What Happened To Robert Ray’s Republican Party?

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
Posted 7/11/18

10 Comments on "What Happened To Robert Ray’s Republican Party?"

  • Thanks so much for doing this Rick–spot on! Governor Ray’s vision was one that we all need to embrace in the interest of a common, productive, and moral future.

  • I was sitting in my office one day shortly after I first moved to Iowa in 1972 when a man I didn’t recognize stopped in to to shake my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Robert Ray.” I was taken aback. I had never met a governor before.

  • Seems that was when the Republican Party stood FOR something, not just AGAINST most everything. I wasn’t a resident of the state back then, but even out of state we heard pretty much nothing but good about him.
    Would that we could celebrate him by embracing many of his ideas now.

  • Governor Ray was a man of good character. He was a paragon of ethics and truth. He never used character assassination as a “weapon” against political rivals. He would be so saddened by the vitriolic name calling and disrespect our current governor has spewed against her political opponent for the upcoming election. Governor Ray was highly educated and nuanced in public policy. I see similar characteristics in Fred Hubbell’s character. Our state has backslid sine 2011. Funding for education has been slashed, our infrastructure deteriorates, and our healthcare for Medicaid patients is being jeopardized by privatization and the quest to line insurance company coffers with profit at the expense of the chronically ill. Bob Ray was and Fred Hubbell is politicos exemplifying reason and pragmatic approaches to problem solving.

  • Wonderful article! I have a lot of respect for Bob Ray as well as Harold Hughes- both God fearing decent men who happened to be politicians. Younger readers may need to “Google” Harold Hughes and it will be worth your time. Both parties have come unhinged as vile and nasty behavior seems to be the norm these days. I never thought the Democratic Party would be one favoring open borders and attacking law enforcement at every turn. GOPers nominated a entrepreneur turned game show host who beat Hillary. What does that tell you about the “quality” of the DNC nominee who lost to Trump? I’m equally amazed that we have a POTUS who spends too much time on social media bashing others. Richard Nixon once said “you never shoot down”. Trump is so unpresidential responding to all of his critics on social media.

    • JD Kinnick—you have a bad case of “both- sides- do- it- itis” You should see a doctor.
      Which members of the Democratic Party have advocated open borders? Which ones attack law enforcement at every turn?
      The only vile and nasty behavior I see is the racism and callous treatment of the weak that comes daily from GOP government.

      • Jerry- Have you seen any of the immigration or Abolish ICE protests? Perhaps some of the Black Lives Matter protests? Some of the signs and chants are outright extremist and hateful. That’s not the Democratic Party I grew up with. Who can forget the Black Lives Matter rally with the chants of “Pigs in a blanket fry ’em like bacon?” Yes, both parties need to be more civil and respectful of each others views. Why anyone would want to run for office and be harassed at restaurants or protested at their home or place of business is beyond me. That’s called bullying. No, its not just Trump and his cronies that are stirring the pot there are some Democrats that need to be called out to learn a little respect and civility as well.

        • JD – People in power cannot be bullied. You’re misusing that word. People in power who misuse their power do not deserve respect or civility – it’s a simple as that.

  • I worked on conservation issues in the Statehouse during a few years when Robert Ray was governor and for a few years thereafter. It was challenging, but progress could be made, and some moderate Republicans were willing to listen and act. Now, from everything I hear and read, working on conservation issues in the Statehouse has become a horror movie. Governor Ray, how I wish Iowa could have you back again.

  • Wonderful to reminisce about people and history passed, but that was then, and this is now . Opposite ends of what was then and what is now, absolutely no connection ! Bringing up those leaders from the past won’t shame the now folks into anything . They are only concerned with getting what they want come hell or high water ! To feel shame you have to have a sense of right and wrong . These folks now in power believe they are self-righteous , and trying to shame them is a total waste of time !

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