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Muscatine JournalCandidate bent on 'getting lean'

February 9, 2006
Copyright The Muscatine Journal
By Peter Rugg, The Muscatine Journal

MUSCATINE - Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats voiced his support for the death penalty, accountability in public schools, and cutting excess government during a visit to Muscatine Wednesday.

Vander Plaats attended a luncheon with more than a dozen local Republican Party members at the Muscatine Family Restaurant on Park Avenue. Those in attendance prompted talks on a variety of subjects.

This is Vander Plaats’ second run for the Iowa governor’s office, following a failed bid in 2002.

His Republican opponent in the June primary election is Jim Nussle, Iowa’s 1st District congressman. Nussle’s last visit to Muscatine was in January.

With state lawmakers debating the merits of reinstating a death penalty in the wake of the murder of 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl Jetseta Gage, Vanner Plaits said he supported a death penalty for specific crimes. He said premeditated murder or multiple felonies resulting in a death should be subject to the death penalty.

Regarding another current legislative issue, Vander Plaats said he was in favor of the complete removal of all Iowa State Lottery TouchPlay machines, which have been criticized for their similarity to slot machines.

He also favored a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Vander Plaats also made bold statements regarding his position on excess government bureaucracy, saying that, if elected, he would propose reducing the number of state legislators from 150 to 100.

“If we did that, it would send a message to other departments that we’re serious about challenging the processes and getting lean,” Vander Plaats said. “We are top heavy (legislatively). If they went from 150 to 100, we wouldn’t miss a beat.”

Vander Plaats said that if such a reduction were to occur, it would likely need to be a public referendum to ensure the will of the people.

Among the departments Vander Plaats believed would benefit from this message was the Iowa Department of Human Services. Vander Plaats questioned its necessity because some of its operations are similar to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Vander Plaats said the departments had become a model of unnecessary bureaucracy in their processes and specifically questioned the way the agencies provide money to young, single mothers.

“You take a teenage girl that gets pregnant - she gets a check and what’s the first thing she thinks of? She thinks, ‘Hey, if I have another baby, I can get another check.’” Vander Plaats said he had seen such situations in his years as a public school official.

While a variety of topics were touched on, education was the predominant theme of the lunch. Vander Plaats disdained the proposal that public schools needed more money - too much of which, he said, did not make it into the classroom. Instead, they need to restructure their processes to meet the needs of individual communities.

“You ask any teacher what they want, and they’ll tell you they just want to be able to teach without interference,” said Vander Plaats, one of the few Republican candidates who does not support the No Child Left Behind Act. The federal program enacted in 2001 aims to improve primary and secondary school student performance by increasing standards of accountability at the state level, for school districts, and giving parents more options in choosing which schools their children attend.

Vander Plaats said education at the state level was not the province of federal regulations, and said he would work to exempt Iowa from any part of the Act.

He did, however, favor more accountability for public schools using a variety of methods including standardized testing and regular school district evaluations.

“We’ve adopted this one-size-fits-all approach for every school district and it doesn’t work,” he said of current state education policies.

Muscatine City Council member Marie Press attended the lunch, and also attended Nussle’s gathering in January. She’s still undecided between the two.

“I don’t know yet. I think they’d both do a good job as the governor,” Press said. She added that she was particularly happy with Vander Plaats’ stance on No Child Left Behind.

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