A Ray of hope for Iowa

Bob Ray was the gold standard. He set the bar for how to serve the people of Iowa.

Under his leadership from 1969 to 1983, a commitment to bipartisanship in state government crafted legislation that made Iowa more user-friendly for all.

News stories this week outlined some of his more signal accomplishments: Iowa’s unified court system, collective bargaining for public employees, reorganization of state government agencies, equalization of public school funding statewide, and more.

In the 1970s, he was the only governor in the nation to respond to President Carter’s plea for states to help resettle refugees from the Vietnam War. He did it on two separate occasions.

Some of those improvements have been rolled back in recent years. But most of the basics still remain. He retained overwhelming consensus appreciation from Iowans until he died this past weekend, and will continue to do so.

And after he retired from the governorship, he continued his leadership service for many years, including stints as CEO of major Iowa corporations, mayor of Des Moines and president of Drake University.

In 1963, Ray became one of the youngest state chairs of a political party in the nation at the age of 34. Had he known of the coming debacle for Republicans in 1964 — the year of Goldwater’s nomination for president — he might have thought twice.

I was a summer college intern at state Republican headquarters in Des Moines in ’64, and watched the bloodbath firsthand.

A Republican moderate, Ray supported all Republican nominees, but he was not a fan of Goldwater.

After the 1964 election, he took charge of the state party’s rebuilding and led the Iowa GOP to dominance in subsequent years, first as party chair and then as governor.

When I joined Dad at the Bee and Herald in August 1967, the 1968 gubernatorial election was just getting underway. Bob Ray decided to run. There were two other candidates: former American Legion national commander Donald Johnson, of West Branch, and Centerville Iowegian publisher Bob Beck.

Dad and I had followed Ray’s career ever since my three-month stint at party headquarters in 1964, and we were both big fans. We held a get-acquainted reception for him at the Iowa Newspaper Association state convention in the fall of 1967.

And at the appropriate time, the Bee and Herald endorsed him in the June 1968 primary election.

For years afterward, Ray reminded us that, so far as he knew, we were the only weekly Iowa newspaper to do so. Bob Beck was highly respected and liked within the state’s newspaper community, and our colleagues lined up in support of him.

Ray won the primary and went on to victory in the general election in 1968, the first of his five successful elections to the position of governor. When he left office in January 1983, it was voluntary.

He could probably have continued to win re-election for as long as he wished, but the Republican Party was changing direction.

Moderates dominated the Iowa GOP during his earlier gubernatorial years, but in 1978 and 1980, it began its long arc toward the right — a movement that continues today.

I doubt that Bob Ray could win a Republican primary election now.

In late 1974, Dad penned a Bee editorial entitled “Bob Ray — the governor, the man.”

He never changed his opinion in that regard.

I reprint it today in honor of Gov. Ray:

“Governor Robert Ray is asking the people of Iowa for an endorsement of his record during the past six years by electing him to another term, the first four-year term for a governor in Iowa history.

“We firmly believe he is entitled to that endorsement. We believe it for two reasons: His record and his character.

“As an Iowan, I stand prouder of my state today than I did before Bob Ray took the governorship. I like what has happened in Iowa in the past six years.

“I like the end of the sales tax on food and drugs, which rids the sales tax of much of its regressiveness.

“I like the promotion of Iowa farm products throughout the nation and the promotion of Iowa manufactured goods with state-sponsored trade missions overseas. I was getting tired of all the hoopla for Texas, Florida and California with nothing but wisecracks about Iowa hayseeds.

“I like the shift of public school support from property taxes to state revenue because it means better schools.

“I like the increase in Workmen’s Compensation payments.

“I like the interest the governor has taken in assuring equitable treatment for minority groups and women.

“I like the reform of our judicial system, the public representation on professional licensing boards, the state ombudsman and the new state crime lab.

“I like these progressive programs and many other changes that Ray years have seen — but I also like Governor Ray personally.

“I like the fact that he was a success in his chosen profession before he decided to enter public life.

“I like him as a family man.

“I like him as a church man, a man who was in church before he entered politics and who continued after he was governor. Politicians who go to church to get votes leave me cold.

“I like Bob Ray as governor — and I like him as a man. I hope he is our governor for another four years. -F.E.M.”

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