Branstad’s move to China means Iowa’s first female governor

09-Dec-2016 Intellasia | AP | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The likely departure of the nation’s longest-serving governor to become US ambassador to China means Iowa could soon be led by its first female governor, just as the state shifts to full Republican control of its Legislature.

Gov. Terry Branstad confirmed Wednesday that he had accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s offer of the ambassadorship.

If Branstad is confirmed by the US Senate, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds would become Iowa’s governor. Reynolds would hold the position until January 2019, when Branstad’s term would have ended, and she could run for governor in 2018.

Reynolds, who is on vacation with her family, released a statement after news broke about the nomination. She largely praised Branstad, but she also noted her pending role.

“I have been honored to be a full partner with Gov. Branstad in this Administration and know that the experience I’ve gained over the last six years has prepared me well for this next chapter of service to all Iowans,” she said.

Reynolds, 57, was a first-term state senator when Branstad chose her to run as his lieutenant governor. During her six years as lieutenant governor, she has focused on economic development and education.

“Watching her take such a role leading the state just as lieutenant governor… she is more than prepared to step into those shoes as governor,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, the sole female Republican in the state Senate. “I would say that whether she was a woman or a man.”

Before meeting with Trump, Branstad was asked about Reynolds. He noted her multiple international trade missions and her involvement in key appointments in his administration. Branstad also highlighted her promotion of education efforts, especially those involving science, technology, engineering and math.

“She’s very well-prepared and has great leadership ability,” he said.

Prior to being elected to the Legislature, Reynolds worked as treasurer of Clarke County, a southern Iowa county of less than 10,000 people.

Branstad, 70, is in the midst of his sixth nonconsecutive term as governor. He served from 1983 to 1999 before entering the private sector. He was re-elected in 2010. With nearly 22 years at the helm of Iowa government, Branstad is the country’s longest serving governor.

Before Trump offered him the ambassadorship, Branstad indicated he planned to complete his current gubernatorial term and hadn’t ruled out another four-year term.

If Branstad leaves office, Reynolds would become governor just as Republicans take control of both legislative chambers in Iowa. When the next session of the legislature convenes in January, it will be the first time in 20 years that the GOP has controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office.

Republican leaders have already indicated their plans to push a conservative agenda, but they made no reference of that in congratulatory remarks.

“I look forward to continue working closely with her to make Iowa the premier place to raise a family or grow a business. Iowa Republicans continue to lead the way elevating women to public office,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, who made history earlier this year when she was formally elected as the first female speaker in the state chamber.

Still, the expectations are high for some state Republicans.

Andy Cable of Hardin County, in north-central Iowa, serves on the state central committee for the Republican Party of Iowa. He said Republicans have lamented that Democrats in power have succeeded in blocking legislation on gun rights, abortion restrictions and other social issues.

“Now we’ve got a House and a Senate that we’re going to expect as activists throughout the state to do the things that we have asked for, and they’ve had excuses in the past,” he said. “The governor, which more likely is going to be Kim at this rate, is now going to have things come to their desk that they have to make a decision on and they have to take a stand on.”

Branstad faces a confirmation process, so it’s unclear how quickly Reynolds could be sworn in. Branstad’s office did not immediately release details on what a transition plan would look like, but it’s possible he could still be governor when lawmakers return to the Capitol on January 9.

It’s also unclear how quickly Reynolds would appoint someone to serve as her lieutenant governor, though her immediate plans have already caused a ripple effect for 2018. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, long considered a possible contender to run for governor in 2018, said Wednesday he was bowing out of consideration because of Reynolds.

“If I made the decision to run, it would not have been a decision to run against a fellow Republican, but because I feel I have more to give by serving in a different role,” he said in a statement. “I encourage Iowa Republicans to unite behind Lt. Governor Reynolds, help ensure her election in 2018 and join me in working to keep Iowa red for the next generation.”


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