Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mark Segebart’s line of attack is fair.

The one-liner isn’t.

At a local Republican “meet the candidates” night at the Santa Maria Winery last April State Senate hopeful Segebart sought to train his party’s eyes on November and a race with a well-connected Carroll Democrat.

“Do we really need another Gronstal in the State Senate?” Segebart said. “You know who I’m talking about. I’m not going to mention her name.”

The Democrat in the Iowa Senate District 6 race is Carroll County State Bank human resources official Mary Bruner — a cousin of Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

On Monday, during a Carroll Rotary Club luncheon at Charlie’s Restaurant I asked Segebart about that line, whether it was smart politics for the Vail-area farmer to come into Carroll and trash the name of one of our city’s foundational families, the Gronstals.

“It’s a good question,” Segebart said. “Actually, I didn’t know that Mary actually was Michael Gronstal’s first cousin when I first heard that she was running. Of course, people pointed that out to me quite rapidly. Most of the things that Michael Gronstal stands for, I’m opposed to.”

Not agreeing with Mike Gronstal on his strategy with regard to gay-marriage votes (or lack thereof) is one thing. It’s quite another to go with “Do we really need another Gronstal?”

“It just happens to be that Gronstal and Gronstal are related,” Segebart said.

Say what you will about the Gronstal family, but the end-of-the-day takeaway is this: Carroll would be something far less than it is now without the residency of many Gronstals.

Strong community banks are one clear reason Carroll is positioned so wonderfully as an economic-development engine for western Iowa. We have three such banks, including Carroll County State Bank with which the Gronstal family has been involved since the mid-20th century. Mary Bruner’s father, John Gronstal, served as president of the bank, as did an uncle, Joe Gronstal, her brother, Bernie Gronstal, and a cousin, Tom Gronstal — a former mayor of Carroll.

“When I first heard that comment, that because I’m a Gronstal I shouldn’t be elected, that’s interesting to me,” Bruner told the Carroll Rotary a week earlier. “My cousin Mike is one of my 33 Gronstal cousins so  we have a lot of varied people in my family.”

Bruner said she has great affection for Michael Gronstal but that she has “barely spoken” to him about the campaign.

“He is my cousin, I love him,” Bruner said. “We played together at my grandmother’s house when we were little. I’m certainly not going to deny him.”

Bottom line, Bruner said, is that her pride in the Gronstal name comes from her parents.

“My parents, John and Margaret Gronstal, gave that name as their daughter,” Bruner said. “They’ve lived in this community for over 60 years, and they have contributed to this community for over 60 years. I would say that I’m also very proud to be their daughter. I’m very proud to be a Gronstal.”

All of that said, Mike Gronstal has been terrifically successful as a legislator in delivering economic opportunity for the people of Council Bluffs, Bruner said.

“If you want me to model that for this district, that’s what I plan to do,” Bruner said.

Bruner already has earned something of a lifetime achievement award for community involvement in the Carroll area and the Catholic Church. She embraces her name, to be sure, but on Monday afternoon, Bruner made it clear to me that it was her name on the ballot, the married one she cultivated through the years with husband, Barry.

“Judge me by who I am and what I’ve been in this county,” she said.

*****

In rural western Iowa the pro-life movement is visible, highly animated. Almost every day for the past weeks on U.S. Highway 30, in the center of our community, we’ve seen the anti-abortion picketers, usually right around lunch time.

Drive any measurable distance around here and you’ll see pro-life billboards. We even have pro-life Democrats in State Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, and Bruner.

But does the single-issue, pro-life voter really have an option in the presidential race? We know President Barack Obama is pro-choice. He’s not equivocated.

But the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan ticket’s positioning on abortion results in what can fairly be described as honest confusion.

Most fair-minded people will accept one conversion from a politician on abortion. After all, that is a major part of the mission of the pro-life cause, to change views. But when the movement scores a high-profile convert, a la Mitt Romney, they just won’t buy it.

It easy to see why.

“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” Romney said this month in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

Fair enough. Take it to the courts.

Wait.

Flash to the vice presidential debate and you get this from Ryan: “We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision, (but) that people, through their elected representatives and reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process, should make this determination,” Ryan said.

Just how do Romney and Ryan plan to outlaw abortion without legislation or the courts? Sounds effectively like the Obama administration’s policy of seeking to make abortion “safe, legal and rare” — the prevailing Democratic position since the Clinton years.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, doesn’t see the same inconsistency with the Romney/Ryan abortion platform as I do.

“I think that your interpretation of what Romney said is wrong from this standpoint — isn’t it more accurate to say that he said it would not be in his program. But he didn’t say that if Congress produced legislation that he wouldn’t sign it,” Grassley said in an interview. “In fact, he said he was pro-life and there are certain aspects of anti-abortion legislation he could sign.”

Grassley said Romney’s program is lasered on the economy.

“If he doesn’t have any suggestions on abortion being in the program, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sign legislation accordingly,” Grassley said.

Accepting Grassley’s take leads one to this conclusion: a President Mitt Romney would function as something of a bystander on the abortion issue. He won’t fight for or against it. Which is what Rick Santorum told us for more than a year.

*****

Best one-line summation of the choice in the presidential election ...

“One of the profound decisions the American people have to make now is whether they want to be governed by a president or a boss — and I mean a boss,” James Lipton of “Inside The Actors Studio” said on MSNBC. Lipton, of course, sees Romney in the role of “boss.”