Bob Vander Plaats: Mr. Reverse Remote Control
by Douglas Burns
For most people, a television remote-control works like this: you push the buttons and, presto, that flat screen shows what you want to see, whether it’s “Meet The Press,” a Chicago Cubs game or FOX’s surprisingly engaging “Glee.”
But for GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats, this exchange functions another way. The images on the TV push his buttons, turning his typically three-channel mind (gays, really gays and really, really gays) to Arizona and an impulsive endorsement of that state’s controversial new police-state response to illegal immigration.
Perhaps more than ever, Iowa needs a cool, steady hand helming the ship of state. But “impulsive” is the one word that best applies to Vander Plaats’ statements and posturing, with “opportunism” a hairsbreadth second.
In a staggering display of me-too-ism, Vander Plaats rashly suggests that Iowa should follow Arizona with its untested and dubious approach to dealing with undocumented people inside its state’s borders.
“Not only would I support that, but I would promote that as Iowa’s governor,” Vander Plaats said during the recent Cedar Rapids debate.
Iowa is not Arizona. Our situation with illegal immigration is far different, and it is pure political pulp to suggest we should hop along with a frustrated border state’s law.
“Arizona is a border state, and I can’t begin to imagine challenges they have,” State Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, and one of the three GOP candidates for Iowa governor, told The Des Moines Register.
In the Cedar Rapids debate, former Hawkeye State Gov. Terry Branstad, the third Republican candidate in 2010, made the same comment.
“We’re not Arizona,” Branstad said. “We’re not a border state.”
For years, western Iowa’s economy has benefited from the back-breaking labor of Latinos, many legal workers, many illegal. With that latter class, Iowa winked and nodded and let them into to Denison and Storm Lake and Sioux City. They contributed. They built lives.
As a matter of basic human decency, not to mention economic reality, we owe many of these immigrants a path to lawful residency or citizenship — a plan that also carries demands and responsibilities and sends some people back to Mexico and Central America who don’t measure up to them.
For years, western Iowa has known the score with what amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regard to immigration.
Political leaders and the God-fearing, church-going everyman sat largely silent in Iowa as books like “Fast Food Nation” exposed the horrors Hispanics faced on the kill floors of Midwestern meatpacking houses. One national magazine even carried a cover story on race in Storm Lake.
At the time, there was no battle cry for a massive overhaul of immigration.
Iowa wanted an invisible underclass, one not heard or seen. And for years this bargain worked.
But now there is a GOP primary to be won, and Bob Vander Plaats has spent enough time in northwest Iowa to know the value of rhetorically slapping around immigrants.
Roberts and Branstad offer the approaches of more responsible leaders: use existing laws (Branstad) and ramp up efforts to prevent those here illegally from obtaining benefits to which they are not entitled (Roberts).
This Arizona law, Senate Bill 1070, is, in the words of the far-from-liberal editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, a “desperate law.”
I’ve read the law and suggest others do, too.
Most troubling is a section that would allow law enforcement officials to stop people where “reasonable suspicion” exists that they are not in the nation legally, a shocking invitation for racial profiling.
It is political lighter fluid being sprayed upon the rhetorical kindling piled up over the last year in the national town square in the form of over-heated health-care debates and right-wing language that hints of violence against our own government.
Taken together we now have a tastelessly simple recipe for trouble — real trouble. Just add race and watch burn.
Yes, this Arizona business is a desperate law. But more than that, it is a dangerous one — a measure Iowa’s leaders should dismiss outright, or at least in a nod to sanity, allow Arizona to test-drive before embracing.
Sometimes the true test of leadership is the courage to stand between the populace and a bad idea.
That’s not Vander Plaats, a professional candidate still in search of an office that will have him.
He may very well be every bit as desperate as the Arizona law he’s pimping. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.