Ras Smith represents Iowa House district 62, covering part of Waterloo. -promoted by Laura Belin
Christmas, for me, is a season of spiritual tradition, personal reflection, and service to
community. Because my mom is a pastor, I had the fortune of growing up in a faith-filled church community. Today, my own children are blessed to experience a closeness to this family faith that instills in them the importance of loving and serving our fellow humans. This makes the holiday season even more meaningful.
As I reflect upon the year, I think about the thousands of Iowans who stepped up to help one another during a global pandemic. I think about people pouring into communities to clean up, provide food, build shelter, and give moral support in the wake of the devastating derecho. I think about the sacrifices of so many essential workers across the state. This is the unbreakable spirit of Iowa, and why I love living here.
But as I reflect further, my heart also hurts for families across the state who experienced preventable suffering and loss at the hands of poor leadership.
Leadership at the highest level of our state failed to protect the least among us. Even worse, our governor permitted grave abuses of power that destroyed lives, and in some cases cost lives. This, at a time when we need to be building trust in our government, not losing it. We deserve leadership that cares for our vulnerable Iowans. We must demand accountability.
Federal investigators determined that Iowa violated disabled residents’ constitutional rights at the Glenwood Resource Center. Republican leaders have known for more a year about the abhorrent sexual assault and experimentation permitted there, but they continue to stall on convening an oversight hearing.
Iowa families entrusted the state to care for their loved ones with disabilities. Instead, not only were their loved ones abused, government leadership gave consent for these violations to occur. And Iowa taxpayer dollars funded it.
Outgoing State Representative Mary Ann Hanusa, the Republican leader of the House Government Oversight Committee, planned to hold a formal hearing around the incidents at Glenwood. That hearing was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the legislature prepares for the upcoming session, state lawmakers have a responsibility to hold that hearing and demonstrate they will stand up for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
Providing immunity for bad actors like Tyson Foods is not the Iowa way. The deeply disturbing pattern of abuse of power by leadership at Tyson continues to escalate. Seven managers at the plant in Waterloo were fired for allegedly betting money on the lives of human beings. We are now learning about accusations that managers knowingly lied to interpreters to encourage non-English speaking employees to come to work in dangerous and deadly conditions.
Multiple Iowans and beloved Waterloo community members died of COVID after being exposed at the plant, where leadership effectively led them to their deaths. The removal of plant managers is not enough. We need real accountability. This starts with the state of Iowa retracting immunity for Tyson via the legislature, and championing policies that demonstrate that we value workers, not just their labor.
Small businesses are suffering and closing, impacting families across Iowa where food banks are struggling to keep up with the tens of thousands of hungry Iowans who have lost their livelihoods. Nationally, the wealthy continue to be bailed out, and we learned that Governor Kim Reynolds misspent $21 million of COVID relief funds. The end of year will mark the permanent closure of the already shrinking number of mom and pop shops that are integral to Iowa’s heritage, even as Congress continues to penny-pinch its way through our economic woes.
We don’t have to wait for federal relief. Iowa GOP leaders have Democratic peers eager to collaborate in constructing a relief package for Iowans, while maintaining a tight grip on the state’s reserve funds.
In 2020, Iowa leadership failed to protect our vulnerable community members and enabled cruel abuses of power. But true power still rests in the hands of the people, and this gives me great hope. I have witnessed the strength, compassion, and conviction that Iowans are capable of, and it gives me energy to keep fighting.
This season, I encourage you to be a voice for the voiceless. I invite you to reach out and support community members suffering, mourning loved ones, or carrying quiet burdens. And I am asking you to join me in calling for accountability of our government and corporate leaders. Let us carry into the new year knowing that for Iowans, standing up for the vulnerable is not a seasonal gift, but our lifelong duty.
Top photo of Ras Smith provided by the author, courtesy of the University of Northern Iowa’s Uprising Magazine.