Death Of A Legend

Prairie Dog

Prairie Dog

Reprinted with permission from the January 2016 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!!  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.


If that ____-sucking mother-_____ tries to bust my _____, I’ll ______tear him a new _____. –Mark Smith

At the end of November, a check for a subscription renewal and sustaining fund contribution arrived in the Prairie Progressive mailbox from Mark Smith, former president of the Iowa Federation of Labor. Smith died a week later at his home in Des Moines. He was 71.

Smith was many things: labor activist, former school board member, disability rights advocate, co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project, member of the American Federation of Teachers, provocateur, watchdog, bulldog, conscience, Chicago Cubs fan.  He perfected the popular image of a labor thug, cramming as many obscenities into his sentences as was linguistically possible. But his letters-to-the-editor were concise gems, skewering the venalities and hypocrisies of politicians and
corporations without wasting a word.

Over the years, Mark picked the right fights: Ipsco, right-to-work, Equal Rights Amendment, scope of bargaining, fair share. In the mid-nineties, David Stanley’s Iowans for Tax Relief was at its most powerful.  Stanley engineered a measure on the statewide ballot for a constitutional amendment that would require any tax increase proposed by the General Assembly to pass with a 60% majority.  Smith rallied the troops against what looked like a landslide. He won. So did the people of Iowa.

Smith knew that smaller fights were necessary, too. With his passing, who will make sure that elected officials, candidates, and publications (including the Prairie Progressive) who profess to be pro-labor always use union printers?

Smith was no saint. He wasn’t always right, and he could be a bully who brooked no dissent, but his legacy as a champion for working people is unassailable.


When the Obama administration rolled out for the Affordable Care Act more than two years ago, the web site was widely mocked and panned as “botched,” boneheaded,” and “a disaster.” The Government Accountability Office concluded that the administration failed to provide “effective planning or oversight practices.”  In comparison, the Branstad administration’s attempt to move Iowa’s Medicaid program into private hands makes the ACA roll-out look like a masterpiece of flawless execution.

Contracts between the state’s chosen managed care organizations and local care providers haven’t been signed. Medicaid recipients have only received confusing information packets since Thanksgiving, with just a few weeks to pick a new MCO for services. Families, especially those with adult children who have received stable support for years, can’t get answers from the MCOs, the state, or their legislators, who have been frozen out of the process by an increasingly intransigent and dictatorial Governor who dismisses their concerns as “fear of change.”

560,000 Iowans and their families will be drastically affected by this massive privatization that Branstad announced less than a year ago, after never mentioning it during his re-election campaign. The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services has to approve the state’s plan. Everyone from the Iowa Hospital Association, Iowa’s Democratic state senators, and Congressman Loebsack, to thousands of Medicaid recipients in Iowa, have written to CMS, urging them to stop this plan or at least slow it down to give families a chance to figure it out.

There is still time to add your voice by emailing

– Prairie Dog

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