Pence Takes Culture War Lane Before Desantis

Former Vice President Mike Pence wants to be clear: No 2024 Republican presidential candidate will outflank him on right-wing gender, sexuality, and education issues.

He wants to be an alternative to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Pence reaffirmed that status Wednesday by denouncing schoolhouse gender-affirming policies and racial lessons in Minnesota and Iowa. The left’s culture war wasn’t our choice.

Pence addressing a crowd in Minneapolis just after federal appellate court judges in neighboring St. Paul heard arguments over an Iowa school gender identification legislation that the former vice president opposes. “We’ll win.”

Pence Takes Culture War Lane Before Desantis
Pence Takes Culture War Lane Before Desantis

Republican school takeover efforts target Iowa’s Linn-Mar Community School District northeast of Cedar Rapids, which serves nearly 8,000 students. Pence and conservative groups are suing in court to block the school system from enforcing a policy that instructs educators to safeguard students’ gender identities on campus, raising questions about whether families should know about their children’s wishes.

The lawsuit highlights Pence’s culture-driven schooling goal and decades-long focus on everything from adultery to Disney’s “Mulan” in the 1990s. Most importantly, the case involves a state in the American heartland critical to the Republican presidential nomination calendar. The conservative Parents Defending Education organization initiated the case last year. Still, the Pence-backed Advancing American Freedom and a coalition of Christian groups have filed legal documents opposing the school district’s stance. Republican state attorneys general backed suspending the policy in court.

A 1 million Pence political initiative will use internet advertising, rallies, and volunteer engagement to promote parental rights regulations.

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According to Pence, schools and universities are fighting over young people.

“We’re told that we must not only tolerate the left’s obsessions with race, sex, and gender but must actively and joyfully engage or suffer serious consequences,” Pence said Wednesday. “In our public school classrooms, the problem is worse, and leadership is more urgent.” On Wednesday, prominent Democrats and LGBTQ advocacy groups condemned the Pence-style plan, indicating that differences over education and identity will fuel both parties in the run-up to 2024.

“Unfortunately, someone who professes a strong love for the U.S. Constitution would so venomously assault the rights of the most marginalized,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said. “Sadly, Mike Pence is replicating the Trump-DeSantis playbook, rather than charting a path that builds on his patriotism and courage on January 6, 2021, to resist the takeover of our democracy.”

In his budget address Wednesday, Illinois Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said the conservative ideological war “is to marginalize people and views they don’t like.”

According to The Trevor Project’s 2022 LGBTQ youth mental health report, correct pronouns can save the lives of transgender and nonbinary kids, who are more likely to consider suicide. The group’s poll indicated LGBTQ youngsters aged 13-17 have a greater suicide risk. “The only thing radical is to claim that schools must get forcibly out transgender children to their parents, without regard to their safety, and to turn a blind eye to peer harassment, in the name of free speech,” said Lambda Legal senior counsel Peter Renn.

Pence is familiar with this environment, having lambasted “Mulan” for showing women in the military as a talk radio presenter and columnist. He prioritized charter schools and vouchers as Indiana governor.

Last year, Pence’s “freedom agenda” included “patriotic education” for high school students on the Federalist Papers and Constitution. His governor’s office was defined by the fight over his Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which detractors contended would have led to LGBTQ discrimination. The episode cost Indiana $60 million in convention business.

The Linn-Mar Community School District board passed transgender, nonbinary, and gender-questioning student policies in April 2022. The regulation would allow affected children to request a “Gender Support Plan” from administrators or counselors and decide whether their parents or guardians would attend subsequent meetings. Teachers would ask pupils how they wished to be addressed in class and with their families. Staff and students who “intentionally” or “persistently” refuse to recognize a student’s gender identity violate school anti-bullying and harassment policies.

Under federal law, Linn-policy Mar’s allowed parents and guardians access their student’s school records.

In August, Parents Defending Education filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of seven unnamed parents who claimed the policy violated their constitutional rights by depriving them of student information, control over gender identity decisions, and threats to discipline students for their speech illegally.

In September, a federal trial court judge denied a plea to halt the policy while the litigation advanced, prompting an appeal to an 8th Circuit panel heard Wednesday.

Pence Takes Culture War Lane Before Desantis
Pence Takes Culture War Lane Before Desantis

“I think it’s got to be practically every parent in America,” Pence said Wednesday. You cannot make a gender transition plan for my child without my agreement. I think Americans agree.”

In Iowa and South Carolina, early primary states, Pence has focused on Evangelical conservatives. After his Minneapolis address, he went to Cedar Rapids to rally with parents against Linn-Mar Community School District regulations. The school district declined to comment.

David Kochel, a veteran Iowa Republican strategist, said Pence’s appearance in eastern Iowa, where parental rights coverage has swamped local media, certainly resonates.

“It’s more intentionally political in terms of the ’24 race,” Kochel added. “He’s taking advantage of an opening in Iowa that DeSantis has chosen not to take yet, but they’ll wind up in the same spot on the issue.”

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