says he will ‘wait for the legislature to act’ in response to Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling on Iowa’s existing D.O.M.A. law.” The Des Moines Tea Party’s characterization of Roberts’ position is simply not true.

Roberts has repeatedly said that, if elected, he will force the legislature to vote on the constitutional amendment before he signs the budget. That means Roberts will shut down the state government to force a vote on this issue. That is not someone who is “waiting for the legislature to act,” that is someone who is forcing the legislature to act.

The Des Moines Tea Party’s had an extensive list of grievances with former Governor Terry Branstad. The group stated that he has a history of raising taxes, increased the size of government each year he was in office, built the Iowa Communications Network, and is disliked by former State Auditor Dick Johnson.

I don’t think anybody expected the Des Moines Tea Party to be excited about Branstad’s candidacy, but the group’s reasoning is incredibly weak. Did Branstad raise some taxes? Yes. Did the size of the state government grow under his administration? Yes. The problem the Des Moines Tea Party and other anti-Branstad people have is that they simply refuse to acknowledge his entre record as governor.

While it is true that Branstad increased the sales tax and gas tax, he also signed the largest tax cut in the state’s history. Branstad cut income taxes, he cut inheritance taxes, and he eliminated the tax on machinery and equipment. All told, Branstad was a net tax cutter, cutting taxes by $124 million.

While someone can be truthful in saying that Branstad raised taxes, it’s also true to call him the biggest tax cutter in the state’s history. The people of Iowa would be better off if the candidates seeking their vote would portray their record or their opponents record in its full context.

The group also criticized Branstad for increasing the size of government. A large part of the growth of the state budget during Branstad’s administration came when the state stopped funding schools with local property taxes dollars. Ironically, Des Moines Tea Party approved candidate Bob Vander Plaats is advocating a similar move by taking the funding for mental health services off of local property tax payers and shifting it to the state budget. The result will be an increase in the size of state government.

The group praised Vander Plaats for being a “strong constitutionalist.” While there is no doubt that Vander Plaats has crafted his message to appeal to the Tea Party movement, the Vander Plaats we see today looks nothing like the one who campaigned alongside Mike Huckabee in during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses.

Huckabee had a record of raising taxes, was endorsed by the National Education Association, and was weaker on illegal immigration than Terry Branstad currently is. It’s no wonder that Chuck Norris is the one on his way to campaign with Vander Plaats during the closing days of the campaign and not Huckabee. Huckabee would probably feel like he is the one getting attacked when listening to Vander Plaats.

It’s also interesting that the Des Moines Tea Party would give its seal of approval to a candidate whose entire campaign is based on issuing an executive order that has no basis in the Iowa Constitution. The Des Moines Tea Party should consider the following scenario.

The Supreme Court of the United States deems the Obama Health Care bill to be unconstitutional. Immediately following the ruling, President Obama issues an executive order basically telling the court, thanks for your opinion, but the law Congress passed and I signed is still the law of the land.

Vander Plaats’ executive order would set a precedent for a governor or president to have that type of power. Nowhere in the state or federal constitutions are such powers enumerated.

The most outrageous statement in the Des Moines Tea Party’s Candidate Report Card has nothing to do with the gubernatorial primary. In the 3rd Congressional District, the group gave no votes to Jim Gibbons and Mark Rees.

In referring to Gibbons, the Des Moines Tea Party says, “While at Wells Fargo he was instrumental in getting $25 billion of the bailout money which is being paid for by taxpayers to secure his job and others at Wells Fargo.”

The statement is an outright lie. Jim Gibbons told TheIowaRepublican.com, “I am disappointed to see the leaders of the Des Moines Tea Party play so fast and loose with the facts. To say that I was instrumental in securing bailout money for Wells Fargo is laughable.”

He then explained that the company he worked for was bought out, “While I was proud of the work I did as an asset manager at Wachovia, which was then acquired by Wells Fargo, I had no influence at all with the decisions surrounding the Troubled Asset Relief Package.”

An email sent to Charlie Gruschow by TheIowaRepublican.com for comment was not returned.

While the Tea Party will not officially endorse a candidate, it’s clear who they are backing. The organization has already had its credibility questioned when Mark Rees, the other 3rd District candidates receiving a “no” vote, questioned their credibility and fairness when he chose not to participate in its 3rd District debate.

In a recent article in the Des Moines Register, Gruschow said that he’d “throw up,” if Branstad won the nomination. In the same article, Gruschow said he was leery of Gibbons because he has attracted the most money in the race, and he said that if Gibbons and Branstad win their respective primaries, the Tea Party movement will see it as business are usual.

What Gruschow failed to disclose in releasing the critiques of these candidates is that he has personally endorsed Vander Plaats and Dave Funk. In addition to endorsing Funk, Gruschow has contributed $1,400.00 to his campaign.

While Gruschow and his Tea Party group were successful in landing a couple cheap shots against Rod Roberts and Jim Gibbons, his actions and the Des Moines Tea Party’s recent behavior could destroy any credibility the group may have had.

The Des Moines Tea Party already saw the attendance at their 2010 Tax Day Tea Party in Des Moines cut in half from the year before. That, added to the outlandish distortions of certain candidate’s records and positions, could cripple the potential growth of the group. For a group and a movement that had so much promise to go down this path is sad and disappointing.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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