Vander Plaats, who unsuccessfully ran for governor three times, was the Republican Lieutenant Governor nominee in 2006, and allowed his supporters to try and make him the Lieutenant Governor nominee at the Republican state convention in June by forcing a vote of the delegates, came up short each and every time.
The only time Vander Plaats was able to find success at the polls was when his own name wasn’t on the ballot. Beginning in mid-August, Vander Plaats was the spokesperson and figurehead of Iowa for Freedom. Iowa for Freedom’s objective was simple – to remove the three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were up for retention from the bench.
To call the campaign a success would be an understatement. Only eight of Iowa’s 99 counties voted to retain all three justices. Even in the urban counties where the three Justices were retained, the vote was close. There is no doubt that Vander Plaats and the various other anti-retention groups that sprouted up as the election neared were effective. Obviously they were able to tap into the public’s frustration with what they perceive as the ruling class.
Even before the votes were counted last Tuesday, Vander Plaats already had his next move mapped out. Last month, the Board of Directors of the Iowa Family Policy Center (IFPC) named Vander Plaats the CEO of an organization called The Family Group, which oversees IFPC and Marriage Matters. A source told TheIowaRepublican.com that Vander Plaats signed a three-year contract that will pay him around $120,000 annually.
Vander Plaats’ move to IFPC does not come out of left field. In January of this year, IFPC endorsed Vander Plaats’ campaign for governor. In doing so, the organization made a point to un-endorse the Republican frontrunner, Terry Branstad. IFPC’s backing of one particular candidate instead of pushing all the candidates to stand firm on letting the people vote on the issue of marriage was a controversial topic throughout the rest of the campaign.
At the time, I wrote that the actions of IFPC troubled me greatly. My concern was that the focus of the group had been redirected toward helping one candidate rather than concentrating on the ultimate goal of passing a marriage amendment.
I also criticized the organization for putting all of its eggs in Vander Plaats’ basket when what is really needed is Republican majorities in the Iowa House and Senate to advance it’s legislative agenda and pass a marriage amendment.
IFPC’s support of Vander Plaats in the Republican primary came at a high price. Those who worked at the organization did a number of interviews on the radio where they claimed that IFPC’s donors and supporters were supportive of the organization’s decision to endorse Vander Plaats, all the while attacking the other candidates like Branstad. Sources tell TheIowaRepublican.com that the organization suffered financially. Not only did IFPC’s fundraising suffer, the organization also made the decision to not accept the final installment of its grant from the federal government.
Ironically, the organization that Vander Plaats is taking over doesn’t look anything like the one that aided him in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Mike Hartwig, who has headed up Marriage Matters since its creation was shown the door. Likewise, Tom Steen, who was appointed by the Board of IFPC to be the organization’s Chief Operating Officer in March of 2009, is gone. So too is IFPC’s communications director, Bryan English.
Vander Plaats is now charged with turning around the organization. His chief responsibility will be raising money for the organization. Not only will he have to raise the necessary funds to pay his $120,000 a year salary, but he is also going to have to raise the funds to pay the salaries of longtime IFPC President Chuck Hurley, Vander Plaats will also have to fund the two staff positions that he created following the departures of those listed above.
All of this may explain why Vander Plaats didn’t use Mike Huckabee’s celebrity to aide with Iowa for Freedom’s campaign. Instead, Huckabee will headline a fundraising event for IFPC on November 21st at First Federated Church in Des Moines. The funds raised at this event will go towards covering IFPC’s operating expenses.
Throughout his many campaigns for governor, Vander Plaats always described himself as a “turnaround CEO.” Some of his political opponents questioned his use of that moniker since the last organization he left, Opportunities Unlimited, a Sioux City based non-profit that provides residential rehabilitation services for individuals who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury, or other physical disabilities, fell on hard times.
Once again, Vander Plaats has an opportunity to prove his critics wrong. IFPC is counting on Vander Plaats to once again find success in the realm of issue advocacy, much like his success with the anti-retention campaign. If he is able to turn the organization around in three years, he could use that success as a platform to launch another bid for governor.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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