Two new candidates went to the Capitol for job interviews yesterday-- as new appointees to the Board of Regents, which governs Iowa's public Universities. Iowa Public Radio’s Sandhya Dirks reports one of those candidates—Robert Cramer—provoked a lot of controversy for his conservative views.
Robert Cramer isn’t just a nominee for the board of regents, he’s also the chair of The Family Leader, one of the most prominent fundamental Christian activist groups in Iowa, and the country. But Cramer told the committee in this role he would serve as a businessman from Grimes, with experience in construction, that could help the regents in guiding their universities through growth and rebuilding, "I come in with an open mind, to listen about what they’re doing."
But some Democratic Senators worried about Cramer's past involvement in education. Like Matt McCoy from Des Moines who grilled the candidate on past statements, "as a Johnson school board member, you stated for the record that you believed the liberal agenda was out of control, and that these books were part of the liberal agenda."
"These books" are books that Cramer, in his service on the school board, suggested removing from curriculum in ninth grade English. Cramer says he says he was just responding to parent concern, not pursuing a crusade, "nobody wanted to ban books. Nobody wanted to remove them from the classroom, or the library or anything. Parents brought to us an issue where they were concerned about the age of appropriateness about a particular book."
That book was Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. It contains an uncomfortable scene in it that depicts the abuse of a young girl. It is also considered a classic.
Cramer says at the college level those kinds of decisions won't be an issue, "at the regent level we are not going talk about age appropriateness because we are talking about adults."
Other Democratic Senators challenged him on more “adult” matters, like education committee chair, Herman Quirmbach from Ames, "When the Des Moines city council was considering including sexual orientation in their civil rights ordinance you were opposed to that."
Quirmbach referenced a 2001 article in the Des Moines register where Cramer warned of the homosexual agenda, but Cramer says he doesn’t have a personal agenda. When asked about lesbian and gay groups on campus he says he wouldn’t single them out, "I honestly have no idea what they are doing, so if they are just providing a service to homosexual students, and that's the current policy, that's fine. If they are trying to promote or encourage the behavior, I don’t think that’s the role of the University."
Cramer says he wants to be a uniter who wants to bring another point of view into the mix, "so yeah I’d rather keep [away from] these social issues, and just focus on education."
And Cramer again emphasized he wanted to bring his knowledge of brick and mortar construction to the table. That's something that a few Senators at the hearing can get behind, but it isn't enough for Democrat Herman Quirmbach. He says it isn’t enough to be a guy who can build buildings as part of the board you need to build policy. And he says quite frankly he is concerned by Cramer's past views, "you know over the last decade a lot of people have, lets say, evolved in there views with their regard to sexual orientation and gay rights, I was not persuaded that he has."
Also at the meeting was Subhash Sahai , a doctor from Webster City, his nomination is also up before the committee, who will decide whether to pass their names to the full Senate. At the Statehouse, I'm Sandhya Dirks, Iowa Public News.