116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
State Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, has entered the race for the Democratic nomination for governor. On Tuesday I asked him a question that’s on the minds of a lot of Democrats as they’ve watched our once purple swing state turn bright Republican red.
How do you turn a red state blue? Or at least purple?
“I’m confident that we can talk directly to Iowans. For me it’s not about turning a state red or blue. It’s really about ensuring we can provide opportunities for all Iowans to be successful,” Smith, 33, said.
“As I begin this campaign, while I am a Democrat, my focus is not on having a D or R behind my name. I’m more concerned with the IA,” Smith said.
It’s not surprising a candidate running for governor in a state Donald Trump twice carried easily would talk about de-emphasizing political labels. The Democratic brand has lost favor in Iowa, particularly in the old industrial centers and county seat towns where the party once scored victories.
But in seeking the nomination of a party angered and fired up by the actions and inactions of Gov. Kim Reynolds, from her flawed pandemic response to her cruel indifference to the plight of struggling Iowans, Smith’s message will need a sharper edge. Unity is commendable, but Democrats with their backs against the wall are itching for a fight.
The party-doesn’t-matter talk faded when I asked Smith for his take on how Iowa politics veered right.
“I think attitude reflects leadership,” Smith said. “We have a governor who has become far too extreme for Iowa, who doesn’t really know how to work with the Legislature, who is showing that her concern is less about the people of Iowa than favors to donors.
“That happens when there is a lack of accountability. That happens when folks remain silent to wrongdoing. That happens when people care more about division and power and personal political gain. That’s not the Iowa I know,” Smith said.
Smith led the effort to pass the More Perfect Union Act in 2020, which contained a package of policing reforms. Amid Black Lives Matter protests nationwide and outside the Statehouse, the bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.
Then Smith watched in 2021 as a promise for more reforms was transformed into a “Back the Blue” bill cracking down on protests and shielding police from liability.
“I want to build on that (2020) momentum, because that passed 150-0,” he said. Smith said he was “disappointed” by a lack of collaboration with the governor this year.
Smith’s district is in Black Hawk County, where COVID-19 sickened and killed workers at the Tyson pork plant. Reynolds’ administration failed to coordinate with local officials and trusted Tyson executives to keep workers safe. Instead, managers lied to workers and even placed bets on how many would get ill, according to a lawsuit filed by workers’ families.
“What we saw is a governor who took power away from local governments, who targeted local officials, who wanted to bully those who didn’t follow along with her toxic or corrupt culture and agenda,” said Smith, who wants to restore local control that the GOP has snatched from local officials.
He wants to start valuing public education again and go beyond the debate over the $15 minimum wage to create $50,000 per-year jobs that help families save for the future. Smith talks about building climate resilient infrastructure and policing reform. Details to come.
“Our job is to meet people where they are. To show them that there is a better way. That we can be so much better than this. That’s why I’m running for governor,” Smith said.
(319) 398-8262; email@example.com