Our governor is decrying the wrong overreach

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So Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has waded into the great American bathroom debate.

This week, the governor criticized an Obama administration directive informing local school districts they could lose federal funding if they fail to permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their identified gender. Branstad called it an “overreach.”

“Now you have the federal government stepping in and saying if you don’t do it our way, we’re going to withhold your federal money. I think that’s wrong,” the governor said Monday when asked by reporters about the directive. “We want to treat everybody with respect and dignity, but we don’t think the federal government ought to be coming in and threatening to withhold education money to local school districts in Iowa.” He contends the president ought to be focused on more important issues.

Generally, I’m not a big fan of these sort of federal threats to yank funding. But protecting civil rights is a responsibility that often falls to the feds. Sometimes they have to use muscle. And it’s tough to swallow a local control lecture from a governor who doesn’t even think local school boards are smart enough to set their own start dates. The governor’s disdain for local decision making is legendary.

As far as more important issues, is a governor who once dropped everything to vigorously defend lean finely textured beef really arguing this president is wasting his time sticking up for transgender students?

All this bathroom stuff sure seems like a big new issue. But in Iowa, it’s been illegal since 2007 for schools or anyone else to deny public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including bathrooms and locker rooms. So an issue that’s apparently roiling the nation has been a drama-free reality here for nearly a decade.

So what’s new? Well, our rightward marching culture warriors, fresh from total defeat on marriage equality, swiftly have seized on yet another sexual boogeyman to frighten us. Soon, our bathrooms will be full of predators, or so they insist.

I understand some folks are uncomfortable with this issue. But they can take solace in the fact these fear-mongers spouting doom and gloom have been dead wrong for decades.

They were wrong in the 1970s when they tried to ban homosexuals from becoming schoolteachers in states such as California. They were wrong in the Iowa Senate in 2003 when they tried to ban gay couples from adopting children. They were wrong when they opposed expanding the civil rights code in 2007. And, of course, they were wrong in 2009, when same-sex marriages became legal in Iowa.

They predicted marriage would be irreparably damaged, children would be harmed and pastors would be prosecuted. One pastor argued that the Varnum ruling would be more damaging than the Flood of 2008. All wrong.

You’d think they’d have no credibility left. But here they are yet again. These folks have been overreaching for years, trying to turn manufactured fear into political power and influence.

Ideally, that’s the sort of overreach a governor who professes to care about “respect and dignity” would be railing against.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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