U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, left, speaks as former Vice President Mike Pence looks on at a rally on Feb. 15, 2023 in Cedar Rapids. (Photo by Katherine Kealey for Iowa Capital Dispatch)
CEDAR RAPIDS – Former Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday in Iowa that left-wing activists have dragged public schools into a culture war, force-feeding children state-sanctioned racism and radical gender ideology.
“Every day we are told not only that we have to tolerate the left’s increasingly bizarre obsessions with race and sex and gender, but that we have to enthusiastically participate. Or face severe consequences,” Pence told a group at a Cedar Rapids Pizza Ranch.
Pence joined several high-profile Republicans visiting the first-in-the-nation caucus state this month. Former President Donald Trump and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are the first two Republicans announcing their run for president. Haley will be in Iowa next week, while former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was also in the state. Former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake visited last week.
Pence’s visit to Iowa was in response to the lawsuit against Linn-Mar Community School District for policies that could create accommodations for students who are transitioning genders. Advancing American Freedom, a political action committee founded by Pence, hosted the rally to campaign against the “radical left attempt to indoctrinate” children “behind parents’ backs.”
Pence was joined by U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, who echoed his message during the rally, saying parents are being labeled as domestic terrorists for caring about their children’s education.
“Let me tell you, 2023 is going to be the year of the parent because parents are flat-out fed up with being boxed out of their kids’ education,” Hinson said.
Advancing American Freedom is financing digital ads, canvassing and possibly radio and television segments in Iowa, according to Iowa PBS. The PAC also advocates for religious liberty and for pro-life legislation, according to the Advancing American Freedom’s website.
“Family is a sovereign sphere that predates government,” Pence said. “We do not co-parent with government. Family is more than an institution. It’s the foundation of every institution in society. To undermine fundamental parental rights is to undermine a cornerstone of our civilization.”
In August, Linn-Mar Community school district was sued for a policy that allowed students to engage in a gender-identity transition program. Students could request a gender support plan without informing their parents, Iowa Capital Dispatch reported.
Hinson has two sons who attend Linn-Mar schools, and she said the district is more focused on passing “woke” policies than teaching children basics such as reading, writing and arithmetic.
“It’s incomprehensible to me to think the school district’s policy at Linn-Mar would allow any student of any age to choose which bathroom to use, which locker room to use, which gender room for overnight trips, regardless of their biological sex,” Pence said.
Geralyn Jones said she withdrew her two children from the Linn-Mar schools due to gender identity policies that allowed genderless bathrooms. She said she was fearful her young daughter would have to use the same restroom as an adult man. Jones is also the chair of Moms for Liberty, an organization that spearheads what it calls “parental rights” issues.
Peter Shaw, a registered Democrat from Cedar Rapids who attended the rally, agreed the Linn-Mar policy infringes on parental rights.
“It really bothers me when schools keep the mental and physical health and well-being of students confidential, even from the parents,” Shaw said. “That’s what bothers me most.”
Pence said children who are transitioning genders are not physiologically developed enough to understand the full consequences, and it comes with lifelong struggles such as higher psychiatric hospitalizations and mortality rates.
According to The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, LGBTQ youth living in a community accepting of their identity report significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not. The survey also found LGBTQ youth in affirming schools also have lower rates of attempting suicide.
“This is dangerous stuff, what these groups are doing, because it will kill trans students,” said Aime Wichtendahl, a member of the Hiawatha City Council, who joined protesters outside the rally. “Let’s be real, if you have a trans kid who has parents who listen to Tucker Carlson every night, who buy into this right wing fear mongering. Are they going feel safe coming out to their parents? Of course not.”
Wichtendahl and other protesters were demonstrating in support of gender transitioning accommodations within school districts. Wichtendahl says she is the first openly transgender woman elected to a government position in Iowa. She said she came to protest to show trans kids lives’ matter and Pence’s movement is attempting to strip them of their freedom of self-expression.
“We don’t need Mike Pence bullying them, and we don’t need Mike Pence and his crew taking away freedoms in Iowa,” Wichtendahl said after the rally.
Before coming to Iowa, Pence was in Minnesota where a panel of judges in the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals was hearing oral arguments in the Linn-Mar case. Pence said Advancing American Freedom recruited 20 pro-family groups to support the amicus brief.
“As we speak, millions of Americans are rallying behind the challenge to the Linn-Mar community schools’ policies,” Pence said to an applauding crowd. “And you set into motion what could well be a decision by the highest court in the land that will ensure parental rights for every American to be able to protect their children.”
“Parental rights,” restricting teaching on issues related to sex and race, and addressing LGBTQ issues in schools have been a focus for Iowa Republicans. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who campaigned against the Linn-Mar policy, handily won her reelection. Hinson also made “parental rights” a focus of her 2022 campaign, advocating against the Linn-Mar policy.
The GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature has proposed multiple bills regarding gender identity issues. House File 9 would prevent schools from administering gender identity accommodations for students unless the parent or guardian gave consent.
Meanwhile, the Senate has also proposed legislation that would allow parents to bring a civil action against a school for providing instruction regarding gender identity.
Shaw said “parental rights” are one of the biggest issues in Iowa and could be the reason he votes Republican in the coming election cycle. If the Republican primary comes down to Trump or Pence, Shaw said Trump is better at energizing his base, but Pence can secure support from moderates and moderate Christians.
“I think a lot of the momentum Trump had in the previous election is, I think he has lost some of that,” Shaw said. “So we will have to see, it is early. If Pence keeps hitting topics like this, he could get some momentum going.”
Jan. 6 subpoena
Even as potential candidates test the waters for the 2024 race, Pence still faces questions about the aftermath of the 2020 election.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Trump called on Pence, as president of the Senate, to reject the electoral votes of the 2020 election. Pence refused to do so, resulting in rioters accusing Pence of treason and threatening to hang him.
Pence told reporters after the rally Wednesday that he did his constitutional duty on Jan. 6 and he had no right to overturn the election.
“President Trump’s words were reckless. They endanger me and my family and others at the Capitol, and I am not hesitant to say so,” Pence said.
Pence is battling a federal grand jury subpoena that would require him to testify in the investigation regarding Trump’s involvement with the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, the New York Times reported.
Pence said the Constitution prohibits the executive branch, in this case the Department of Justice, from summoning anyone into court for legislative action or duties, and on Jan.6 he was acting as president of the Senate.
“I believe that speech and debate clause of the Constitution actually prohibits the executive branch from compelling me to appear in a court, as the Constitution says, or in any other place,” Pence said. “And we will stand on that principle and we’ll take that case as far as it needs to go if it needs to be the Supreme Court of the United States.”
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