As the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Day and prepares for the inauguration of the country’s first African-American president, Iowa legislators are noting the record number of minorities who’re serving at the statehouse. There are now five African-Americans serving in the Iowa House — including Representative Kerry Burt.
“It’s nice,” Burt says. “It’s a reflection of where the state of Iowa and the country of a whole has come to actually kind of set aside more the color issue and maybe move more towards the content of character and the qualifications — and let that be, you know, the determining factor.”
Burt is a firefighter and financial analyst in Waterloo. Iowa has a long history in the civil rights movement. The underground railroad had stops in Iowa and Iowa had more soldiers fight in the Civil War, per capita, than any other state in the Union. Burt also points to January 3, 2008, when Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucuses.
“Iowa is actually one of those states that is kind of in the forefront,” Burt says. “They’ve kind of made history in ways in the last year or so and I’m just one of those people who thinks (the state) will be rewarded for its efforts.”
Another rookie lawmaker, Representative Phyllis Thede of Bettendorf, says having more African-Americans like herself in the legislature also shows the growing interest black Iowans have in the political process.
“We’re just not doing it just for African Americans. We are doing it for all, but our voice is being heard, you know, as a larger group presenting our needs in our communities and so we’re really excited about that,” Thede says. “And I’ll tell you what, it just feels real good every day that I come in (the statehouse).”
An Asian American who had served in the Iowa House was elected to the Iowa Senate last November and is the only minority in the senate.