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Gay marriage will be issue in Iowa House special election

Iowans in House district 90 will elect a new state representative in a special election on September 1, and the Republican candidate appears to be planning to make same-sex marriage a major campaign issue.

The seat opened up when State Representative John Whitaker, a Democrat, accepted a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Republicans didn’t even run a candidate against Whitaker in 2008, but Iowa House district 90 has been competitive in the recent past. The southeastern Iowa district contains all of Van Buren County and parts of Wapello and Jefferson counties, including the Fairfield area (home to Maharishi University and the so-called “Silicorn Valley”).

The Democratic candidate for the special election is Curt Hanson, a retired driver’s education teacher who has won various teaching awards. Hanson plans to campaign on bread-and-butter issues: jobs, health care, education, and balancing the budget.  The Republican candidate is Jefferson County supervisor Steve Burgmeier. His name rang a bell for me because the Jefferson County supervisors made a show of posturing against same-sex marriage on April 27, the day the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling went into effect. Burgmeier and his colleagues passed a resolution calling on Iowa legislators to take a stand against same-sex marriage. Since the Iowa Legislature had just adjourned for the year on April 26, the resolution served no purpose other than to put Burgmeier and on record loudly opposing marriage equality. He was probably planning to run for the legislature even before Whitaker’s seat opened up; a Republican Bleeding Heartland commenter had been recruiting Burgmeier to run next year in Iowa Senate district 45 (one of the GOP’s better pickup opportunities in the upper chamber).

Burgmeier’s press release announcing his candidacy for Iowa House district 90 highlighted two issues: cutting government spending and giving Iowans “a right to vote on the definition of marriage.” This is the new politically-correct Republican messaging. Instead of acknowledging that they want to write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution, Republicans say, “Iowans deserve the right to vote” on a marriage amendment, as if we were in the habit of subjecting minority rights to a majority vote in this country.

Republicans would like to win this special election for many reasons, not least to fire up their base about the potential to demagogue against committed same-sex Iowa couples next year. Democrats hold a 56-44 majority in the Iowa House. House Speaker Pat Murphy supported the Varnum v Brien ruling and has made clear he will block efforts to bring a marriage amendment to the House floor.

You can donate to Curt Hanson’s campaign by clicking here. A strong volunteer effort will be crucial in this low-turnout special election, so if you live within striking distance of southeast Iowa, please consider volunteering for Hanson’s campaign before September 1.

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