By John Celock
The Terry Branstad era in Iowa politics is over as Kim Reynolds takes over as the state’s new governor.
Reynolds (R) was sworn-in Wednesday morning following the resignation of Branstad (R) to become the new ambassador to China. Reynolds, the state’s first woman governor, succeeds Branstad, whose 22 years of service had made him the nation’s longest serving state governor.
“While today marks the closing of an important era for Iowa, it also is the beginning of an incredible opportunity for both of you,” Reynolds said to her predecessor during a ceremony in Des Moines. “We’re so proud to see you take our Iowa values to the world stage. I cannot think of a better couple more uniquely qualified to take on this new adventure. Please rise, so we can share our gratitude.”
Reynolds, who has served as lieutenant governor since 2011, takes office with just over 18 months to go in Branstad’s sixth term. She outlined a vision of tax reform, energy production, education and adult skills training. Reynolds spent most of her speech, though discussing her own life story.
Reynolds discussed growing up in rural St. Charles and how she didn’t expect to enter politics or end up as Iowa’s governor. She noted her previous work as a waitress and supermarket cashier and related them to her new job.
“There weren’t a lot of jobs for teenagers in St. Charles, so every weekend I would head to Des Moines where I worked as a waitress at Younkers. Waitressing is hard work, but if you knew how to turn tables, you could make good money serving chicken dinners to Iowans after church,” Reynolds said. “After Kevin and I were married, I worked as a check-out clerk at Hy-Vee. If you ever want to see real penny pinching in action, spend a day selling groceries to Iowans. In this state, we grew up learning the value of a dollar and not to waste it – a lesson I intend to apply every day as your governor.”
Reynolds touched on her over two decades in elective office, including service as Clarke County treasurer, in the state Senate and as lieutenant governor. She noted that at times she had to literally tear down walls, noting a wall she took out of the treasurer’s office, which she said increased efficiency and collaboration amongst the staff and allowed for her to offer new services.
Reynolds, who was handpicked by Branstad as a running mate in 2010, has spent much of her six years as the state’s second in command focused on economic development issues, including international trade and business recruitment. She has served as the chairwoman of the National Lieutenant Governors Association.
Branstad has been the dominant figure in Iowa politics for over three decades, since his first election as governor in 1982, the start of a 16-year period in the office. Branstad voluntarily left office in 1999 and spent several years heading the University of Des Moines before he made a comeback attempt in 2010, ousting then Gov. Chet Culver (D). He was reelected to his sixth term in 2014. Prior to his first term as governor, Branstad had served four years as lieutenant governor.
Last year Branstad surpassed former New York Gov. George Clinton as the longest serving governor in American history. Clinton set his record during his years of service in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Branstad was nominated by President Trump as ambassador to China earlier this year, culminating a long-term interest in China by Branstad.
Reynolds becomes the third lieutenant governor to succeed to a governorship this year. In January, South Carolina Henry McMaster (R) took office after his predecessor, Nikki Haley (R), stepped down to serve as U.N. ambassador in Trump’s cabinet. Last month, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) succeeded Republican Robert Bentley, who stepped down after pleading guilty to corruption charges.
Reynolds also becomes the sixth female governor currently serving, joining Ivey, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez (R) and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D).
Reynolds has indicated that she will seek a full term as governor next year. She is likely to easily grab the Republican nomination, while she faces a growing Democratic field consisting of state Sen. Nate Boulton, former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire, former Des Moines Board of Education President Jon Neiderbach and Polk County Conservation Director Rich Leopold.
Reynolds said that she plans to work hard for the people of Iowa.
“I’m grateful for my faith, my family, an incredible team, friends, neighbors and Iowans in all 99 counties standing beside me. I’m especially grateful to the people of Clarke County for giving me a second chance when I needed it most,” she said. “ I’m a better person because of their ongoing encouragement, prayers and support. I’m not perfect. I’m not infallible. But I am an Iowan, through and through.”