The Iowa senate education committee on Thursday questioned whether a Des Moines gay activist would try to push a "homosexual agenda" if appointed to the state school board.
"Absolutely not," was the response from Jonathan Wilson, a Des Moines attorney who was
nominated by Gov. Tom Vilsack to sit on the nine-member board. "I hope that I would be able to put to rest some of those concerns, to give [lawmakers] both my credentials as an Iowan and my credentials in terms of public education and my commitment to public education," Wilson said. "They have
got to strike that balance...between being political and being a leader." Vilsack has called the holdup of the nomination discriminatory.
Some senate Republican leaders have refused to approve the nomination of Wilson, who was defeated in his run for reelection to the Des Moines school board in 1995 after he announced in January of that year that he was gay. He had served 12 years on that board. Some lawmakers said they simply want to make sure Wilson is qualified to be a part of the state board, while others said they worry that the native Iowan would promote a "gay agenda" in public schools.
The charge of pushing a "gay agenda" comes after Wilson was credited with developing nondiscrimination policies in the Des Moines school district that included sexual orientation. Wilson denied that he had a part in creating or implementing the policies. "I was painted with responsibility of that proposal," he said. "I didn't have any hand in it." When asked by lawmakers why they should support someone who lost a local election, Wilson said his homosexuality got in the way of his chances. "The issue of my coming out was the issue," he said of the contentious election. "Most of the people who voted hadn't voted before and haven't voted since."
Sen. Mike Connolly (D-Dubuque) has been a critic of Republicans' refusal to support Wilson. "Sexual orientation has nothing do with your qualifications," he told Wilson, who has served on the National School Boards Association's board of directors and the National Council on Education Standards and Testing steering committee. To the senate committee he said, "If the issue is qualifications...this is
probably the most qualified candidate we have."
Sen. Neal Schuerer (R-Amana) said he won't support Wilson's nomination because Wilson didn't make enough positive changes while serving his own community and that it has nothing to do with him being gay. "Whether he wants to take credit or not for it, there were some failures," Schuerer said. "We need some fresh new people to take a look at this."
Wilson must garner support from a two-thirds majority in the senate to be appointed to the state school board, which approves policy and accreditation rules for Iowa school districts, area education agencies, and community colleges.