By Jacob Hall & Shane Vander Hart
Iowa House District 4 features the most conservative county in the state, if not the entire country. Sioux County is known for all the things you’d expect to see in the deeply red corner of our state.
Former State Representative Dwayne Alons (R-Hull) served the district from 1999 until his death in November of 2014. Current State Representative John Kooiker (R-Boyden) won the special nominating convention to replace Alons and cruised to victory in a special election that saw a write-in candidate receive more votes than his Democrat opponent.
Kooiker announced last fall he would not seek another term. Three candidates are vying for the open seat — Skyler Wheeler of Orange City, Jeff VanDerWerff of Orange City and Kevin Van Otterloo of Rock Valley. (Kooiker and Clarice Alons, Dwayne’s widow, have both already endorsed Wheeler).
VanDerWerff is a college professor at Northwestern College in Orange City. He teaches in the political science department.
His candidacy is a curious one. VanDerWerff ran competitively against Kooiker at that special nominating convention but couldn’t convince the conservative delegates to rally around his effort. Now he’s trying to win a primary.
A stroll through VanDerWerff’s past statements and tweets reveal a Republican more likely reflective of Iowa City than Sioux County.
On April 26, 2015 VanDerWerff shared this nugget about a Christian’s role in the culture wars:
In the summer of 2015 VanDerWerff liked an defending Planned Parenthood during the video scandal of a year ago and even suggested it is Catholic Charities that should be defunded for their refusal to allow same-sex couples to adopt.
Back in early September of 2015 VanDerWerff chimed in on the Kim Davis situation. Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. He wasn’t a fan of Davis.
He retweeted an article referencing Davis as a “lost cause.” He followed with a retweet suggesting Kim Davis should be fined daily equal to her daily salary.
VanDerWerff was a guest analyst on a local TV station shortly after the same-sex marriage ruling was announced. He was asked how it would affect the 2016 race and responded by saying it would likely help candidates who are “a little more extreme.”
Of course such a position is anything but extreme in Sioux County and House District 4. One piece of evidence of that would be the hundreds of people who turned out in Sioux County to see Phil Robertson just before the Iowa Caucus. VanDerWerff showed up as well, despite previously saying this about Robertson:
VanDerWerff appears to have issues with the Second Amendment and gun ownership as well. Sioux County, a mostly rural county, is full of folks who appreciate their God-given right to self-defense.
He also retweeted a couple major anti-gun claims, suggesting that no other developed nation has such easy gun access and nowhere else has routine mass shootings. Then:
That liberal position on gun control is worsened when his tweets about ISIS, terrorism and refugees are taken into account. After the ISIS attack in Paris:
When it was reported Sen. Ted Cruz called President Obama an “apologist for radical Islamic terrorism” at a closed-door speech with Iowa evangelicals VanDerWerff expressed hope that statement was challenged by those evangelicals. In a separate tweet he suggested combating terror with bombs and shooting “will only exacerbate the problem.”
Another retweet claimed that, despite Islamophobic hysteria among American Christians, the mall is to fear, not a mosque.
Finally, when the Boston bomber was sentenced to death, VanDerWerff took exception, noting being pro-life typically just means being “pro-birth.” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev helped carry out the attack in 2013, which killed three people and injured about 264 others. One of the dead included Martin Richard, an eight-year old boy killed in the attack while waiting for his dad to finish the race.
While President Barack Obama received just 18.18% of the county’s vote in 2008 and 15.6% in 2012, VanDerWerff hasn’t been shy about heaping praise on the president.
VanDerWerff, who supports John Kasich for president, retweeted a post crediting Kasich for “a genuinely terrific defense of Obamacare.” He has defended Obamacare himself strongly.
VanDerWerff suggested it’s been cheaper than expected.
Obamacare is not the only area of admiration VanDerWerff has for Obama. In February of 2015 Obama riled the feathers of many Christian conservative Americans during the National Prayer Breakfast. During Obama’s speech he compared ISIS to the Crusades and noted people justified slavery in the name of Christ in America.
VanDerWerff gave the speech a sparkling review.
He later claimed:
Out of touch
VanDerWerff has a history of questioning why Iowa is first-in-the-nation when it comes to presidential primary elections.
That wasn’t the only one.
It didn’t end there. VanDerWerff noted it would be “unfortunate” if Sioux County grassroots activists were in any way typical.
VanDerWerff’s preferred caucus candidate, Kasich, received 45 votes from Sioux County. Meanwhile, candidates he ridiculed — Cruz, Carson and Trump — were among the top four.
Four years ago VanDerWerff supported Mitt Romney, who instituted $50 copay taxpayer funded abortions and was the first governor in U.S. history to sign a same-sex marriage license. VanDerWerff noted four years ago Romney wasn’t the kind of Republican that appeals to voters in Sioux County. Now VanDerWerff hopes he is the type of Republican to represent them.
Finally, VanDerWerff was shocked when 80% of evangelicals identified as Republicans.
Based on these past comments, it’s hard to imagine Sioux County Republicans would be enthusiastic about a State Representative VanDerWerff.
Jacob Hall is a graduate of GrandView University and a sports editor in Sioux Center, IA.
Shane Vander Hart is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts and co-host of Caffeinated Thoughts Radio on the Truth Network 99.3 FM.