It’s hard to believe that, in a seven-way Republican primary, social issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and civil rights for homosexuals have all taken the back seat to other issues. Yet, that’s basically what has occurred in the 3rd District congressional primary.
There are a number of reasons why social issues seem to be less important in federal races in Iowa this cycle. The financial meltdown, countless government bailouts and takeovers, increased debt spending, and major tax increases on the horizon have given fiscal issues top billing in elections across the country. In poll after poll, jobs and the economy are the most important issues to people right now.
Another reason that social issues don’t seem to be as important in this primary is the existence of the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party movement is the ultimate “Big Tent” conglomeration. Tea Party activists all share a desire for less government, less spending, and lower taxes, but they often avoid talking about social issues. At the Des Moines Tea Party debate a few weeks ago, the candidates who attended were asked a wide variety of questions, but no questions about social issues were asked.
The other reason why social issues have taken a backseat to other issues in this primary, oddly enough, is because of the April 3, 2009 Varnum vs. Brien ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court. The Court’s decision opened the door for gay marriages in Iowa. The ruling has made the gay marriage issue in Iowa the most talked about social issue in the state, but not how you might expect.
The issue of homosexual marriage has dominated the Republican primary for governor, largely because Bob Vander Plaats has pledged to expand the powers of the executive branch to trump a court ruling. Vander Plaats’ position doesn’t focus on the morality of homosexual behavior. Instead, Vander Plaats has focused on the checks and balances of the three branches of government.
With Vander Plaats, and his chief surrogate, WHO Radio personality, Steve Deace, almost solely focused on keeping the court in check, the other social issues have been swept to the side, especially when it comes to the 3rd District Congressional primary.
Deace has done an exhaustive interview series with the 3rd District candidates, but the focus was on the courts, not core biblical principles. How else could one explain a candidate getting by with saying, “The greatest gift that God has ever given was the Constitution,” as Dave Funk said a few months ago.
There are major differences between the three top contenders for the Republican nomination in the 3rd District, but little has been done to educate voters on where the candidates really stand or how they would use their office if elected to change or protect certain social policies.
The most glaring oversight in the campaign has been Brad Zaun’s support of Senate File 61, an anti-bullying bill that he voted for in January of 2007, just months after Democrats had taken control of both branches of government in Iowa.
The anti-bulling bill carved out certain types of people to be protected in its definition of harassment. Among these protected categories were sexual orientation and gender identity. Most Republicans in the legislature argued that there was no need to carve-out certain traits for special protection, instead arguing that students should be protected from be bullied for any reason. Still, Zaun and a few other Republican broke ranks and voted for the bill.
The reason why this was a critical vote is because it is one of the sections in the Iowa Code that the Iowa Supreme Court pointed to when it issued its ruling in Varnum vs. Brien. Voters might want to know if Zaun thought about the future ramifications of the legislation he supported or if he would support similar federal laws.
Dave Funk tried to make this an issue at the Tea Party debate a few weeks ago, but he did a horrible job in raising the issue. Funk muddied up his question to Zaun by also bringing up No Child Left Behind, and adding that Zaun needs to remain in the State Senate. Had Funk done a better job of raising the issue with Zaun, he might have been able to land a blow on one of the frontrunners in the race.
Instead, Zaun responded to Funk by asking him, “Do you support kids being bullied?” Funk began to answer but then looked at the organizer of the debate to see if he could. Another missed opportunity. Funk’s inability to make the case against Zaun’s vote for the bullying bill should be a red flag to social conservatives. In his handling of the situation, it was clear that Funk lacked understanding on why Zaun’s vote for the bullying bill was wrong.
In the debate, Zaun even admitted that the anti-bullying legislation was being pushed by the gay and lesbian community, but said it also included measurers that prevented bullying from people of other religious and ethnic backgrounds. Zaun seemed proud of vote when he said, “I did show some independence. I told the Republican Party, ‘I think you’re wrong. People shouldn’t be bullied.’”
Funk missed another opportunity at the debate when Zaun asked Funk, “Of all the bills that I have done, just give me three that you would have voted on differently and why?” Funk answered, ”I wouldn’t have voted differently.”
Funk’s answer to Zaun’s question shows his weakness on social issues. Five minutes earlier, Funk was trying to score points on the bullying bill, but then basically said he wouldn’t have voted differently than Zaun on anything. This is the classic example of a candidate who will use social conservative issues to score political points, but has yet to show that these issues are a core conviction for him.
Funk has said other things that indicate that he will do little to advance pro-life and pro-family causes if elected to Congress. Funk has repeatedly said, “We can talk about social issues all we want under the golden dome,” meaning the State Capitol, but goes on to say that the founders gave Congress very limited powers, indicating that Funk thinks there is very little he could do as a Congressman to fight for pro-life, pro-family issues. Even in one of his press releases, Funk states, “Congress has no right to dictate what I do and don’t do with my body.” That is not a pro-life statement.
The one candidate in the 3rd District that has consistently shown himself to be a solid social conservative is Jim Gibbons. In listening to Gibbons at events and candidate forums, it’s apparent that he doesn’t just talk about social issues on the campaign trail, he lives them.
When introducing himself to a crowd, Gibbon notes that two important things happened to him while at Iowa State, he was able to compete at a high level as a wrestler, and he met his wife Anne. Gibbons routinely calls his marriage to Anne, “The most defining relationship of my lifetime.” Unlike many of his opponents in the 3rd District race, Gibbons has been married for 21 years and has not been divorced.
Gibbons also uses his family to talk about his commitment to the right to life. At numerous events Gibbons tells people, “Anne and I have three girls, Jenna, 16, Grace 12, and had the surprise of our life last year, when at the age of 50 and 46 we brought a new child into the world, Samantha Rose. So nobody needs to tell me that life begins at conception and should be protected till natural death.”
The 2010 primaries are far different than the ones that we have seen before. What’s odd is that the issues that have been talked about non-stop in the gubernatorial race don’t seem to have impacted the conversation about the congressional races at all.
A lot of that is probably because of how the race has developed this spring. Gibbons has raised a lot of money and has remained positive during the campaign. Zaun is stressing fiscal issues and trying to appeal to the Tea Party crowd, probably because he doesn’t want to talk about social issues like the ones mentioned above.
Funk has been the most aggressive candidate in the race in terms of going after his opponents. Yet in the one area in which he had the ability to score points against an opponent, he fumbled the opportunity. I think the reason for this is because he is more of a classic libertarian than a social conservative.
While the general election congressional campaigns will focus on jobs and the economy, Republican primary voters shouldn’t overlook where the candidates stand on social issues. There are some major differences between the candidates seeking the nomination.
Photos by Dave Davidson
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