Why is Iowa (again) struggling with racism?

Athena Gilbraith is a racial justice activist in eastern Iowa. -promoted by Laura Belin

This week Republican legislators on the Iowa House Government Oversight Committee took on school officials in Ames to contest cultural competency. To challenge a celebration of Black America and Black Iowans, these lawmakers chose to center dehumanization.

Representative Bobby Kaufmann described Black History Month teaching materials as “garbage,” while Representative Steven Holt amplified whataboutism, a dog whistle in shepherding white supremacy. (Editor’s note: You can watch the committee hearing here or listen to the audio here.)

Between the extreme new voter suppression law, the bill to codify “qualified immunity” for law enforcement, and limiting diversity training at Iowa universities, the goal appears to be to reproduce racial inequality in our state. 

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Iowa GOP lawmaker seeks review of governor's emergency powers

Republican State Representative Steven Holt plans to review possible changes to the governor’s emergency powers, “including requiring legislative approval for declared emergencies lasting over a certain period of time,” he posted on Facebook November 17. Holt has been a vocal critic of business closures to reduce spread of COVID-19 and is unhappy with several aspects of Governor Kim Reynolds’ latest emergency proclamation.

First elected to the legislature in 2014, Holt has chaired the House Judiciary Committee since 2019. Republican leaders have not yet announced committee assignments for the 2021 session, when their majority will grow to 59-41.

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Six inspiring speeches on Iowa's "first step" to address police violence

Most bills lawmakers introduced this year to address Iowa’s notorious racial disparities didn’t get far before the Iowa House and Senate suspended their work in mid-March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time the legislature got back to work on June 3, large protests were underway daily in Iowa and across the country, in response to the horrific killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Democratic lawmakers unveiled a “More Perfect Union plan” designed to prevent “violent conflicts between law enforcement and Iowa residents” on June 4. A bill incorporating their proposals sailed through both chambers unanimously a week later, with a group of Black Lives Matter protesters watching from the public gallery.

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Chief justice sheds new light on Iowa Supreme Court lobbying for judicial bill

Multiple Iowa Supreme Court justices spoke with Iowa House Republicans shortly before GOP lawmakers approved a bill that gave the governor more influence over the judicial selection process and shortened the chief justice’s term.

But only Chief Justice Mark Cady disqualified himself from considering the legal challenge to that law’s validity, and only Cady has been transparent about his communications on the issue with legislators and staff for Governor Kim Reynolds.

Justice Thomas Waterman and Justice Edward Mansfield appear to have pushed for the bill’s passage and stand to benefit from electing a new chief justice in 2021. Yet neither recused himself from hearing the case. Nor have they revealed their contacts with Republican legislators or the governor’s legal counsel Sam Langholz, despite a judicial rule calling for disclosure of information relevant to a recusal motion.

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