April 8th, 2010

Who Won the Debate? Maybe Not Who You Think

BVP and RobertsBy Emily Geiger

So, I watched the gubernatorial debate online yesterday. I don’t think there were any major revelations that came out of it.

Probably the part I found to be the most interesting was when the candidates were asked about their positions on gay marriage, and more specifically, their thoughts on Bob Vander Plaats’ plan to issue an executive order purportedly “staying” the enforcement of the court’s decision.

Bob got to take on that issue first by defending his proposal. He again stated that this action would be justified based on the provision of the Iowa Constitution which describes the office of the chief executive by saying:

The supreme executive power of this state shall be vested in a chief magistrate, who shall be styled the governor of the state of Iowa. (Article IV, Sec.1).

Bob quoted this passage in the debate yesterday and put special emphasis on the words “supreme magistrate.”

It seems that Bob is trying to say that the term “chief magistrate” implies some sort of ultimate judicial authority is imparted to the governor in this section of the constitution, and so he has some sort of power or authority to, in essence, overrule the Supreme Court, and he plans to do this with an executive order.

But is that what this provision of the Iowa Constitutional really says? Of course not. Anybody who can read and has half a brain ought to know that, especially if they have access to Google or Bing.

Let’s break it down. “Supreme executive power” obviously refers to the head or top of the executive branch, i.e. the highest authority in the executive branch. This “supreme executive power shall be vested [i.e. belong to] a chief magistrate.”

So what is a “chief magistrate”? So glad you asked. Anyone with the internet can easily find out that “Chief Magistrate is a generic designation for a public official whose office—individual or collegial—is the highest in his or her class.” We also can easily find out that, “If the jurisdiction he or she [i.e. the chief magistrate] heads is considered to have statehood (sovereign or not), the official is generally its head of state and (in various degrees of authority) chief executive.

So, in other words, the chief magistrate of the executive branch is the highest person in the executive branch. In other, other words, chief magistrate and chief executive are just two different terms for the same thing.

Keep in mind that there is no implication of any judicial authority on the part of the governor here in any of these definitions. There can be a chief magistrate of the judicial branch, but that would be a separate office, and the Iowa Constitution says nothing about the governor having any authority over the judicial branch, with the exception of appointing judges (which is included in an amendment added a few decades back… originally, judges were elected).

Okay, let’s keep going. The “chief magistrate” shall be styled “the governor of the state of Iowa.” So, what does that mean? Well, here, “styled” is used as a verb, so the appropriate definition would be, “To call or name; designate: George VI styled his brother Duke of Windsor.

So, what do you get when you put this all together? In layman’s terms, all of these mean that the dude who gets elected to head up the executive branch, we’re going to call him the “governor.” As opposed to “supreme potentate” or “his highness” or “Mike Gronstal’s Bee-otch.”

That’s really all it is. Nothing more, nothing less. This passage names the governor, “governor.” And it certainly doesn’t impart any special, mystical powers over the other branches that aren’t apparent on the surface of the text itself.

I mean, seriously, rhetorically, VanderPlaats trying to change the definition of “chief magistrate” to justify his utterly mistaken belief that this executive order is a constitutionally permitted exercise of executive power is no better than Bill Clinton trying to argue about what the definition of “is” is. Words have meanings, and you don’t get to ignore them or manipulate them to suit your purposes or justify a pretty stupid policy position after the fact.

And I don’t care how many self-proclaimed “constitutional scholars” Bob claims have approved his position that an executive order is A-okay. Lots of allegedly really smart people claim that they know for a fact that global warming is man made, but that doesn’t make it true. Chet Culver claims he’s the leader of the state of Iowa, but that doesn’t make it so. People need to use their brain cells here and think for themselves instead of being spoon-fed what this means by someone isn’t ever going to every admit that he’s dead wrong on this because it would make him look like a total moron.

The other thing that makes absolutely no sense to me is that true conservatives are supposed to be all about limiting the power of government. How any self-respecting conservative can stand there with a straight face and argue for an unprecedented, unilateral expansion of the power of the executive is beyond me. How any self-respecting conservative voters can go along with it boggles the mind.

You know, I was a big Huckabee fan, and I really wanted to be able to get behind Bob this time around. And, I’ve tried really, really hard to like the guy as a candidate, but when he keeps pulling this “chief magistrate” crap out of his pocket as basically the whole justification for his executive order being constitutional, I just can’t take him seriously.

At the debate, Branstad spoke forcefully for the need for the people to be able to vote on an amendment, but he put forth no real plan for achieving this goal. Rod Roberts has taken this a step further and said that, as governor, he will veto every bill that comes to him until the legislature takes the actions necessary to let the people vote on marriage. He’ll even resort to a special session if necessary.

Roberts has put forth a strong, conservative, principled, constitutional plan for forcing the legislature’s hand. Right now, I’d say Roberts has the best plan to save marriage and is winning on this issue… hands down.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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About the Author

Battleground Iowa
Emily Geiger writes from a conservative perspective on everything from politics to religion to pop culture. Like the original Emily of Revolutionary War era, this Emily is delivering important messages crucial to winning the raging war of the time, but today, this is a culture war rather than a traditional one. And, like the original Emily, sometimes it takes a woman to do (or say) that which lesser men lack the courage and tenacity to do.

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