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For Iowa's Bob Vander Plaats, a new fight on the horizon

By Felicia Sonmez

Former Iowa gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats's announcement today that he is launching a campaign to unseat three of Iowa's Supreme Court justices is a smart political decision that ensures that the three-time gubernatorial contender will remain relevant -- and that social conservatives will remain energized -- even as he declines to pursue an independent bid.

In an interview Friday with The Fix, Vander Plaats (R), who lost to Branstad 50 percent to 41 percent in the June 8 Republican primary, said that he had told his supporters that the only way he would pursue an independent run against Branstad and Gov. Chet Culver (D) would be if he could envision a path to victory.

"I did not see that path to victory," Vander Plaats said, adding: "I do not want to play the role of a spoiler."

He has declined to endorse Branstad -- asked today, he said, "It's not about my endorsement or non-endorsement of anybody running for public office" -- and has instead turned his attention to a different fight: the battle over Iowa's Supreme Court, which in a unanimous April 2009 ruling legalized same-sex marriage in the Hawkeye State.

In Iowa, Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor from a list of three nominees selected by the State Judicial Nominating Commission. Justices generally serve eight-year terms; at the end of each term, voters decide on Election Day whether or not to retain the judge. This year, three of the court's seven justices are up for a retention vote.

Since the system was first instituted in 1962, only four judges (three district associate judges and one district judge) have been defeated at the polls, according to Iowa judicial branch communications officer Steve Davis. No Supreme Court justice has ever been ousted, Davis said.

Vander Plaats is hoping to change that -- and he is encouraging his extensive network of supporters to take part in what he says "may be one of the most important elections in the entire country."

"The ultimate goal is, hopefully, by voting these three justices off of the court on November 2, that we'll send a message not only across Iowa but hopefully across the country about what was our founders' intent about the separation of powers," Vander Plaats said.

He cited the April 2009 same-sex marriage ruling as well as a federal judge's ruling this week against Proposition 8 in California as examples of how the courts have "gone way outside their jurisdiction" and have brought the country to "the brink of tyranny."

"I think governors all across the country -- and candidates for governor all across the country -- need to re-examine their role as the chief executive and chief magistrates of their states," Vander Plaats said.

Further details on the plan are slated to come next week, according to a statement released by Vander Plaats today. But the former gubernatorial hopeful said that he aims to fully engage the 93,000 supporters who voted for him in the June primary, even if his name doesn't appear on the ballot.

"Instead of sitting out this cycle -- instead of saying, you know, 'My candidate didn't win, so therefore I'm not going to participate' -- they will be participating at a high and an energized level in the fall campaign. I think that's a good thing for conservatives on down the line."

Not only is that a good thing for conservatives -- it's also a good thing for Bob Vander Plaats.

By Felicia Sonmez  |  August 6, 2010; 6:32 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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