Government

Lone lobbyist supporting sanctuary cities bill 'on the right side of law'

Des Moines man represents minuteman Civil Defense Corps

By James Q. Lynch, Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — It would be fair to say that in the Statehouse rotunda full of well-dressed, well-heeled lobbyists, Robert Ussery would not fit in.

Rather than a tailored suit, Ussery is more likely to be seen wearing a Minuteman Civil Defense Corps baseball cap, work shirt, jeans and suspenders.

But the 60-year-old Des Moines resident has an enviable track record as a lobbyist.

Last year, Ussery and the Iowa minuteman Civil Defense Corps were the only supporters of a popular, but controversial voter ID bill. This year, the minuteman group is the only one registered in favor of Senate File 481, the so-called safe communities bill.

Unlike its legislative sponsors, Ussery prefers calling it the sanctuary cities act.

His track record of being on the winning side of unpopular causes raises the question whether Ussery, whose day job is in a hospital surgical unit, is the state’s most powerful lobbyist.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” he said Tuesday while the House was preparing to debate the bill. “I just know I’m on the right side of the law.”

For Ussery and his Iowa minuteman colleagues who have been seeking to educate the public and change local ordinances and state law since 2006, that’s what the fight is about — upholding the rule of law.

He’s not cowed by the fact that 78 lobbyists — including labor unions, Catholics, Methodists, Quakers, civil rights advocate, police chiefs, cities and counties — are registered as opposed to the bill.

Fifty-five other groups, including the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, are undecided.

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“Most of them are Democrats, and illegals are future Democratic voters,” Ussery said about opponents of the bill. They oppose the bill “because they have an agenda.”

Unlike them, Ussery said he has nothing to gain, “other than the rule of law.”

He likens backers of the bill to the early supporters of Donald Trump who kept quiet out of fear of being “ostracized and ridiculed for voicing an opinion.”

“A lot of people didn’t like Donald Trump, but he got elected,” Ussery said.

For Ussery, the whole issue is the rule of law.

“If you don’t enforce the law, you don’t have a civilization,” he said. Enforcing the law, he said, is what “separates a country from anarchy.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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