Iowa Governor Surpasses 200-Year-Old Record

By John Celock

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) officially became the nation’s longest serving governor Monday, surpassing a record set over 200 years ago by Thomas Jefferson’s vice president.

Branstad has been governor for a total of 20 years, 11 months and three days as of Monday, surpassing the previous record set by former New York Gov. George Clinton, who held the office in two stints between 1777 and 1804. Branstad’s tenure comes amid rising term limits for governors and a limited amount of governors who have held the office for even a decade.

Branstad’s tenure started when “Dallas” dominated the airwaves, Ronald Reagan controlled the White House and Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t been born. He was first elected in 1982, following a four-year stint as the state’s lieutenant governor, becoming the state’s youngest governor at the age of 36.

A son of rural Iowa, Branstad has made rural economic development a cornerstone of his six terms in office. Coming into office during the 1980s farm crisis, Branstad would get reelected in 1986, 1990 and 1994, before ceding the office in 1998 to Democrat Tom Vilsack. Branstad’s first tenure made him one of only a handful of U.S. governors to win four four-year terms, and the first since former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R), in 1970, to win four consecutive four-year terms. Rockefeller stepped down in December 1973 before the final year of his fourth term.

Branstad, who led Des Moines University and practiced law between gubernatorial tenures, came back in 2010, defeating Gov. Chet Culver (D). His 2010 comeback was part of a trend of three former governors coming back that year. In addition to Branstad, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) won a third term, 28 years after leaving office and former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) returned for his third term, eight years after leaving office. Both Brown and Kitzhaber were reelected in 2014, with Kitzhaber stepping down weeks after his 2015 inaugural due to a scandal.

Clinton was first elected as New York’s governor in 1777, serving until 1795. He came back in 1801 for a three-year stint. He went on to serve as vice president under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison from 1805 until his death in 1812.