As the state of Iowa gears up for the first-in-the-nation presidential primary event, the Iowa Caucuses on January 3rd, 2011, Welton broadcasts from Des Moines.
Connie Ryan Terrell, Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, joins us to talk about the impact of the debates inspired by the caucuses on the work of the Alliance, and the overlap between state-level and national-level issues at this stage of the campaign.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Connie Ryan Terrell, Executive Director, Interfaith Alliance of Iowa[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Iowa is the first state to have its voice officially heard, with the caucuses scheduled for January 3rd of next year – and we’re here to get a close-up look at how things are going at the home of one of the most important milestones of the presidential election cycle. On this week’s show, we’ll learn more about the specifics of a process that makes relentless national headlines every four years, but is poorly understood by most.
The last time we spoke to Connie Ryan Terrell, Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, she was right in the middle of a noisy statewide battle over marriage equality. At the time, opponents of equal marriage rights were busily working to punish judges who ruled in favor of same-gender rights – and trying to leverage conservative religious impulses to do so.
Well, the ouster was successful – an unprecedented politicization of the judiciary in Iowa – but earlier this month, voters kept the State Senate in Democratic hands, preventing the GOP-controlled House and Republican governor from keeping their promise to push through a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage.
It’s important to keep state politics in mind when looking at presidential elections, because, look: most of the GOP candidates have come out strongly in favor of some of the same conservative impulses making headlines within Iowa. I’ve been here for only a few days, and have enjoyed talking to many people about the caucuses, and particularly about how essential it is not to devalue religious faith for political expediency – and not to compromise our democracy in the name of specific religion-driven agendas.
That’s the work of Interfaith Alliance – and a very busy – and effective – state affiliate is Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. Executive Director Connie Ryan Terrell has welcomed us warmly to Iowa, and I’m very happy to be able to welcome her back, now, to State of Belief Radio. Connie, welcome.[CONNIE RYAN TERRELL, GUEST]: Thank you, Welton. It is a joy to be on the show again with you. [WG]: How are you doing? [CR]: I am doing really well and, you know, Iowa is doing really well, too, even given that we have so much attention on us. So we’re headed toward the caucuses on January 3rd, and we’re pleased to be first in the nation to do that. [WG]: We often say that we broadcast from the intersection of religion, government and politics. Truthfully, lately it’s getting to where we could get away with calling it the demolition derby of those three influences. The caucuses are just weeks away now. What’s blinking red on your radar screen? What are you worried about going into the caucuses? [CR]: I’m worried that the conversation is not going to turn more to the issues that are serious in our nation. It really has been a very surface-level conversation. In Iowa, the great joy of having the caucuses is that we get to have the great opportunity and, really, privilege to have one-on-one conversations, even, sometimes, with candidates on issues that are serious and on the minds of Iowans. And so in 2008 personally I was able to meet a plethora of candidates. My children even got to meet a plethora of candidates and ask questions.
What we’re hearing a lot in this cycle is the standard same stump speeches and we’re not really getting to the real core issues. People are really staying at that surface and, really, that level of religious conversations that don’t delve into issues of economy and foreign relations, those types of things.[WG]: There’s so much national media attention right now on Iowa. I’m curious, do you think the national media are covering the right issues? [CR]: I don’t think that the national media are covering the right issues – or they’re not given the opportunity – I think sometimes that the advisors and the handlers are not allowing the candidates the opportunity to discuss some of those issues that are of grave concern to our nation. [WG]: We have talked before today about the increasing influence of state-level political issues on national issues, and how national politicians are paying, really, closer attention to what’s going on in states. Right here in Iowa, how do state-level political issues spill over into the caucuses? It’s such a conservative lineup, looking at the GOP wannabes; what’s going on there regarding state issues? [CR]: Well, of course in Iowa the – I wouldn’t even call it an elephant in the room, because everybody’s talking about it – is marriage equality. We were very fortunate, a couple of years ago, to have a wonderful supreme court ruling that now allows for equality in marriage for people who are gay and lesbian, and being able to choose the spouse that they would choose and be married and have all of those civil protections. The other part of that ruling was, really, protecting the religious freedom of anyone, and you’ve talked a lot about that: of protecting the rights of churches and synagogues to make their own decision. So that certainly has spilled over into conversations with candidates for president.
The other piece that we’re hearing a lot about is certainly – back to what you talked about in your opening – of the retention of judges. And we hear a lot of conversation of, you know, throw the judges out, that type of thing; and really, it’s political grandstanding, in my opinion, on the part of the candidates; they’re taking advantage of what happened, and the influx of money when that happened in Iowa last year through organizations like National Organization for Marriage, and American Family Association, and all those right-wing organizations coming into the state.
So those are two pieces of issues that are certainly affecting some of the conversation.[WG]: So, do you feel that issues that are pressing for Iowa are going to be, in 2012, moved aside, giving way to national politicking that may or may not have anything to do with those issues? [CR]: You know, in the short term, at least until the caucuses, I don’t think so. I think we’re going to still see those issues as prevalent in the conversation. I hope that beyond the early states, that we’re going to be able to get into some of the more important issues, and be able to do that at least in some other states; and certainly once you have a Republican candidate cemented, that, certainly, the debates between that candidate and president Obama will get into issues of economy and foreign relations, those things; and beyond those surface level issues. [WG]: Connie, what is it like, personally, doing the work of Interfaith Alliance in this environment filled with media celebrities and candidates swarming the state. I mean, we’re not accustomed to working with those kinds of people. How is it for you? Does it make a difference? [CR]: It makes life fun and it certainly has job security in it and, you know, it brings to light a lot of the issues that we work on as an organization, and certainly that you work on in Washington, DC through Interfaith Alliance. Issues of religious freedom, issues of equality, issues of civility are at the forefront of what’s happening in our state, and those are certainly things that we care deeply about. Whether that is talking with national media, or with presidential candidates, or whether that’s in our state legislature. [WG]: Well, let’s be specific there. What are the issues that you’re working on in relation to the caucuses themselves? [CR]: Well, we’re trying to get a cross to presidential candidates and people who are attending caucuses a couple of different things. One is: we have asked, through a coalition that we work with, for candidates to be respectful in their conversation, and to be civil in their conversation. We’re also approaching the parties, that they will read at each of the caucuses a statement on civility, so that when there is discussion – caucuses are a very interactive process. It’s not going and pull the lever, so to speak; it really is interactive, and there’s conversation over candidates and there’s conversation over issues resolutions – and so we’ve asked the parties to read, at each of those caucuses, a pledge of civility. So that’s a piece of it as well.
Another piece is through another coalition – we work in coalition a lot – is a judicial independence piece. So we are able to take to caucuses a resolution, and that is, hopefully, eventually forwarded to the state party. So those are some of the pieces that we’re working on.[WG]: Do you want to predict what the outcome of the caucuses… [CR]: I don’t want to predict, because I’m really very bad at that; and I’ve been interested, really, more in: we have a state-wide organization that is the strongest religious right voice, and I’ve been more interested in who they’re going to endorse, and the impact of that. I do have a prediction on who they will, but I won’t say it, because, you know, that’s probably not a good idea either. But it will be interesting to see how it turns out. [WG]: Well, I’m glad it’s a fun time for you as well as a busy time on the issues that we work on together.
Connie Ryan Terrell is Executive Director of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. It’s great to have you back on Sate of Belief Radio, and I want to thank you for all your help in making this trip a great trip. I hope that you will keep up the good work that you’re doing, and that we’ll be able to have you back on State of Belief Radio very soon.[CR]: Appreciate it very much, Welton, and glad you’re in Iowa.