At Liberty by Adam Sullivan

Honoring the top patriots of 2017 These people made headlines in Iowa for defending freedom and justice

Revelers gather in Times Square as a cold weather front hits the region ahead of New Year's celebrations in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 31, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Revelers gather in Times Square as a cold weather front hits the region ahead of New Year's celebrations in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 31, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

I spend most of my time here telling you how terrible things are. However, after I was infected with the holiday spirit this past week, I feel called to show my gratitude.

What follows here is my list of the local, state, and national figures who made headlines in Iowa this year for protecting freedom and justice.

No, they’re not all radical libertarians like me. Instead, I hope to offer a reminder that people with differing ideologies can help make us all more free.

• Kirsten Anderson — Many will remember 2017 for #MeToo, the year harassment and sexual misconduct burst onto the public agenda. Anderson deserves some of the credit for that, after her lawsuit brought much-needed attention to the hostile work environment inside the Iowa Senate.

Anderson won a $1.75 million settlement after a jury found Senate Republican leaders inappropriately fired her in retaliation for her workplace harassment complaints. Anderson has since continued her work as public advocate against harassment, hoping to make workplaces safer for everyone.

• Iowa Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington — Freshman lawmakers often take it slow during their first year in Des Moines. It’s rare for the new guy to take leadership on hot-button issues. Yet that’s exactly where Greene found himself as an action-packed 2017 legislative season came to a close.

Activists made a last-minute push to expand Iowa’s medical marijuana law in the final days of the session. Greene, a career pharmacist, became one of the loudest supporters of the bill, even publicly criticizing fellow Republicans on the House side for their watered-down version of the legislation. His advocacy will be crucial as advocates push for more reforms in 2018.

• Charles and David Koch — The controversial business tycoons made two important moves to solidify their Iowa connections in 2017. First, they finalized a $1.7 million gift to start an economic research program at Iowa State University. Then, in November, we learned Koch Industries is backing an historic media purchase by Des Moines-based Meredith.

Mention of the Koch brothers tends to ignite ravenous fear and anger among progressives, but I think much of that notoriety is unfounded. The Koch’s have been long-time funders of civil rights and peace efforts, and I’m glad to see them making their mark in Iowa.

• Iowa City Council member-elect Mazahir Salih — Iowa City voters made history during this year’s City Council elections. Salih became one of very few Muslims to win elected office in Iowa, and perhaps the first Sudanese-American woman elected to office in the United States.

However, Salih made her mark on the community before election day. After the state outlawed Johnson County’s minimum wage increase earlier this year, she helped lead an effort asking businesses to voluntarily keep the wage increases in place. Even critics of the minimum wage hike ought to admire the voluntary alternative.

• U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska — Iowans got a few visits this year from our neighboring senator. Sasse was brave enough to cross the Missouri River, even after Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann warned he isn’t welcome here, due to his criticisms of President Donald Trump.

Sasse has earned a national reputation as one of the few Republican figures in Washington D.C. willing to call out Trump for his outrageous behavior. Even people who support Trump should admit blind partisan allegiance is bad for our republic. America needs more leaders like Sasse.

• Rep. Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake — In just her second year as Iowa House speaker, Upmeyer presided over one of the most productive legislative sessions in recent history.

The Iowa Legislature covered an incredible range of issues this year. Not all of it was good, but lawmakers deserve some credit for tossing Iowans a few more liberties, including civil asset forfeiture protections, a crackdown on discriminatory local housing policies, and more gun rights. Oh, and fireworks!

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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