When I was a new dad and a graduate student at the University of Northern Iowa, I was at a breaking point. After losing my brother it was a struggle to support a young family at home, be there for my parents and at times choose between gas in my truck and diapers for my daughter. With a few professors that kept checking in on me, and the support of my family and community, I made it through. I ran for office to give back to all those in my community who had given me so much.
Now, when many Iowans are choosing which essential items they can afford, our state leadership has forgotten its social contract with the people. With a billion dollars in the bank, Gov. Kim Reynolds has not spent a dime to support families or small businesses struggling to survive.
Last week, Iowa was thrust into the national spotlight with headlines like this one: “Reynolds lifts face mask mandate, other COVID-19 restrictions.” Reynolds is ignoring the fact that Iowa is 47th in distributing COVID-19 vaccinations, eighth highest in new cases, and 48th in testing.
I do not believe that protecting the health of our citizens and returning to a robust economy is an “either/or” decision. It is a “both/and” challenge. We must protect the lives and health of our citizens and support a robust economic recovery. Controlling the pandemic is the path forward to a healthy economy and thriving communities.
This pattern of negligence goes beyond the governor’s mismanagement of the pandemic. At the capitol, GOP legislators continue to prioritize divisive legislation, and are stripping away the freedom of local governments to decide what is best for their own communities. From refusing to support city council and county supervisors’ local mask mandates, to punishing school districts who accelerated virtual learning, to hoarding taxpayer reserves instead of helping the hungry and hurting — Gov. Reynolds is waging a war on local governments.
Communities across the state are working to stop landlords from discriminating against Iowa families using section 8 vouchers, but the GOP continues to create barriers for working families searching for a place to call home.
For the past four years, my Republican colleagues have made it impossible for local governments to raise wages. In Iowa, 50,000 of our workers make only $7.25 an hour. And these aren’t high school kids — more than 85 percent are 20 years and older, many supporting families of their own.
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Now, Republicans are threatening to defund schools that are teaching students about the history of the long struggle for justice in our country using Pulitzer-winning resources like the 1619 Project. This is shameful. Iowa has a proud civil rights history — from building key stops on the underground railroad, to opening the first colleges in America to accept women, to becoming the first state outside the coasts to legalize marriage equality. Iowa students can be very proud of their heritage and their continued role in shaping the future of American history. Republicans want to prevent students from understanding our complex history.
Make no mistake, this radical right turn taken by the Republican-led legislature and governor is not in step with the long and proud history of Iowa.
We have been a state known for fairness, common sense, a strong work ethic and stewardship. Iowa can be that again! Instead, we are witnessing complete disregard for the Iowa Constitution, which protects “home rule” in Article III sections 38A and 39A. Clearly, Reynolds doesn’t trust local governments in the hundreds of communities large and small across the state. On top of that, this recent decision to roll back COVID safety measures reveals the ugly truth that Republicans believe the health and lives of Iowans are not essential, but expendable.
We used to lead the nation in education, thriving rural communities and opportunities for families like mine to succeed. But Republicans are stripping away public health protections, public safety resources and public education standards. How long will Iowans allow this to continue? Can Iowa rise to the challenge to leave a healthy and thriving home for future generations that builds upon our most celebrated accomplishments?
I believe Iowa is too good to give up on. We can build back our communities by placing trust in and providing resources to local governments; by looking out for fellow Iowans who are struggling — whether it’s through wearing a mask to safeguard the vulnerable or essential workers; and by supporting local small businesses and our public schools. Our standing as a national leader is at stake. We can and must do better.
Ras Smith of Waterloo represents Iowa House District 62.