Government

Friendship, persistence and politics produce new law

Advocate William Burt, lawmaker Ras Smith team up to legalize mobile barbershops in Iowa

William Burt of Waterloo speaks to a reporter from Iowa Public Radio in Burt's mobile barbershop in January at the Iowa
William Burt of Waterloo speaks to a reporter from Iowa Public Radio in Burt’s mobile barbershop in January at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. Burt this past week succeeded in his bid to get Iowa to allow mobile barbershops. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

This one had it all.

A man, once incarcerated, making the most of his second chance in life.

A man with a vision for not only creating his own business, but using it to help the less fortunate.

And two men, longtime friends, working in vastly different roles to achieve the same goal.

It is easy for cynicism to overtake followers of politics and the legislative process. But the feel-good stories do exist, and this one is a prime example.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds this past week signed into law the legalization of mobile barbershops in Iowa.

That may not sound like a huge deal, but it could be to William Burt and the people he hopes to help with his new business.

Burt, a Waterloo man who served roughly three years in jail for domestic abuse and drug charges, has created a mobile barbershop he calls Kut Kings. His goal is to make the service a nonprofit so he can provide haircuts to Iowans in need across the state: low-income individuals, veterans and more.

Since his release in 2008, Burt has earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and now he has successfully advocated for a change in state law. That alone makes his an amazing story.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The author of the legislation was Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo. Smith and Burt are friends; they recalled having courses together at the University of Northern Iowa.

That bond gave this week’s bill-signing ceremony even more emotional weight, as Burt and Smith talked about how far each has come in leading to that moment.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

They even enjoyed a laugh about it. Burt said he remembered when Smith began his first campaign for the Iowa House in 2016.

“I was actually like, ‘Dang, bro. What do you know about politics?’ ” Burt said.

And Smith’s answer?

“Nothing,” Burt and Smith said in near unison, both laughing.

“So it’s ironic that we were in class talking about his campaign before he started running, and he was the guy that wrote my bill,” Burt said. “That just dawned on me yesterday.”

Added Smith, “I don’t know if we had any idea where we were going, but to culminate and come to this spot together, that’s big-time. Big-time, bro.”

And for Smith it wasn’t just any bill; it was the first one he wrote that was passed into law.

“My first bill I’ve ever had passed as a legislator,” Smith marveled.

Smith also marveled at Burt’s persistence, not only as someone who wanted to make the most of his life after spending time incarcerated, but also in the arduous work of lobbying for a change in state law. Such changes do not happen overnight, as advocates will attest.

“Being someone who overcame all of those barriers, all those hurdles, and is here right now outside the Capitol? Come on, bro. That speaks more than any words on paper could ever do for our community,” Smith said. “To me, it’s so much bigger than just this day, this moment. This is what we started. This is how you keep going.

“I’m more than proud; I’m empowered. It’s inspiring to me, because it means that all the days of toiling up here, they’re worth something. The going back and forth, fighting over the bill, they’re worth something. It’s powerful, man. It’s powerful. We appreciate you.”

It’s a story worthy of appreciation.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.