Iowa GOP urges motorists to be wary of checkpoints

DES MOINES – The Iowa Republican Party issued an advisory Friday saying that planned police traffic checkpoints in Polk County this weekend are unnecessary, but that motorists should comply, albeit minimally.

The public policy statement highlights a growing rift between the state party’s leaders, who follow libertarian former Texas Sen. Ron Paul, and its establishment faction led by Gov. Terry Branstad, which contends that the party shouldn’t be issuing such pronouncements.

“The Iowa GOP strongly urges you NOT to give in to any illegal searches of your car,” the advisory from the Iowa GOP states. “Only comply by providing your license and registration.”

The organization also asked motorists who are stopped to record the encounters on audio or video and to send the videos to the party.

Doug Gross, a longtime Iowa Republican fundraiser and Branstad strategist from Des Moines, called the advisory “nuts,” and a distraction that’s costing the party at a time when it should be ramping up financially. Branstad is expected to seek re-election next year and Iowa Republicans have an opportunity to gain a seat in the U.S. Senate, in light of Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s announced retirement.

“Their function is to win elections and instead they have run the party into the ditch,” Gross said.

It is the latest in a series of disagreements between the libertarian-leaning state GOP committee and the more traditional Branstad wing of the party.

Top aides to Paul’s 2012 campaign for Iowa’s presidential caucuses occupy the chairmanship, vice chairmanship and other key posts in the state party organization.

They have brought to the party a sharper focus on the platform, which puts constitutional rights front and center, state GOP spokesman Steve Bierfeldt said.

“The party in Iowa is taking a stand for this issue,” Bierfeldt said. “Police should basically be in charge of keeping us safe and stopping crime. Things like this don’t improve safety. We don’t believe they are necessary.”

The organization has openly quarreled with Branstad over not just party strategy, but government policy in recent months.

Party Chairman A.J. Spiker this year attacked a gasoline tax proposal that Branstad was considering supporting, and he has opposed Branstad’s efforts to put the volatile gay marriage issue on the backburner to focus on economic priorities.

The police checkpoints will be marked with signs. Drivers will have time to exit before entering them. But once stopped, “it is important that they comply,” West Des Moines Police Lt. Jim Barrett said.

“As much as an enforcement effort, it’s an educational effort,” Barrett said. “We’re not trying to trick anybody.”