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Voted Down

As threatened, Iowa state senators blocked the nomination of Jonathan C. Wilson to the state board of education last week, contending that the lawyer and former Des Moines school board member, who is gay, would be an advocate for "gay issues."

Jonathan C. Wilson

The GOP-controlled Senate defeated Mr. Wilson’s nomination by a 24-22 vote on April 13.

Leading up to the confirmation hearing, several Republican senators had publicly criticized the governor’s choice and vowed to defeat the nomination.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, said he believed that Mr. Wilson, a 12-year veteran of the Des Moines board, was clearly qualified to serve on the nine-member state board of education. Mr. Wilson was defeated for re- election to the district school board in 1995 after he had announced publicly that he was gay. ("Des Moines Voters Oust Gay School Board Member," Sept. 20, 1995.)

Mr. Vilsack sees the opposition to Mr. Wilson’s nomination as an act of discrimination, according to Matt Paul, the governor’s spokesman.

"Mr. Wilson would be a strong and vibrant member of the state board of education," Mr. Paul said last week. "It’s a sad day for the state."

In addition to his service on the Des Moines school board, Mr. Wilson, 59, is a former chairman of the Council of Urban Boards of Education for the National School Boards Association. He also is a former member of the NSBA’s board of directors.

Mr. Wilson, who practices real estate and contract law, testified before the Senate education committee last week. Although he came prepared to discuss the merits of his résumé, Mr. Wilson said most of the questions addressed his sexual orientation. Some senators criticized his inability to win re-election in 1995 as a reason not to appoint him to the state board.

Mr. Wilson said in an interview that he had countered by noting that John Ashcroft lost his 2000 bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate from Missouri to a "dead man," the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, but then was appointed U.S. attorney general.

The Senate’s decision will be viewed by many Iowans as a "flagrant act of bigotry and discrimination," he said.

"This has not been the first injustice in the world nor will it be the last," he added.

—Karla Scoon Reid

Vol. 23, Issue 32, Page 19

Published in Print: April 21, 2004, as State Journal

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