“Not in Iowa,” Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ross Wilburn said Tuesday about the images of hatred and anger from clashes earlier this month between white nationalists and counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Imagine having to apply for a job from one of those people,” Wilburn said in formally launching his bid for the Democratic nomination for Iowa governor in Des Moines. “How about applying for a home loan from such a person, or realizing that one of those hate-filled faces belongs to a co-worker?”
The events in Charlottesville make clear the importance of standing up to hate as well as the importance of having a “governor who will speak up to protect us from discriminatory behavior,” the Iowa State University diversity officer from Ames said.
Wilburn, 52, a former mayor and City Council member in Iowa City for 12 years, heard people ask why there was a need to continue diversity and inclusion training.
The images and rhetoric of Charlottesville run counter to the prevailing sentiments in Iowa, he said. Following the violence there, “I have heard Iowans say, ‘Not in our Iowa.’ I couldn’t agree more.”
If elected governor in 2018, one of Wilburn’s principles would be forming “Inclusive Iowa” to bridge the gaps that threaten to divide the state and create an Iowa that is fair and open. He’s the only candidate in either the Democratic or Republican parties with a professional background of diversity and inclusion training leadership.
“Others wonder why we continue to talk about difference, saying we should be over that by now,” Wilburn said. “But hate groups and harmful behaviors don’t spring out of nowhere” and events such as Charlottesville that embolden hate groups “demonstrate why we must emphasize education and learn more about cultures different from our own.”
Iowans are welcoming people, Wilburn said, recalling how Southeast Asian refugees were embraced through the efforts of former Republican Gov. Robert Ray.
“This is the Iowa we know. This is the kind of love and care our citizens show,” he said. “This is the kind of leadership I would hold up and build as Iowa’s governor.”
As part of his “Let’s Be Iowa” vision, Wilburn pledged to:
• Create a statewide Inclusive Iowa Task Force focused on enhancing diversity and inclusion and making recommendations for improvements.
• Aggressively use state resources to enforce state and federal anti-discrimination laws, including workplace issues, economic advancement, freedom of speech and the right to vote.
• Regularly meet with Iowans to discuss and highlight examples of how diversity and inclusion make the state stronger.
Wilburn, who grew up in Davenport and is an Iowa Army National Guard veteran, worked for six years as equity director in Iowa City schools, eight years as executive director of the Crisis Center of Johnson County, nine years as program coordinator for United Action for Youth in Johnson County and taught at the University of Iowa, where he also earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.
Since 2014, he has been the diversity officer and associate program director of Community and Economic Development for ISU Extension and Outreach.
Wilburn joins former U.S. Department of Agriculture official and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member John Norris, state Sen. Nate Boulton, former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire, former Des Moines school board President Jon Neiderbach, Coralville nurse and union President Cathy Glasson and Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell in the race for the nomination.
Republicans Gov. Kim Reynolds, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and Boone City Council member Steven Ray are seeking the Republican nomination.