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Ron Corbett for governor

Former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is shown in a July 2017 file photo. A judge on Thursday rejected Corbett's appeal of a state panel's decision last week that knocked him off the Republican primary ballot for governor in June. 

DES MOINES — Former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett will be returning campaign donations now that a judge has ruled he cannot force Gov. Kim Reynolds to face voters in a Republican primary this June.

A Polk County judge, in a decision filed late Wednesday, ruled that Corbett’s campaign for governor could not add back in signatures it had already crossed out on a petition Corbett filed last month seeking to qualify as a candidate.

The ruling upheld an earlier decision from a state panel ordering him booted from the ballot because he needed eight more signatures.

In a news conference Thursday, Corbett said he will not appeal.

“I am a little disappointed in the ruling, but I am not challenging it,” he said, also dismissing rumors he might run as an independent instead.

Corbett, a former two-term mayor and speaker of the Iowa House, said coming up eight names shy is “something that will haunt me for the balance of my life.”

Given an absence of case law on the matter, Judge David May relied on “common usage” of language in the dictionary and concluded when words are stricken through or crossed out, they are “deleted.”

Corbett’s attorneys had argued that just because the signatures were crossed out does not mean they were forever exempt from consideration in Corbett’s petition to be on the ballot.

This was an issue because Republican candidates needed 4,005 signatures to be on the ballot for governor. Corbett submitted a petition with more than that, but the petition was challenged by Craig Robinson, founder of the Iowa Republican blog. He cited numerous duplicate signatures that put Corbett below the threshold.

A three-member review panel sided with Robinson and counted 3,997 signatures, leaving Corbett eight short. Corbett then sued for the judicial review.

Corbett’s lawyers did not challenge the duplicate signatures but instead argued for the inclusion of 59 signatures, 43 of which the campaign had crossed out.

The panel was correct in refusing to count the signatures, May ruled.

“Mr. Corbett argues that the will of certain voters will be foiled if Mr. Corbett’s name does not appear on the primary ballot,” May wrote. “Yet democracy requires courts to follow statutes that have been lawfully enacted by the people’s elected representatives.”

Corbett said he plans to return unused campaign funds to donors on a prorated basis.

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Corbett said he holds no ill will and will support Reynolds, who he called the most conservative candidate left in the race. He has not been asked to hold any events for her, he said.

Still, he stood by his earlier criticisms of her and other elected Republicans he said had thwarted his efforts to be on the ballot, saying he remains “disappointed in the establishment and the tactics they used the past several months.”

Corbett said he plans to turn his attention to his think tank, Engage Iowa, and if that doesn’t pan out to seek a job in the private sector. He did not rule out a run for office in the future.

Reynolds quickly released a statement, urging party unity.

“I want to thank Ron Corbett for his commitment and service to the people of Iowa. Now is the time for the Republican Party to unite and I look forward to leading our team to victory up and down the ballot this November. My campaign will focus on building a better Iowa so that every Iowan can live in a state with endless opportunity.”

Secretary of State Paul Pate said ballot preparation could continue for the June 5 primary, where six Democrats are competing for the nomination to take on Reynolds.

“I want to thank Judge David May for issuing his ruling in a timely manner and upholding the Objection Panel’s decision. My office is instructing county auditors to proceed in preparing all the ballots for the June 5 primary election,” he said. “My advice to all candidates in the future, as we recommend in the Candidate’s Guide, is to collect significantly more petition signatures than is required, make sure all your paperwork is filled out correctly, and submit your petitions early in the filing process.”

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