Guest Columnist

Elevate voices of underrepresented Iowans in local government

Fight for equality, and to work toward better communities

People hold up signs and draw on the sidewalk during a chalking protest outside the Coralville Police Department on Mond
People hold up signs and draw on the sidewalk during a chalking protest outside the Coralville Police Department on Monday, June 1, 2020. People wrote messages to express anger and frustration at police treatment of black Americans. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

At times I find it hard to believe that just three months ago I was elected by my neighbors to become the first-ever Vietnamese American elected official in the city of Coralville and the state of Iowa. I ran because I believe that, together, we can create a better Coralville that works for everyone. I am deeply grateful to have earned the support and trust of my community, especially those who have been historically underrepresented and ignored — it keeps me motivated every day.

This summer, when friends and neighbors began urging me to run for this seat, I was reluctant. “But I’m not qualified,” I’d say. One friend pushed back, “And who is, exactly?” I quickly realized that you don’t need to be well-versed in the inner workings of local government in order to run for office or be an effective leader. You simply need to be passionate, organized, hard-working, creative and determined to listen to and elevate all voices.

As I suspected, there is a fairly steep learning curve with this job. But I have been putting in the work, asking questions and investigating issues on my own to ensure that I am making the most informed decisions. I am fortunate to have compassionate and supportive colleagues, including my fellow councilors, the mayor and city staff who offer guidance whenever I seek help. I am just six council meetings in, but I have learned so much. And I’m proud to say that my colleagues and I have accomplished some notable work along the way.

First, a mask mandate in our city was long overdue. Together, with unanimous support from the mayor and City Council, we passed a mandate in November to ensure that we did everything in our power to stop the spread of COVID in our community.

Second, we are laying the groundwork for advancing racial justice, starting with two critical first steps: the passing of an unbiased policing ordinance and the creation of a citizen-led police review board.

Additionally, I worked with my colleagues to pass an ordinance permitting backyard chickens, which was an effort led by well organized community members.

Finally, improving community mobility remains a top priority for me. I’m happy to report that we are working with other entities to establish a universal bus pass, which will remove unnecessary barriers for community members who rely on public transit to get to essential destinations.

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These achievements may seem minute compared to more monumental goals, but I am proud to be fighting for the things I believe in that will have a positive impact on all of my neighbors. Looking ahead to the new year, my goal is to continue working to improve quality of life for all Coralville residents, whether recruiting diverse voices for vital city boards and commissions, preventing home evictions, expanding affordable housing options, establishing a fund to support BIPOC-owned businesses, finding solutions to the city’s recycling issues, building more bus shelters, and taking steps towards adopting a sorely needed climate action plan.

If you have ideas or questions, I want to hear from you. I am a people person by nature and always seize the chance of having meaningful conversations with my neighbors. I am here to listen, to advocate for your needs, to fight for equality, and to work towards a better Coralville. I wish you all a safe and healthy holiday season!

Hai Huynh was elected in 2020 to the Coralville City Council.

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