Good people like Bob Ray

Bill Bumgarner is a retired former health care executive from northwest Iowa who worked in hospital management for 41 years, predominantly in the state of Iowa.

The recently concluded legislative session has shown again that the state of Iowa is firmly entrenched in red state antipathy. 

Republican elected officials continued to casually pursue and advance legislation that strips away at Iowa’s once proud history of engagement, moderation, and inclusion.

The last few legislative sessions have produced attacks on public education, threatened a women’s right to make her own health care decisions, eroded the civil rights of certain citizens, advanced book bans and now—recklessly—introduced guns into Iowa schools.

Government transparency has also been diminished through indifference toward existing laws requiring open meetings and open records. Authority is increasingly centralized in Des Moines as bipartisan citizen participation is curtailed through a reorganization of state boards and commissions. 

As these excessive policies take hold, expect Iowa to struggle to attract new teachers, physicians, and other essential workers as the state becomes less inviting to anyone who isn’t white, straight, Christian, and conservative. Rural areas will likely be most substantially impacted. 

Young Iowans—who increasingly hold more enlightened social views than Governor Kim Reynolds—will choose to leave the state for places where basic diversity and fairness are valued. 

Iowa is no longer the vibrant, forward-thinking state once led by distinguished Governors Bob Ray and Tom Vilsack. Instead, the soul of Iowa is increasingly stained in the image of underachieving southern and small Midwestern states, where MAGA Republicans compete to out-shock the citizenry through targeted and uncaring acts of legislation.

The Iowa GOP is becoming more drunk with power as voters let the party lock down control of the executive and legislative branches. In step with Donald Trump at the national level, there’s an unnatural composed anger and harshness to much of what they do. It’s increasingly autocratic in feel and, if allowed to persist, perhaps in outcome as well. 

But here’s the thing about autocracy.

It’s just a matter of time until authoritarian forces come after you or what you value. There’s never enough power or money to accrue to what would become a new American oligarchy. You see, autocrats always need more . . . and someone new to scorn or subjugate.

Those appointed to government positions are not selected based on the expertise and temperament they bring to their responsibilities. The only true qualification in an autocracy is total fealty to the great leader. We’ve seen these instincts expressed time and again by wannabe strongman Trump, and in a similar but more nuanced vein, by Reynolds.     

An unceasing priority is to pursue more and more tax cuts or other giveaways, carefully targeted to disproportionately benefit the most affluent Americans. Public education and essential programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and other safety net funding stand at risk to be trimmed or privatized. All to the detriment of the aging middle class and the less fortunate.   

The integrity of elections is no longer assured as voter suppression efforts are increasingly codified. This leads to systems where politicians essentially determine their voters rather than voters selecting their candidate. Vote tallying becomes as much a dark art as a counting exercise, as was attempted by MAGA-aligned officials in several closely contested swing states in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. 

The world would become less safe as political opportunists, with no comprehension or appreciation of American history, walk away from the durable international alliances that won two World Wars—and the Cold War, too—while stilling the use of nuclear weapons for nearly eight decades. The more brazen MAGA elected officials would abandon the brave people of Ukraine in appeasement to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

It may be the future legitimacy of federal and state government will rest in the hands and votes of reasonable lifelong Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. These are the voters who once proudly supported conservative leaders, for their time, such as Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Bob Ray. Serious and substantial men all.

Ironically, in America today, it’s Joe Biden and Democratic candidates at all levels of government who better uphold the core beliefs of those respected icons: democracy, the rule of law, strong international alliances, and bipartisan cooperation to serve the interests of all citizens.

Donald Trump, Kim Reynolds and their MAGA adherents bear no resemblance to these former leaders.  Watch them for a moment or an election term—you will observe no aptitude or purpose to advance good governance, only a finely-honed skill for narrow minded, punitive, and divisive politics.

To safeguard democracy and preserve decency in public affairs, reasonable Republicans and independents need to consider joining Democrats in 2024, rejecting MAGA and all candidates who choose to enable it. 

In Iowa and beyond, our politics and government discourse will not return to a more dignified and respectful quality—as once practiced by good people like Bob Ray—until we insist on those most basic of values from all our elected officials—and vote accordingly.   

About the Author(s)

Bill Bumgarner