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Branstad: Gronstal is 'Dictator' for Marriage View

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) Republican Gov.-elect Terry Branstad urged lawmakers Monday to let Iowans vote on a proposed gay marriage ban, calling the Senate's top Democrat dictatorial for not allowing senators to take up the matter.

Speaking at a gathering organized by The Associated Press, Branstad said Democrats had already paid a price for opposing efforts to let the public vote on a gay marriage ban. Democrats lost the governorship and control of the state House, and they barely hung on to their majority in the Senate.

Branstad also noted that voters removed three Iowa Supreme Court justices after a campaign that targeted them for their support of a unanimous 2009 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the state. The court ruled that a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violated the constitutional right of equal protection.

It was the first time in nearly 50 years that voters had removed Supreme Court justices in retention elections.

Branstad said voters had lost confidence in the Iowa Supreme Court, and he put special blame on Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, who has promised to block efforts to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage.

"Just because you're a leader in the Legislature doesn't mean you're a dictator where you have the right to make a unilateral decision, I think, on an issue of this importance and magnitude," Branstad said. "Certainly the senators should be given an opportunity to vote on this."

Asked about Branstad's comments during a separate session at the seminar, Gronstal said he has no intention of reversing course.

"Dictators are people who take away other people's rights," said Gronstal. "I'm not going down that road."

During the campaign, Branstad made clear that he intended to focus on state spending and the economy, but when asked about gay marriage he offered strong support for changing the Iowa Constitution. That requires approval by legislatures elected by voters in consecutive elections, then the support of voters.

"The Supreme Court, I think, made a tragic mistake in their decision on same-sex marriage," said Branstad. "The voters of Iowa have overwhelmingly rejected three members of the Supreme Court because of it and I think we need to restore support for the judicial system, and one way to do that is to give people the opportunity to vote on restoring the one-man, one-woman marriage."

Branstad acknowledged that he appointed two of the three justices removed by voters during his previous four-term tenure as governor. Asked if he regretted appointing those justices, he said, "I never look back."

He also said he supported changing Iowa's process for nominating justices, in which a Judicial Nominating Commission takes applications for openings then forwards the names of three finalists to the governor. Branstad noted that nearly all the panel's members are Democrats, and he said he supported requiring more equality among the parties.

"I'm hopeful that they will recognize and respect the will of the people in this state," said Branstad. "I think they want a change in the philosophy of the court. I think they want to see more judicial restraint."

It's possible the commission will choose potential replacements before Democratic Gov. Chet Culver's term ends, but it's likely the task will be left to Branstad, who will be sworn into office on Jan. 14.

In interviewing potential justices, Branstad said he wouldn't ask about specific issues but would look for a judicial philosophy that respects the separation of powers, leaving the passage of laws to the Legislature.

"I don't think you can anticipate every single issue that's going to come before the court, nor do I think it's appropriate for the governor to ask about every single issue, but I think the philosophy of the people who serve is important, especially as it goes to the separation of powers," said Branstad.

He said a goal would be to "restore support for the judicial system after what's happened in the last couple of years."

Branstad also was asked about his support for reducing commercial property taxes, which he argues must be cut to make Iowa more competitive with nearby states. Although he focused on business taxes during the campaign, Branstad on Monday called for also limiting residential and farmland property taxes.

Farmland property taxes, the governor noted, are linked to prices farmers are getting for commodities, such as corn and soybeans. Those prices have soared in recent years, driving up taxes.

Branstad didn't offer a specific funding source to pay for reductions in farm and residential property taxes but said he would offer details in a new state budget that he must deliver to the Legislature by the end of January.

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