Too many Iowans are rejecting what could be a key ingredient to solving the state’s workforce shortage — immigrants, Democratic candidate for governor John Norris said this week.
Norris, in a Thursday meeting with the editorial board of the Quad-City Times, said immigrants are a major factor, especially in rural areas, in dealing with stagnant population growth and a worker shortage.
“We’ve got to embrace it. There’s too many who reject it,” he said. “It’s the only place you’re seeing growth in our rural communities.”
Norris, a longtime aide to former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, is one of six Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for governor.
He’s sought to carve out a niche for himself by appealing to rural parts of the state, where the party has not done well in recent elections. He told the editorial board there is an appetite for embracing immigrants, even in a part of the state that has continued to re-elect U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a leading critic of immigration practices in the United States.
Norris said the state needs a governor who is willing to “change the conversation” so people amenable to new Iowans can “find the space” to encourage them to come.
“That’s what you’ve got to do, and that’s the power of the governor’s office,” he said.
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Norris said instead of “empowering” King, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds should “publicly be telling him to stop it.” King is co-chairman of Reynolds’ campaign.
Jesse Dougherty, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Iowa, responded that Norris has “nothing substantive to say other than to talk about honorary campaign chairs.” He said Norris would be a “disaster” for rural Iowa.
Iowa has relatively few immigrants, but the issue has long been politically potent here.
In 2000, Vilsack, when he was governor, worked with a bipartisan panel of business and other officials to encourage the state to become an “immigration enterprise zone.” The idea was to seek answers to the state’s long-stagnant population. But it was controversial in parts of the state.
Now, immigration animates much of Republican politics. In his 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump made it a centerpiece. He won Iowa handily, doing especially well in rural areas.
However, Norris said it’s important to make the case that parts of Iowa, such as Storm Lake, have managed the influx of immigrants, and that it is integral to the rural economy.
Norris also said the state also could bolster its workforce by curbing college costs and keeping more of graduates in the state; restructuring child care assistance so people aren’t discouraged from joining the workforce; and finding ways to help older workers who are leaving their jobs early to care for elderly relatives.