Rep. Ras Smith announced on Tuesday he is running for Iowa governor in 2022.
“Iowans deserve a governor who will embrace the challenges of today as opportunities to lead tomorrow,” the Waterloo Democrat said in social media posts announcing his candidacy. “A governor that, when the days get long, will have your back. We deserve a government that is worthy of our work.”
Smith, who is in his third term in the Iowa House of Representatives representing Black Hawk County, would be the youngest person to serve as governor of Iowa, if elected. In January 2023, Smith will be 35 years old, one year younger than Terry Branstad when he was sworn in for his first term in 1983.
Smith would also be the first Black Iowan elected to statewide office. Iowa is one of a handful of states that has never had a Black elected official who represents the entire state in any office.
“I love Iowa — it’s where my wife and I are raising our daughters, Iowa is where I love to hunt, coach, mentor, and farm,” Smith said in his statement on Tuesday.
“I learned early in life that service to community is just ‘what you do.’ From training student athletes, to helping kids get their basic needs met, to counseling them and getting them across the finish line at graduation, my calling to service has taught me we are stronger when we have each other’s backs.”
Smith has emerged as a Democratic leader in the Iowa Legislature, where he is one of only eight people of color serving in the Iowa House. (All the members of the Iowa Senate are white.) He has developed a reputation for being able to work with the Republican lawmakers who have controlled the House and Senate since he joined the Legislature in 2017, as well as his fellow Democrats, both conservative and progressive.
Last year, Smith was key player in the extraordinary effort that led to a police reform bill being unanimously approved in the course of a single day.
Several minutes ago: State Rep. Ras Smith of Waterloo takes in a quiet moment by himself outside the House chamber following the unanimous passage of HF 2647, the police reform bill that he's been working all this week with leadership and the Governor on. pic.twitter.com/jwI8gqYIa5
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) June 12, 2020
He participated in the talks that shaped the bill starting 10 days before it was introduced and passed. The bill banned the use of chokeholds by law enforcement officers in most, but not all, situations; empowered the Iowa Attorney General to investigate and prosecute cases of police misconduct that result in death, even if a county attorney has not requested it; prohibits officers who have committed “serious misconduct” from being licensed as law enforcement officers; and required the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Council to develop a review process to make sure police officers coming from other states to take jobs in Iowa did not commit serious misconduct in those states.
“The gains that we made today speak loudly,” Smith said when the bill passed.
Since then, he has very vocal in his criticism of both Gov. Reynolds and Republican lawmakers for not just failing to build on that legislation, but instead focusing on increasing immunity for police officers and stiffening penalties for protesters.
“As leaders, we need to be self-reflective as to why we allowed that energy to go away and why we did not move forward stronger, energized by that,” Smith said earlier this month, discussing the failure of the Legislature to pass more policing reform, including a ban on racial profiling. “I think we expected those carrying signs to do more work than we were able to do in that moment, and when they were unable to because they caught felony charges fighting alongside us, we didn’t carry the weight as strongly as they did. And it shows.”
In his statement on Tuesday and in his first campaign video, Smith doesn’t address any particular issues, focusing instead on his stated goal of uniting Iowans and introducing himself to voters with some biographical information.
“I grew up with a military mom and a factory father,” Smith says in the video. His father worked at John Deere’s Waterloo tractor factory for four decades, and his mother, in addition to her military service, is the pastor at the city’s Faith Temple Baptist Church, and adjunct faculty member of the Department of Social Work at the University of Northern Iowa.
Smith was born and raised in Waterloo. He earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from UNI, as well as a master’s in leisure, youth and human services, and works as a consultant for the nonprofit Communities in Schools.
Smith is holding a campaign kickoff event at the Riverloop Amphitheatre in Waterloo on Tuesday evening.
Reynolds told reporters earlier this month she will run for reelection.
“Listen, I will make a formal announcement later,” the governor said. “But I’m not done with what I want to do. I’ve got a lot of things I want to continue to work on.”