Earlier this afternoon, Terry Branstad took the oath of office and began his fifth term as governor of Iowa. In his inaugural address Governor Branstad called for a “new covenant” between Iowans and their politicians, one that would limit the power of government, create “world-class schools,” and increase political transparency. The key to success, the governor said, is eliminating the “old ways” of Iowa politics and casting off “the yoke” of taxation, regulation, and spending.
That the governor has been recently re-elected to office after a brief political hiatus does not—regardless of what Branstand and his speechwriters think—qualify him as the bearer of political “new ways.” He’s only been out of office twelve years, so, if anything, he is precisely the “old ways” that he speaks so strongly against. There’s something eerie, if not huffy, about the governor’s mix of Biblical and Iconoclastic rhetoric. The covenant that he promises—a word choice that raises questions as to exactly what the governor’s thoughts are about his office—will be fulfilled by the smashing of the idols symbolic of what he believes to be a failed government: spending, taxes, and regulation. He will smash the budget and tear down superfluous government programs, pulling Iowans away from their debauched interpretation of government and returning them to a more solid, pure faith in government.
As an aside, Branstad’s emphasis on spending seems a bit shaky since it was announced in December that, as of June 2011, former Governor Chet Culver would leave Iowa with a $950 million surplus. Has Washington—and by association Iowa—really gone “bananas” as Senator Grassley would say? Or is it just the people who occupy the posts—again and again and again?
In any case, Governor Branstad’s speech was not all political jibber jabber. The returning hero spoke of Iowa’s break for freedom: “We will remove the lead boots of excess government from our economy, and, without that burden, we will be able to run like the wind in the race to prosperity.” Like Forrest Gump, we’ll break free of the heavy burdens on our legs and run, newly liberated, towards that ever-ambiguous prosperity. He added: “We will get back on track with a slimmer, better managed and sustainable government you can count on when you need it.” Weight Watchers will be a government program in no time.
That’s right, the new Iowa government will be slim and agile, quick and capable, ready to serve and protect, and to defend the inalienable rights and liberties that all Iowans possess. Unless, of course, you happen to be gay.
Another man has stood up to the Plate of Promise this week: Mark Cady. Cady assumed the position of Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice on Wednesday, taking over for former Chief Justice Marsha Ternus who, along with her two colleagues Justices David Baker and Michael Streit, were cast out of office in the November 2010 elections after handing down a controversial court decision finding a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. The hateful campaign and fear mongering from Iowa’s right-most politicians and citizens was wrought in the open and was successful, but Cady, it seems, is not without words of caution for people looking to continue the fight. According to the Des Moines Register, Cady told the Iowa Legislature as he delivered the State of the Judiciary Address, “that attacks on judges based on divisive rulings pose a threat to the check-and-balance system that guarantees individual rights and constitutional freedom.”
The dichotomy is rich. While one man dusts off his old suits and ties and marches to Des Moines, a returning hero nearly a decade and a half in absence promising a new future with an 80s mentality, another is forced to rise from the ashes of injustice to assume a post that Iowa Republicans are looking to destroy. While Branstad talks of covenants and numbers he seemingly doesn’t comprehend, Justice Cady talks of freedom, of perpetuating a decent and just lifestyle for all Iowans. Governor Branstad’s greatest trial may not be slimming down the Iowa government and budget on the Atkins diet, but rather how he will deal with the impending struggle between justice and the Iowa Republican legislators.
Will the governor rein in the hounds that bark and snap at the feet of freedom? Or will he allow the Republican Party to attempt to oust the remaining justices long before the public has been given their right to vote? Either way, one thing is clear: with the newly elected members of the Iowa political system sworn in, time is beginning to tick by.
Run, Forrest. Run.