In the lightning round of yesterday’s final debate in Iowa’s Gubernatorial race, Governor Chet Culver and former Governor Terry Branstad were asked a series of questions by The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich.

Regarding the judicial retention vote, both candidates were asked how they would vote on the three Supreme Court justices up for retention (Chief Justice Marsha K. Ternus, Justice Michael J. Streit and Justice David L. Baker).

Governor Branstad has been mum on the retention vote throughout the race, and he refused to answer the question saying he didn’t want to influence voters on ballot initiatives.  He said that “voters should vote their own convictions.”  Governor Branstad appointed Chief Justice Ternus to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1993 (she became Chief Justice in 2006) and appointed Justice Streit to district court.  Governor Tom Vilsack appointed Justice Streit to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2001.  Governor Culver appointed Justice Baker in 2008.

Culver answered said that he would be voting yes on “returning the judges.”

Regarding the selection of judges they were asked whether or not they favored a federal system of judicial selection where like the President, the Governor would nominate, and then the Iowa Senate would confirm.  Contrasting this to the current system where a judicial nomination commission (half are elected by Iowa Bar Association members, and half are appointed) selects three nominees for the Governor to choose from.

Governor Branstad said he favors the federal system since the nomination committee is stacked with 12 Democrats to 2 Republicans.  Governor Culver likes the current system and said that it worked well for Governor Robert Ray and Governor Branstad.

Then Obradovich asked whether or not churches should incur a tax penalty if they direct their members to vote a certain way.

Governor Branstad said, “No, no people should have the freedom to say what they want.”

Governor Culver responded, “They need to follow the laws related to non-profits.”

So Governor Culver is going to vote in favor of “returning the judges” (Mr. Governor we call that retention), no big surprise there since he now favors gay marriage after being against it.  I do agree with Governor Culver’s statement that a “Governor needs to lead” and would like to see Branstad answer the question.  His neutrality is certainly preferable to what we’ve seen from former Governor Robert Ray.

You definitely see a contrast in the other two questions.  Of course Governor Culver favors a system that is stacked in his party’s favor.  The concept that an unelected body of people controls who the Governor can even look at is disgusting, especially in light of half of the committee being selected by the Iowa Bar Association.  Like there’s no conflict of interest there!  Governor Branstad is right to desire a federal system where a Governor who elected by the people of the state can nominate and a Senate who is accountable to the people can confirm.  Will there be politics involved?  Surely, but there is already politics involved with our current system it just happens behind the scenes.  It’s better to have it out in the open.  But let’s get past the illusion that this current system is above partisanship.  If that were the case you’d see a better balance with the nominating committee.

Regarding punishing churches who endorse candidates or ballot initiatives.

Culver’s position is unconstitutional.  So he would really go after churches in this state?  Churches by and large only get involved when there are moral issues at stake and pastors can’t tell their members how to vote?  To say that these pastors are “making their members” vote a certain way is silly.  It isn’t like a pastor would have any idea how somebody would vote.

The IRS tax regulations and any state regulations that restricts free speech is plainly unconstitutional.  The regulations came into being as a result of President Eisenhower’s desire to keep churches from criticizing him.  No politics involved there!  Let’s shut the churches up because they’re criticizing me!

Governor Branstad is right on when he said that people (including pastors) should have the freedom to say what they want to say.  The state should never have a vested interest in what is said in pulpits across the state, and I say that regardless of whether or not I agree with the message.

I wonder if Governor Culver would feel the same way if churches were encouraging people to vote yes on retention?

Lightning round during final Gubernatorial debate on 10/21/10 at Iowa Public Television’s studios


Update: Governor Chet Culver’s statement that churches should be punished didn’t sit well with Chuck Hurley, President of Iowa Family Policy Center:

Both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Article I, Section 3 of the Iowa State Constitution say exactly the same thing: “[the Government] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  The Christian faith in its very nature requires that everything we do, including our voting, honor the Supreme Being who is specifically mentioned in the Preamble to the Iowa Constitution.  It is legally and morally wrong for Pastors to be punished for simply exercising their religion in pursuit of what Iowa’s founding fathers encouraged.

It also didn’t sit well with Pastor Cary Gordon of Cornerstone World Outreach Church and Peacemakers Institute (whom this question is directed) as he has been encouraging churches to exhort their members to vote no on retention and had an IRS complaint filed against him.  He had a rather amusing reply:

What power does Governor Chet Culver now pretend to wield? Is it the “Divine Right of Kings” our forefathers risked their lives to narrowly escape 243 years ago?

The only situation, I suppose, in which Mr. Culver’s threat to “punish churches” might engender genuine fear in the more than 200 churches now standing in solidarity with me against judicial retention, is if we believe his activist partners on the State Supreme Court might use their newly discovered “powers of fiat” to force Iowa churches to accept Chet Culver as the “Iowa Czar of church budgets.”

Indeed, such a threat would financially destroy our ministries as effectively as his economic policies have harmed the state of Iowa. Of this, I have no doubt!

If Mr. Culver and Bob Ray insist on supporting judicial activism that ignores the “nature and nature’s God” revered in the preamble of the Iowa Constitution and the organic law of the Declaration of Independence, then I insist they go to and provide our Supreme Court with seven colonial wigs. After all, if the people of Iowa are to be ruled by judges, they might as well dress appropriately.

Finally, I shall lunge beneath the protection of the Eighth Amendment to the Bill to Rights, which forbids “excessive punishment,” for…alas…Governor Culver’s financial and moral ineptitude has been punishment enough for all Iowans, particularly churches now struggling to survive in Iowa’s poor economic climate.

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