The political spotlight lit up on Iowa on Monday, as the state held its presidential caucus — its alternative to a primary — and it plucked from the Republican Party its latest crazy pick for commander in chief in Sen. Ted Cruz. But the caucus and Iowa politics in general have sometimes produced a field of nightmares. Granted, Iowa is not right-wing overall — it's gone Democratic in six of the last seven presidential elections, it has elected such LGBT-supportive politicians as former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and former Govs. Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver, and its Supreme Court made the state an early entry in the marriage equality column, back in 2009. But among Iowa Republicans, Christian conservatives hold a great deal of power, and they've given us a bumper crop of crazy. Here are some of the scariest children of the corn to emerge from the state.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz shocked the political establishment and won the 2016 Iowa caucus despite the state’s own governor calling Cruz out as the only bad option. It’s just further reason never to underestimate the power of antigay evangelicals in Iowa to decide who wins there. Cruz is the 2014 winner of The Advocate’s “Phobie of the Year” and has a laundry list of homophobic and transphobic credentials, all of which he burnished while traveling the state’s 99 counties. Rep. Steve King (who you’ll hear more about in a minute) often traveled with him. Maybe the best example of the Cruz sway, though, is the list of endorsements from a who’s who of antigay figures in politics. There’s Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, the leader of a Southern-Poverty-Law-Center certified “hate group,” plus its founder James Dobson and former FRC president Gary Bauer. Then there’s Ken Cuccinelli, who tried to overturn a ban on sodomy in Virginia, and Sandy Rios, a mouthpiece for another certified “hate group” in the American Family Association, and pastor Mike Bickle, who said marriage equality is sign of the end times and that Oprah Winfrey is the anti-christ. There are many, many more just like that. And now Cruz gets the Iowa stamp of approval, as well.
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, from the Fourth District in the northwestern Iowa, is one of the most antigay members of Congress, and often crazily so. In denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling for nationwide marriage equality last year, he said, "You could marry a lawnmower with this decision." One Iowa man, a straight supporter of marriage equality, decided to test this theory and found out, not surprisingly, that he could not get a license to marry his lawnmower. King also called for Congress to take a symbolic vote condemning the decision and proposed legislation to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over marriage; neither plan has won much support. He has further predicted that marriage equality will lead to the institution's demise and the placing of children in warehouses, and suggested that the solution to workplace discrimination against LGBT people is for them to stay closeted on the job. Hide those pictures of your spouse! For some reason voters keep returning him to Congress — he's in his seventh term and plans to seek an eighth. Determined to bring the crazy to the rest of the nation, he's a national cochair for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign.
Bob Vander Plaats, head of an antigay Iowa group called Family Leader, rose to prominence with his outrage over the state Supreme Court's marriage equality decision. He sought the 2010 Republican nomination for governor on a platform of opposition to the ruling and lost the primary, but he did mount a campaign to kick some justices off the court. The seven justices had voted unanimously for marriage equality; three were up for retention votes in 2010, and Vander Plaats persuaded voters to remove them. In subsequent elections he's turned his focus national, endorsing Rick Santorum for president in the 2012 race (Santorum ended up narrowly winning the Iowa caucus) and Ted Cruz in this cycle, and concocting a pledge for presidential candidates to sign stating their commitment to work against marriage equality. His group isn't ignoring state issues, though. Last year it released a report alleging that the annual Governor's Conference on LGBT Youth exposed teenagers to inappropriate sexual information, leading some antigay Iowa legislators to investigate the conference.
As a freshman Iowa state senator, Republican Kent Sorenson led an effort in 2011 to amend the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage and therefore nullfy the 2009 marriage equality ruling. The amendment never got on the ballot, but Sorenson continued to work for far-right causes and candidates until he became mired in scandal. He chaired Minnesota Congresswoman's presidential campaign in the state, then dramatically defected to Texas Congressman Ron Paul right before the 2012 caucus — and it then emerged that he had illegally received thousands of dollars from Paul's campaign to do so. Sorenson resigned from the Iowa Senate in 2013, and in 2014 he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and causing a campaign to falsely report expenditures. He has said he regrets his time in Iowa politics. Wonder why?
Rick Santorum, the infamously antigay former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, was once popular with Iowans. In 2012 he won the state's Republican presidential caucus over Mitt Romney. He went on to win some other states, but in the end he couldn't keep up the momentum and dropped out in April. In the 2016 race, his candidacy has barely registered on Iowa's radar or any other state's, for which he blames the media. But apparently a candidate who uses metaphors about "man on dog" sex and paper towels versus napkins to justify his opposition to LGBT rights is just a little too crazy for even the right-wing base.
