DES MOINES — Iowa GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Corbett on Tuesday accused Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — his would-be rival in a Republican primary — and her campaign of working behind the scenes with GOP party activists to get him thrown off the ballot.
The former Cedar Rapids mayor called on Reynolds to release emails and text messages between her campaign and Craig Robinson, editor and founder of The Iowa Republican blog and the one who successfully challenged Corbett’s petition to be on the ballot, and with Nick Ryan, another Republican activist.
“These are all dark money organizations leading this effort to get me thrown off the ballot,” Corbett said in a Tuesday news conference after a judicial review hearing in Polk County District Court during which his attorneys argued he has enough signatures to be on the ballot.
“What is their motivation? What is their intent?” he asked during the news conference. “I don’t believe they are acting alone. I think the governor and the governor’s campaign is involved with this.”
Judge David May asked virtually no questions during the nearly two-hour hearing. He said the court would take the issue under advisement and issue a ruling as soon as “practicable.”
Early voting for the June 5 primary begins later this month.
After the hearing, Corbett equated the situation to the 2016 presidential race where Democratic Party insiders worked to thwart Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ challenge of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the apparent favorite of the party establishment.
Robinson denied Reynolds or her campaign were involved in contesting the petition. Robinson challenged the petition after finding numerous duplicate signatures on Corbett’s petition. He pointed out Corbett hasn’t contested the duplicate signatures.
A three-member panel of Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, Republican State Auditor Mary Mosiman and Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller ruled 2-1, with Miller opposed, in favor of Robinson’s challenge last week.
The panel determined Corbett had 3,997 valid signatures, eight short of the 4,005 requirement to be on the ballot.
“The simple truth of all of this is that Mr. Corbett didn’t run a very good campaign,” Robinson told The Gazette. “Had he, his campaign would have met the minimum requirements to get on the ballot. It’s sad that a man with such a long career in Iowa politics feels the need to vilify others to cover up his own campaign’s inadequacies.”
Representatives for Reynolds did not immediately respond to a Gazette inquiry seeking comment.
On Tuesday at the hearing, a few issues were contested: whether 43 crossed-off signatures should be counted and whether another handful of signatures eliminated because they were ascribed to the wrong city or county should be counted.
Corbett’s attorneys contended the purpose of the review panel is to ensure valid electors have signed the petition, not to block signers due to “technicalities.” They contend Corbett met “substantial compliance” with rules to get on the ballot.
Campaign staff were simply trying to assist the Secretary of State’s office go through the petition when crossing off 43 signatures they were uncertain of, but given they are valid, there is no reason they can’t still be counted, lawyers argued.
“These people voiced what they wanted, they wanted Ron Corbett to be on the ballot,” said Pat Sealey, an attorney from Sioux City. “If they were to find out their signing the petition did not matter because of some hyper-technical rule then we are blocking the will of those individuals and the will of the other 4,000 people plus that signed these petitions.”
Corbett’s team emphasized Miller’s stature as an attorney to give weight to his dissension on the review panel. Because of Miller’s dissension, his office recused itself from the case, prompting the hiring of attorneys from the Weinhardt Law Firm of Des Moines to represent the state.
Lead attorney Mark Weinhardt contended the Secretary of State’s Office shouldn’t be asked to decipher the intent of crossed-off signatures. A crossed-out name is an “obvious communication the signatures are not supposed to be counted,” he said.
The rules are rules, and the rules are clear that Corbett didn’t meet the threshold, he said. Instead, he said, Corbett is leaning on “murky” interpretations of the rules to get on the ballot.
“This is a candidate who wants to be the most important elected official in Iowa,” Weinhardt said. “He wants to be the CEO of the largest organization in the state, and here he is asking this court to lower the bar for organizational effectiveness so he can be on the ballot. These times in Iowa do not call for dilution of our standards for candidates for public office.”