- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Conservatives claim they are about to be "purged" from the Iowa Republican Party in a move that could have national repercussions.
They say conservatives are the target of a proposed amendment to the state party constitution that would bar Republican officials from publicly endorsing or working on behalf of any candidate in primary or caucus elections.
Supporters say the amendment is about ethics, but opponents say the measure's real purpose is to rid the party leadership of conservatives who have been active in Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.
Critics say the measure could impact the 2004 re-election campaigns of President Bush and conservative Sen. Charles E. Grassley. The White House has privately expressed displeasure with the amendment.
"The framers of this amendment are out to get rid of the Christian right and others associated with the Bush and Grassley campaigns," said Andrea K. Cerwinske, chairman of the convention credentials committee. "They are also targeting tax-cutting organizations, pro-life and pro-gun groups."
Steve Scheffler, chairman of the Iowa Christian Coalition and a state party central committee member, sees himself as a prime target of the reformers. "They are trying to purge the central committee of Christian conservatives," he said.
Mrs. Cerwinske said that "a disgruntled minority on the central committee is behind the purge."
"But that minority may have persuaded a majority to vote for it as a 'good government' measure," she added.
If approved at the state party convention in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, the amendment would go into effect at the beginning of next year. Its wording bars two actions: "No member of the Republican State Central Committee shall receive remuneration of any kind from a political campaign, or candidate-oriented 'political action committee,' and no member of the Republican State Central Committee shall publicly endorse a candidate in a contested primary, or caucus campaign."
Opponents say party leaders and central committee members would not even be able to sport bumper stickers endorsing Mr. Bush, Mr. Grassley or any other Republican nomination candidate. "This is going to restrict freedom of speech the same way as the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform act," said Mrs. Cerwinske.
Supporters say their only motive is to prevent any Republican Party official in the state, including central committee members, from endorsing candidates before those candidates are officially nominated by the state party's complex caucus and primary system, which is not completed for most candidates until June.
"Ethics should forever be at the core of the Republican Party," said Todd Henderson, a delegate to the state party convention and leading advocate of the amendment. "State central committee members should neither endorse candidates for president prior to nomination nor receive any money from the candidates' campaign organizations before then."
He said Mr. Scheffler took money from Steve Forbes' nomination campaign in 2000.
"When we have people on our state central committee looked on as leaders of the party, their role in contested primaries is to stay neutral until the voters select the candidate," said Bruce Johnson, the Linn County Republican chairman, who supports the amendment drive.
But Mr. Scheffler said a member of the reform group "actually told me that anybody associated with religious conservatives, the right-to-life movement, tax-relief groups or anti-gun control groups should not be on the central committee."
Iowa is home to the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, which Mr. Bush won in January of 2000, only to lose the state in the general election by an average margin of two votes per precinct. He has been to Iowa six times since then. Even more frequent visits have been paid by a bevy of Democrats flirting with presidential nomination runs in 2004.
Party officials who oppose the proposed amendment are also trying to keep peace in the party, regardless of the outcome of the convention vote on Saturday.
These officials say amendment sponsors and backers have noble motives, but haven't thought through the ramifications of their proposal.
"This amendment creates real dilemmas that I do not believe the authors carefully considered," said Iowa Republican Chairman Chuck Larson.
"It could hurt the president's re-election," said Leon Mosley, Iowa Republican co-chairman. "The people on the central committee are the [interest-group] activists, the diehards, running up and down the state, highly energized. We need them to help get Republicans re-elected."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide