As the accolades to former Republican Governor Robert Ray pour in, we must ask what has become of his political party? What happened to Ray’s Republican Party that welcomed immigrants, believed in protecting the environment, supported and respected union worker rights, reached across the political aisle and, perhaps most of all, championed ethical leadership and civility.
The last few days we have heard countless Iowa Republicans heaping praise on Governor Ray’s humanitarian legacy, yet they remain loyal to a President that belittles and denigrates immigrants and refugees. How can Republicans justify support for a president that makes a mockery of Ray’s compassionate treatment of people fleeing violence and seeking a better life?
The current national Republican Party is controlled by a president that calls immigrants and refugees drug dealers, criminals and rapists. One must wonder what former Governor Ray has been thinking the past few years as President Trump has taken his Party to a darker place.
When Governor Ray saw refugees fleeing violence from Southeast Asia, he was motivated to help those in need. In 1975, President Ford asked all the state governors for help in resettling refugees.
“I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die’. We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation … Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” said Governor Ray.
Trump sees immigrants fleeing violence and death and responds as if they’re subhuman.
“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before,” said Trump.
In testimony before Congress in 1979, Ray said the choice to help was the right moral decision.
“I saw that we really only had two choices: we could either turn our backs as countless others suffered and died, or we could extend a hand to help, and in so doing prevent tragic loss of innocent lives,” said Ray.
When Democrats and others call to keep immigrant families together, Trump compares immigrants to insects or pests.
“They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country,” said Trump
Ray gained his national leadership on aid to refugees by a simple understanding that every human being deserves a chance at life. When he saw the boat people dying, he saw people, not bugs.
“Human lives are at stake. Already hundreds, if not thousands — the majority women and children — have perished at sea … actually, I saw only one real choice. I wrote President Carter, informing him that Iowa would resettle an additional 1,500 refugees during this year,” said Ray.
We know Ray’s vison is the correct one. Following the resettlement of the Tai Dam in Iowa, Ray reported in 1979 on the success of these refugees, just as the generations that have come to America before them.
“I am happy to report to you that those goals were achieved and the resettlement of the Tai Dam has been beyond expectation. These people have become productive, contributing members of our society, paying taxes and earning their own way. There has been little need for welfare assistance and all seeking work are gainfully employed,” reported Ray in 1979.
While immigration might appear to represent the largest shift of the Republican Party to the right, many other issues may shock some folks as well. In 1969, Governor Ray suggested a statewide legal framework for collective bargaining. In 1974, he signed the bipartisan Iowa’s Public Employment Relations Act (Chapter 20). Ray saw the need for a bipartisan approach to bring labor peace. Ray’s 40-year commitment to bipartisan collective bargaining ended in 2017 as Trump’s Iowa Republican Party destroyed it.
In addition to Ray’s other accomplishments, he expanded funding for K-12 education, another item the current Iowa Republican Party refuses to adequately fund. Ray led on the elimination of the sales tax on food and drugs making it less regressive. Under his leadership the Iowa Energy Policy Council and the Department of Environmental Quality were established helping to put Iowa on a path to energy efficiency and conservation. Ray also led the way for bottle and can deposit legislation. Unfortunately, in the last legislative session, the Iowa GOP controlled legislature weakened the energy efficiency standards and refused to address any meaningful conservation measures.
Perhaps one of Ray’s most lasting contribution to the state was the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University, formerly Character Counts. It provides strategies on building civility and ethical leadership throughout the world. The six pillars of Character Counts are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship.
One must wonder how Ray would feel about how his Republican President and Party measures up to these critical requirements of leadership.
by Rick Smith
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