Rest easy, governor

I wasn’t lucky enough to be alive during the gubernatorial reign of the late Robert Ray, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 89, but I, like most other Iowans, have reaped the benefits of his leadership since the moment I started drawing air.

           

Ray was a Republican from a different era, a genuinely kind soul and an altruistic problem solver determined to welcome Southeast Asian refugees displaced by the Vietnam War, make this state a leader on civil rights issues, encourage recycling and transcend partisan squabbling in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln.

           

“Don’t tell me of your concerns for these people when you have a chance to save their lives. Show me,”he once said of the refugees. “Don’t tell me how Christian you are. Show me.”

           

He epitomized a sense of duty that now feels more foreign with each passing hour: entering the political sphere not to capitalize on misplaced fears, promote private business interests or deliver some outrageous sound bite for the pundits to stew over on the news, but to enrich the cultural heritage of Iowa, keep us in a steady fiscal position and welcome newcomers, wherever they happened to come from. His second career as the president of Drake University furthered that legacy, and it was always clear that he viewed public service with an old-fashioned sense of optimism nearly impossible to find today.

           

A soldier, statesman, citizen and CEO, Bob Ray was a profile of an American patriot,” Senator Chuck Grassley wrote in a prepared statement.“From my years in the statehouse through my first term in the U.S. Senate, I witnessed Gov. Ray strengthen the grassroots of our party, make Iowa a better place to grow, and build our state’s economy.

           

The universal respect Ray commanded is evidenced in the outpouring of praise he received from Democrats and Republicans alike as the news of his death broke. It’s probably naïve to dream that a moderate free thinker in his ilk will ever lead this state (or this country) again, but we can all still hope. And we can all still vote.

           

In a fractured, Balkanized environment that’s spread from local courthouses (not ours, luckily, but plenty of others) to the White House—more closely resembling “House of Cards” than “The West Wing”—it felt as if we needed Bob Ray more than ever, and perhaps that’s why he left us. Even as a Republican who rose to prominence during the Nixon years, it must’ve been hard for him to understand a landscape so toxic that friendships are dissipating over voting preferences, legislation is ramrodded through without so much as a decibel of discussion and politics as a whole has devolved into zero-sum warfare designed not just to defeat the minority party but to degrade and humiliate it.

           

But on that front, we’ve long since crossed the Delaware, and there’s no turning back now. In closing, here’s another Ray quote, which feels more and more prescient by the day.

           

“There's an excitement about being able to help other people, particularly in the governor's office,” he said.“Money isn't the only reason you exist.”

           

Something tells me he won’t be wearing a MAGA hat in his casket.