Iowa Republicans haven't always picked rabidly antigay candidates in the presidential caucus, but four years before Santorum's victory, they chose Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, who has a sterling homophobic record. Huckabee didn't end up with the 2008 nomination, losing out to Sen. John McCain, who lost the general election to a guy named Barack Obama. Huckabee is trying for the nomination again this year, but his campaign hasn't picked up much steam, even with his anti-LGBT pandering — he has claimed he's lost the support of far-right groups because he'd be too effective and take away their reason for being. Huckabee has said letting transgender people serve openly in the military is a social experiment and that gender-affirmation surgery is strictly cosmetic, like getting breast implants; equated the Supreme Court's marriage's equality ruling with the pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, and said the nation should just ignore it; and that inviting gay guests to meet the pope is like offering alcoholics an open bar. He's a big supporter of antigay Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, whom he considers a messenger from God, and appeared with her at a homophobic hate rally upon her release from jail for contempt of court. Now, tell us he's not at least a little crazy.
The cray-cray antigay televangelist ran for the Republican presidential nomination back in 1988, and in the Iowa caucus he registered a surpisingly strong second-place finish, behind U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. In the end, neither could stop George H.W. Bush, then the sitting vice president, from getting the nomination. Robertson spoke in support of Bush at the Republican National Convention that year, in a speech that painted Democrats as antifamily, anti-God, and protectors of "disease carriers" (read: people with HIV or AIDS). The campaign helped put Robertson on the national stage, and he's remained there, blaming LGBT people for natural disasters, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and even using special sharpened rings to spread HIV by shaking hands.
Michele Bachmann, the loopily antigay congresswoman from neighboring Minnesota, was a favorite of Iowa Republicans for a while when she pursued the 2012 presidential nomination. She won the state's presidential straw poll in the summer of 2011, but she wasn't able to translate that to a victory in the caucus the following January, when she received a meager 5 percent of votes. Bachmann's homophobic views include her belief in "ex-gay" therapy — clinics run by her husband, Marcus, have provided that "service" — and staunch opposition to marriage equality and repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Bachmann is now retired from politics, and we hope she stays that way.
When Democrat and staunch LGBT ally Tom Harkin announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate in 2014, Democrats put up Bruce Braley as their candidate, but he lost the election to Republican Joni Ernst, who during her campaign touted her expertise in castrating hogs and claimed to have been so poor as a child that she'd used bread wrappers as overshoes, implying that's what poor people should do. Among her antigay actions: As a state senator she backed the failed effort to amend Iowa's constitution to override the state Supreme Court's 2009 marriage equality ruling, and she has said the definition of marriage should be left up to the states, except of course if she has the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage nationwide. When the U.S. Supreme Cour ruledfor national marriage equality last June, she expressed her disappointment.
Dick and Betty Odgaard, owners of an art gallery and wedding venue in Grimes, Iowa, were sued under the state's antidiscrimination law for turning away a same-sex couple in 2013, saying that hosting the couple's wedding violated the Odgaards' religious beliefs. They reached an out-of-court settlement in 2015 and ceased offering wedding services so they wouldn't have to accommodate same-sex couples. After a downturn in their business, they set up a nonprofit organization called God's Original Design Ministry and announced plans to put up anti–marriage equality billboards across the nation.
Rev. Cary Gordon, a pastor at Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, Iowa, was active in the campaign to remove justices from the state Supreme Court after the 2009 marriage equality ruling. In a 2010 letter asking other clergy members to join in the effort, he compare the American Civil Liberties Union to Nazis, and Iowa gay activist Scott Raasch responded that Gordon deserved to "burn in hell." Raasch apologized, but three years later, when he was appointed to the Sioux City Human Rights Commission, Gordon sought to have him removed from that post. Raasch, however, has remained on the commission. Gordon is still spewing antigay venom; just last year he wrote a column denouncing the "mythical right of gay 'marriage.'"
A couple of Iowa state representatives have recently staked their claims to inclusion in the antigay crazy hall of shame. Rep. Bobby Kaufmann has called for an investigation into the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, held annually in Iowa since 2006, because of reports that last year’s event included inappropriate sexual material. (The report came from Family Leader, so consider the source.) Kaufmann, who chairs the House Government Oversight Committee, initially planned to have the whole committee hold a hearing, but he scaled that back and appointed two people, Republican Rep. Greg Heartsill and Democratic Rep. Phyllis Thede, to do the investigation. Thede is an LGBT ally, but Kaufmann and Heartsill both have extremely anti-LGBT records, although Heartsill once admitted he didn’t know what the initials “LGBTQ” stood for. It’s questionable whether they have any jurisdiction over the conference, as despite the name, it receives no state funds. But they are forging ahead, although Kaufmann’s offended by some of the public responses to investigation, especially an email alleging that he and Heartsill are lovers. “I am here to announce that Rep. Heartsill and I are not in a homosexual relationship,” Kaufmann told the committee last week.