Branstad runs, again

Terry Branstad is gearing up to run for governor again in 2014. He has no reason not to. At 66, the Boone Republican is in excellent health. He is sharp. He is working as hard as he ever has. He has no problem raising funds or rebuilding a ground campaign. Any Democrat who has any chance of beating him already has sworn off running against him. When he wins, he will become the longest-serving governor in US history assuming he serves out the term — 16 years in his first go at governor, then eight in his second round, interrupted by the terms of Democrats Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver. And before that, he was lieutenant governor to Gov. Bob Ray for 14 years. He has served in the executive branch for 34 years. He is experienced and well-regarded even by his opponents.

We have known Terry Branstad since he was a state representative from Lake Mills in Winnebago County. We like him. He is as honest as any politician. He loves Iowa. He loves being governor. He even loves taking heat from his detractors.

We wish he wouldn’t run. Here’s why:

It’s time for new blood.

It happens to every political boss. He develops a hubris. It can’t be helped.

So you’re the governor. You’re late for another rubber-chicken fundraiser. You tell your driver — a state trooper — to step on it. Any red-blooded man wants to put the pedal to the metal, especially when the commander tells you to. Other cops notice, and the whole thing blows up.

The well-chronicled incident was not that big a deal. It does serve as an illustration of an executive who has gotten too big for his breeches. We said this before about Tom Vilsack: He is not king (though it is good to be the king), he is a governor duly elected by the people.

Branstad has virtually wiped out Iowa Workforce Development with the stroke of a pen, bringing sanction from the Iowa Supreme Court. He turned the Iowa Department of Economic Development into his own business giveaway agency with almost no public oversight. He tried to wipe out funding for lake restoration. His management of higher education in Iowa absolutely defies transparency.

Branstad has been a decent governor. He has worked hard with legislators across the aisle on tax reform, improving K-12 education and improving Iowa’s business climate.

Every year a little more hubris — not really arrogance — sets in around the governor. He reaches out less and doesn’t listen as hard as he once did. It’s tough. He has heard it all before, over and over again, and it can pass from left ear to right without so much as a beep.

At some point the hubris outgrows the experience.

Must we have a Vilsack or a Culver or a Branstad? Must it be a Clinton or Bush or Kennedy? Are our benches that shallow? Is there no young Republican star in Iowa about to shine — Kim Reynolds, maybe, or Scott Raecker? Branstad, as a young conservative bull, must have chafed under the moderate yoke of Ray those long years. He stepped up and sort of shoved Ray out of the way. A new conservative era in Iowa dawned, coinciding perfectly with the election of Ronald Reagan.

But that was 34 years ago.

Iowa has changed. Livestock production is entirely different. We are making corn strains using genetic engineering. Rural communities thriving when Branstad first arrived in Des Moines are shadows of their former selves. The state is more diverse across a range of indicators.

We admire no Iowa politician more than Sen. Tom Harkin. He was elected to Congress in 1974. He made the right call in deciding not to run for re-election, as we had urged last year. Forty years in Washington is long enough. Someone should convince Sen. Chuck Grassley to hang it up before they have to cart him out.

Terry Branstad has been a good governor. He is pragmatic, approachable and, we think, sincere. He is not malicious or zealous. Yet, there has to be a whole host of really smart, capable people who meet the same criteria and can lead Iowa in a new era.

Are there no new ideas, no fresh faces to lead the Iowa Republican Party and bring it together?

Apparently not.