Bob Vander Plaats landed a place on the national political scene on Nov. 2 when his pro-marriage efforts in Iowa led to three judges losing their seats on the state Supreme Court. The historic victory for family advocates came after the seven-member court voted unanimously in 2009 to usher same-sex marriage into the state. Pro-family leaders are calling on the remaining four justices to resign.
Now, Vander Plaats is taking over as president and CEO of The Family Leader, the parent organization of Marriage Matters, as well as the Iowa Family Policy Center and the Iowa Family PAC, which are associated with Focus on the Family. Chuck Hurley will stay on as president of the Iowa Family Policy Center.
Vander Plaats is a high-school teacher and basketball coach and has four sons.
1. You are not one to shy away from big issues and challenges. For example, you ran for governor, but narrowly lost in a very tight race. Yet, within moments, you picked up the mantle to help unset three sitting state Supreme Court judges. Can you give us insight into what led you to do so?
My motivation was to be a pro-family governor; somebody that was concerned about the social issues as well as the fiscal issues. The key focus was restoring one-man, one-woman marriage. After talking to several people that I respect a great deal, I decided I could take my energy, my network and my resources and put a focus on holding the court in check.
We knew we were facing a steep climb. Typically, voting on judges is a yawner at best, and a lot of times people don’t even vote on the judges. So, there was a lot of education that needed to take place on the Constitution, on the separation of powers, and on the retention system. We stayed very diligent in educating the Iowa voter about what happened on April 3, 2009, and why a court cannot legislate or amend the Constitution. We made the case in a very educational, informative and instructional manner, where the people of Iowa, who are educated voters, discern issues and take a lot of time in doing that. It was humbling and inspiring that they would overwhelmingly vote three justices off the bench.
2. Looking back, what were some of the highlights that led to your success?
The key to our success is that everybody played well in the sandbox together. We had Iowa Family Policy Center Action. We had the Iowa Christian Alliance. We had Iowa Right to Life. We had the gun owners. We had the home-school educators. We had the property rights groups. We had Concerned Women for America. We had Eagle Forum. We had the Tea Party. We had the Republican Party. We had all these groups, and they all worked well together. They stayed focused on the ultimate goal.
On the national level, not only did we have some key political figures like (former Gov. Mike) Huckabee, (Newt) Gingrich, David Barton, (Gov.) Haley Barbour, (Gov. Tim) Pawlenty, and (former Sen.) Rick Santorum, but we had American Family Association, CitizenLink and the Family Research Council. We had American Values and the National Organization for Marriage. They all played well together. Everybody kept the focus. Nobody was concerned about who would get the ultimate credit. They knew that, ultimately, this might be the most important election of the entire country to rein in tyranny and embrace liberty.
3. We’ve seen the proponents of same-sex marriage pour millions and millions into their efforts. Usually, marriage groups are heavily outspent. Was that the case this time?
As a matter of fact, I think we caught them a bit off guard, a bit naïve or arrogant, because it had never been done before. We were starting off a minimum of 50 percentage points in the hole. I think they really believed this would never happen. The closer we got to Election Day, the more they knew that our effort was gaining traction. The poll numbers were showing that we had a legitimate shot, and that’s when they finally got nervous. They put up a radio ad with former Gov. Robert Ray, a Republican. And then CitizenLink provided a very effective radio ad to counter that ad. CitizenLink, NOM, AFA — with their efforts in putting up TV ads — and Iowa For Freedom were really the focal point (of our success).
4. The next two years are going to be very interesting, especially with the 2012 presidential race and redistricting — and Iowa tends to always be in the center of the storm. What are you going to be focusing on strategically?
We’re going to put a huge focus on the Legislature and the governor’s office to reaffirm one-man, one-woman marriage, to re-pass the (federal) Defense of Marriage Act, and to put a limitation on judicial review. We are going to encourage the Legislature to revamp the way justices are appointed so the people have more of a voice.
On a national level, I plan on having a front-row seat in the caucus process, which will help determine who the Republican nominee for president is, and we plan as an organization to completely vet and interview and research every candidate for president. We plan on providing a stage to all of the presidential candidates. A year from now, we really hope that we can recommend a particular candidate — or a set of candidates — that we would be comfortable with to represent pro-family issues.
5. Did you ever have aspirations for public service, or is this some new twist in the road that God has laid? How have your faith walk and your journey to public service tracked together?
No doubt, this has been God-ordained. When I was in high school and college playing basketball, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to play basketball. I wanted to coach basketball. I wanted to win basketball games. Never did I think I would run for public office. Never did I think I’d be this involved in the public arena.
It was through life experiences and a faith journey that I probably wasn’t even realizing at the time, but God was opening up my eyes and really showing me the need for leadership to advance truth in the public arena that would benefit the family and that would be a light for righteousness in the public square. It became a passion of mine. In one of my first public interviews, they asked about the future, and I said “I am not going away.” I believe the mission and the pursuit is very, very worthy, and that’s why I’ve committed so much of my life — and plan on committing so much of the rest of my life — to trying to fulfill a mission that honors God and inspires people and benefits family.
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