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After judicial ousting, group tries to take strategy national

Religious and social conservatives are proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish in the Hawkeye State, especially the ouster of three Iowa Supreme Court justices and their perceived influence in advance of the Ames Straw Poll. Now they’re poised to take what they’ve learned here and turn it into a national strategy.

A new web video by Family Research Council Action, formerly American Renewal and led by Tony Perkins as the political arm of the national religious conservative organization, tells the story:

The ad touts a collaborate effort between FRCAction and the National Organization for Marriage known as the “Judge Bus” tour, which spanned the state in advance of an historically non-political judicial retention vote in 2010. The groups were prompted to come into the state by a 2009 unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court that found a legislative ban on same-sex marriage to be a violation of the state’s equal protection clause. Shortly after that decision, and despite disruption attempts by social conservatives, Iowa courthouses soon began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The back-lash against the justices was swift and, as the video from FRCAction illustrates, largely spawned and funded by out-of-state interest groups that generally object to civil marriage for gays and lesbians on religious grounds — the same objections that the Iowa Supreme Court rejected as being no grounds for discrimination by the state.

Bob Vander Plaats, now head of The Family Leader — the state affiliate of the Family Research Council — led what he deemed an Iowa grassroots effort against the three justices that were up for retention: Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit. In truth, Vander Plaats’ effort was funded nearly in total by the American Family Association, a Mississippi-based organization that also works against marriage for gays and lesbians on religious grounds.

Iowa groups that favored a judiciary system that is as free as possible from political influence were caught off guard on two fronts. First, they had a natural aversion to running politically-styled advertising in support of the court, with many feeling that to do so would simply feed the effort of bringing politics to the judiciary. Second, many were skeptical that Iowans would ultimately vote to oust the judges — such an effort had never been undertaken in the state, and many believed that voters would see through the out-of-state influences already at work.

They were mistaken. At the end of election night in November 2010, it was clear that all three justices had been removed from the bench — although all lower-court judges had been spared.

Although the justices had been removed the religious conservatives had still failed to meet their ultimate goal of writing a ban on civil marriage for gays and lesbians into the Iowa Constitution — information that likely chagrined many voters who falsely believed the retention vote to be some sort of referendum on same-sex marriage directly. For that reason alone the groups were likely to remain a force in the state, but they also had another front to defend and influence in their national battle to promote social conservative issues: The 2012 first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

A Values Bus tour — much like the earlier Judge Bus — was launched in the weeks before the Republican Party of Iowa’s fundraiser known as the Ames Straw Poll. Participants, which ranged from national GOP leaders to state GOP candidates to prominent social conservatives, urged Iowans to attend the straw poll and select a candidate that would uphold the demands of the groups; a national ban on gay marriage and a complete ban on anything remotely related to abortion (including most contraceptives) being chief among them.

While there is no evidence that the group leveraged enough influence to select the straw poll’s winner — at the time, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was already expected to earn the top spot — the simple fact that a candidate who agreed with the groups’ mission won was enough. The Values Bus was immediately heralded as a major success.

Both missions — the Judge Bus and the Values Voter Bus — have been held up as major fundraising ploys by the groups involved; an example of how conservative donors from throughout the nation can make a difference with their dollars. In fact, the group is now ready to take its Iowa success, according to the web video, and roll it up into a new national strategy. In the near future, the bus tour that began in Iowa will make stops in states throughout the nation.

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