Iowa’s New Governor

Yesterday was an historic day in my adopted state of Iowa. The longest-serving governor in American history (Terry Branstad) resigned his office to be sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to China. Within the hour he was succeeded by the Lieutenant Governor, Kim Reynolds who, incidentally according to her, happens to be the first woman governor in the state’s history.

Branstad has been a relatively moderate Republican governor, off and on, for 22 years. Like most Republicans he has moved farther to the right over the years but, in my opinion, has stayed in the moderate range in the GOP. I have disagreed with him over the years on a whole host of issues, but I will give him this — he is the most effective politician I have ever seen.

Part of it is that Terry Branstad is a quintessential Iowan. He is, of course, a native of this state and has kept his ear to the ground in order to remain completely connected to the heartbeat of Iowa voters. If they lean left on a particular issue (wind and solar power) so does Terry. If they are conservative on something (abortion) so is Terry. If they fall into the moderate camp (women’s advancement) “plump”, there falls Terry.

I’m not sure how much of that is shrewd political gamesmanship and how much of it is attributable to the fact that Branstad is filled with Iowa DNA and bleeds Iowa blood from his core. It may seem strange that the governor of a flyover Midwestern state has been chosen to be ambassador to China, but Terry has developed deep ties over the years not only to Chinese President Xi Jinping, but also with business leaders to whom he has marketed Iowa agricultural products (beef, corn and soybeans) with remarkable effectiveness. He did surprisingly well in his confirmation hearings, answering questions on China’s nuclear threat to its human rights violations and concerns about intellectual property theft.

Kim Reynolds is cut out of the same mold as Branstad. A fifth generation Iowan, she was born in the little town of St. Charles, she grew up in the metropolis of Osceola (!). After a classic Iowa upbringing where she played six-on-six basketball, worked as a checker at the local Hy-Vee (Iowa based grocery) as well as in Younkers Department store, she began her public service as clerk in the Clarke County Treasurer’s Office and as county treasurer. From there she was elected to the Iowa Senate and, in 2010, answered Branstad’s call to run as his lieutenant governor. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is, of course, too soon to know how she will govern. So far, she has been the good soldier always standing at Branstad’s side and, from that position, having his back. I was pretty impressed with her “inaugural address” in which she outlined her four top priorities as tax reform (lowering rates and simplifying the code), energy innovation, education, and workforce training. The devil is in the details, obviously, but those are things which could conceivably receive bipartisan support and move the state forward in some solid ways.

I am sure that I will disagree with Reynolds as often as I did with Branstad. But I am encouraged that she is a woman and I believe women govern differently. More collaboration, more likely to reach out across the aisle, deeper concerns for matters affecting women and children. She may disappoint on any or all of these issues. But, for now, I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best.

After all, anyone who, on her first day in office as county treasurer, enlisted her husband and some friends to assist her in literally tearing down a wall within the office to improve customer service and collaborative communication among employees can’t be all bad!

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