Conditioning: the crowd, the speech, the event

Below you will find a “live blog” which chronicles the activities before, during and after Governor Chet Culver delivered his “Condition of the State” message this morning in the Iowa House.  There’s a link to the speech text, as well as a play-by-play of audience reaction to Culver’s speech.

I’m sitting on “press row” in the Iowa House of Representatives where the speaker of the House has already admonished the audience to keep quiet.  The audience, some of whom are opponents of gay marriage, arrived here early as this is the day Governor Culver will deliver his “Condition of the State” message, starting shortly after 10 a.m. 

The chief clerk of the Iowa House says there are about 300 seats in the galleries or balconies overlooking the House floor.  The southwest balcony is filled with the governor’s staff and guests today.  The rest of the galleries are open to the public and there are many people sitting in the galleries who are wearing red clothing.  It’s one of the trademarks of the gay marriage opponents who are here today as a sign of protest.  The group plans a rally at noon, outside, on the statehouse steps.

In an ironic twist, Representative Kent Sorenson is among the legislators who are the “official” delegation notifying the governor that House and Senate members have gathered for his annual speech.  It means he’ll be walking down the center aisle of the House in a few moments, just ahead on the governor. Sorenson, a Republican from Indianola, is scheduled to speak the gay marriage opponents’ rally.

It’s 9:56 a.m. and the statewide elected officials in Iowa have just been announced to the crowd and are walking to their reserved seats.

At 9:58 a.m., the chief justice along with the other justices on the Iowa Supreme Court and the members of the Iowa Court of Appeals were announced.  I didn’t hear any boos.  Legislators stood to applaud.

Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge was introduced next and escorted to her reserved seat, as the crowd applauded.  At 9:59 a.m., the governor’s wife, Mari Culver, and his two young children were introduced.  It’s the first time John and Claire have attended this speech.  (Will the crowd boo dad while the kids are here?)

The embargo on the draft of Culver’s speech is 10 o’clock, so here is a link to the Radio Iowa story about that speech. If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the story, you will find a link to the speech draft.

A brief snafu — the judges from the Court of Appeals weren’t escorted to their seats when they were announced to the crowd, so they were introduced again and escorted to their seats — after Culver was standing at the center of the House.

“I’ve been asked to make sure all the aisles in the balconies are clear — Fire Marshall’s orders,” Senate President Jack Kibbie (D-Emmetsburg) said just before he introduced Culver.

Culver began speaking at 10:05 a.m.  

Near the beginning of the speech, Culver uttered this phrase: “With God, all things are possible.”  This drew a strong response from the gay marriage opponents in the crowd and it wasn’t long everyone was standing to applaud.  (One caveat:  the members of the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals neither applaud nor stand during the speech.)

Culver soon got another stand-up-and-applaud moment when he praised Iowa’s resilience.   A few moments later, Democratic legislators got up to applaud when Culver praised the state workers unions which agreed to pay and benefit reductions in order to avoid layoffs.

The entire crowd stood to applaud Culver when he mentioned the Iowa National Guard soldiers who will be deployed to Afghanistan this year.  “These brave men and women have earned our support,” Culver said.

Culver introduced a family whose father/husband is currently deployed in Iraq.  The crowd, again, stood to applaud.

According to, while there are “dozens” of gay marriage opponents sitting in the southeast balcony, there is a “slightly larger” contingent of gay marriage supporters sitting in the northeast balcony (which we reporters on the west press bench can’t see). “They (are) dressed in white T-shirts with a big blue dot,” according to

About a half an hour before the speech, right after Murphy’s admonishment (that people needed to be quiet!), the tune from “The Twilight Zone” began playing in the House.  According to, the culprit was the computer of Representative Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig.  He frantically tried to shut off the music.  

Back to the speech, the next standing ovation from legislators and (much) of the crowd came when Culver mentioned his kids and asked the crowd to “welcome them” to the legislature.  A few moments later, the crowd stood again to salute the effort to provide health insurance coverage to kids whose parents can’t afford it.

The legislators clapped but didn’t rise to their feet when Culver issued his call for more money for K-through-12 schools. 

I took a brief poll of two other reporters sitting to my right and we agreed: the loudest cheering of the morning came when Culver praised Iowa and Iowa State’s football teams for their bowl victories. 

“It was a great thing for our state,” Culver said. 

Next, the crowd stood when Culver introduced the president of Iowa State University as well as two members of the Board of Regents who were in the room.

As Culver discussed funding for road and bridge projects, he took a jibe at former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and congress.  “In Iowa, we don’t use public funds to build bridges to nowhere,” Culver said.  Democrats applauded; Republicans did not.

Everyone got up to applaud, though, when Culver said the state was going to have the “nicest” Veterans Home in the country (a reference to a project that’s received state funding).

Democrats and a few Republicans clapped when Culver mentioned some recent rankings which conclude Iowa is a good place in which to do business.

(Back to something which happened a few minutes ago:  the speech draft had the word “comprised” in a passage about a certain committee, but Culver pronounced it “compromised.”  I’ll try to go back and find that passage in the draft.  UPDATE — here it is, when Culver was discussing the I-JOBS board:  “The “bi-partisan” board is comprised of Iowans who have volunteered their time and expertise with one goal in mind – to award I-JOBS funds according to the “letter” and “spirit” of the law!”)

Democrats quickly jumped to their feet when Culver called for Iowa to become a “net exporter of energy” and soon many Republicans joined in the applause.

Near the end of the speech, as Culver introduced a couple of “resilient” Iowans — including a woman from Waverly who lost her floral shop to the floods of 2008, the crowd got to its feet again to applaud.

At 10:42 a.m., Culver neared the end of his speech.  The shutters of the photographers started flittering as he wound down.  “Thank you and God bless,” Culver said in conclusion.  The crowd stood to applaud.

At 10:44 a.m., the committee of legislators (including the aforementioned Sorenson) were called forward to escort Culver out of the House chamber.   Gay marriage opponents stood, but did not applaud.

As soon as Culver walked out into the rotunda, gay marriage opponents who were outisde the House chamber started chanting: “Let us vote!”  It was easily heard inside the House.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.