Branstad stumbled rather than take a stand against bullying

Jennifer Hemmingsen
Published: March 30 2013 | 10:29 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 1:26 pm in

While state legislators tried to craft meaningful revisions to state anti-bullying laws last week, a small group of conservative Christian pastors and their supporters dragged out a tired drum.

For the second consecutive year, the Family Leader went banging on about the Governors Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Youth — an 8-year-old annual anti-bullying event.

Again, they tried to spin the Iowa Safe Schools conference (slogan: Protect Kids. Stop Bullies) into some kind of recruitment tool for Sodom and Gomorrah. Again, they held a news conference trying to shame Gov. Terry Branstad into asking organizers to remove the word “governor” from the name.

Last year, Branstad brushed them off — a move that seemed gracious at the time. The group’s repeat request called for a more forceful response, not the tepid explanation his spokesman Tim Albrecht offered last week.

“It is our understanding that this is a private conference,” Albrecht told a reporter, adding that it was former Gov. Tom Vilsack who lent his title to the cause. His sidestep made meaningless Branstad’s repeat refusal to ask Iowa Safe Schools to strike the word “governor” from the conference name. But it does provide a perfect case study showing why it’s so hard to eradicate bullying even though nearly everyone agrees that it’s wrong.

Branstad, a grown man with a politician’s thick skin, passed up a chance to show he’s willing to stand up for Iowa’s kids when it matters. He ducked rather than draw fire from name-callers. How can he expect kids to do any better?

Legislators can tinker as much as they want with the law, trying to put into practice ideas from the governor’s (yes, this governor’s) anti-bullying summit held last fall. They can hold parents responsible for kids’ bullying behavior or give schools the power to enforce standards off school property. They can train teachers from here to the moon and back. It won’t matter all that much. Because at the end of the day, we won’t beat bullying until everyone holds the line against intolerance. Not on paper, but in fact.

Branstad messed up last week by failing to stand against bullying. But it’s not too late for him to do the right thing.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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