Written by James Johnson
Four Iowa gubernatorial candidates will address hundreds of homeschool activists on Tuesday in Des Moines during the annual “Homeschool Day at the Capitol,” sponsored by the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators (NICHE).
The gubernatorial candidates will speak beginning at 1:40 p.m. in the Wallace building on Grand Avenue, and will include three Republicans and one Democrat.
The Republicans speaking are former Governor Terry Branstad, five-term State Representative Rod Roberts, and Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats.
The lone Democrat speaker will be former Des Moines School Board member and publisher Jonathan Narcisse.
Governor Chet Culver, who is facing Narcisse in a primary election on June 8, and who is counting on strong support from teachers unions, declined the invitation.
Over a thousand activists are expected to attend the public rally at noon on the west steps of the Capitol, which features WHO radio personality Steve Deace and Homeschool Legal Defense Association founder Michael Farris as speakers.
Over 30,000 students are homeschooled in Iowa annually. This is the third year in which NICHE has sponsored the event, and attendance has grown significantly.
“We train hundreds of homeschool families each year to build relationships with lawmakers to encourage stronger protection of homeschooling rights,” says Barb Heki, a member of the organization’s board of directors.
Instead of using confrontational lobbying tactics or signaling unspoken promises of future campaign funding, the organization advocates “soft lobbying,” encouraging homeschool parents to build relationships with legislators through respectful and sincere dialogue, and by introducing their children to them.
“We really encourage fathers to attend,” says William Gustoff, an attorney and legislative liaison for the group.
“Everyone expects homeschool mothers to attend, but when the fathers show up, it makes an even stronger statement to these lawmakers. It shows that they care enough about homeschooling to take the day off from work.”
The children make quite an impact, too. Well-dressed and well-spoken, they engage lawmakers in a way seldom exhibited by public school children. Noticeably absent from their conversations with legislators are the words “like” and “you know.”
“I have been amazed at how successful and how polished homeschooled students are,” says George Eichhorn, a former three-term legislator and candidate for Secretary of State.
“They are mature for their age, active in their local communities, and very involved in politics.”
In 2004, Eichhorn and Rod Roberts helped pass legislation favorable to Iowa’s homeschool families, backing a driver education bill that would allow homeschool parents to teach their children in drivers education courses. The bill passed both houses, but was vetoed by Democrat governor Tom Vilsack.
Iowa homeschool families also point to another significant development in state politics. For the first time in over a century, a homeschooled child will be a major party nominee for a statewide office.
Brenna Findley, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, was homeschooled on a farm near Dexter, attended Drake University, and went on to receive a J.D. from the University of Chicago, which perennially ranks among the nation’s top-ten law schools.
Deace, a homeschool father himself, will speak a second time to the group at 1:00 p.m. in the Wallace building. Then following the gubernatorial candidates, Farris will address the issue of international threats to parental rights.
Registration for the event begins at 9:00 a.m. at the Capitol’s East Rotunda Wing. For more information, go to the NICHE website by clicking here.
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