Governor Reynolds


Following a historic run by Terry Branstad as the longest-serving governor in US history, Kim Reynolds created significant history last week by becoming the first female governor of Iowa. Branstad is off to China as our ambassador, bless him, and Reynolds is off on a tour of The Tall Corn State introducing herself in a new role. She is a blank slate, really. She seems nice and moderate. She spoke last week in bipartisan tone, which is easy enough after such a horrible streamrolling by the Republicans and Branstad in the last session.

She has been there in Branstad’s wake lo these past six years but so few of us know that much about her.  She was arrested for drunk driving twice, and has maintained sobriety since. She was for 16 years the Clarke County Treasurer. And then a state senator. And then lieutenant governor. She nodded and smiled when the governor spoke. That is the LG’s job.

In her first act, she did not countermans Attorney General Tom Miller, who advised against appointing a new lieutenant governor. Instead, she appointed Adam Gregg, a well-respected young lawyer, to oversee the office. Gregg is not lieutenant governor and cannot succeed her. The President of the Senate would, if Reynolds could not fill out the term until 2019.

She does not have to be as radical as the legislature just was.

She does not have to own the Branstad agenda. Reynolds is her own woman.

She can set a new course for Iowa that seeks to solve problems through dialogue. She can be more Bob Ray than Terry Branstad. More Joni Ernst than Chuck Grassley.

That’s what we hope.

The legislature has done as much damage as it could have hoped. It gutted a collective bargaining law that had been working well for teachers and the Storm Lake School Board. Since that action, the two parties appear to be headed toward arbitration for the first time in years. That his not progress. But that is what the Republicans controlling everything in Des Moines want. Terry Branstad could not hold them back. It is hard to see how Kim Reynolds can.

It wasn’t just collective bargaining. It was the defunding of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, of all things. It was demonizing Planned Parenthood, which prevents so many unwanted pregnancies and subsequent poverty. It was about allowing guns anywhere you want them, even in the Capitol. It was not about what most people want: great schools with teachers who do not feel under assault, for safe communities where cops don’t have to fear cop-killer bullets in their own courthouse, clean air and water and a river from which you may safely eat a northern pike, and a decent job that can move a family up the ladder. None of this was accomplished.

It is not likely to be accomplished in the second half of this biennial session that commences next January. Election years do not produce great legislative accomplishments because everyone is campaigning. The Reynolds campaign started last week. It started friendly. Reynolds is the sort of person who does not turn you off, you want to like her. We would like her to succeed, really.

Success starts with reversing course. Quit picking fights with hard-working public employees. Quit wasting time on Planned Parenthood. Start a conversation on how to rebuild rural communities desperate for a new and sustainable purpose. Not with talk about tax credits for megafirms, but for how all four corners of Iowa can start pulling together to seed new local businesses. How can renewable energy re-energize Pocahontas County, for example? That’s what the great majority of Iowans hope for. They hope for a lesser load at the state universities and community colleges. They would like one of those breaks we’re handing out to Microsoft or Prestage Pork from North Carolina or that fertilizer plant from Egypt. They would like a DNR office in Storm Lake, and they would like to know that something real is being done to clean up the Raccoon River — and that we are not just throwing sales tax money around.

We would like to hear some of that good old Iowa conservative talk from Kim Reynolds — that we should take care of what the Good Lord and our forebears left us. Rich soil. Solid small towns. Prosperous farms and clean rivers. Neighbors who look out for the vulnerable. Cops who don’t need to fear guns in what should be safe zones from violence — law and order.

The monied interests who invest in division and discord so that their will shall be done are not much interested in that sort of talk from a Republican. The gun firms, the seed and chemical companies, the workers’ compensation insurers are the ones who put the engaging and historic figure before us. But she actually owes none of them anything. She can strike out on her own for Iowa. She can articulate an inclusive vision for the Republican Party that can save it in the midterm election. Or she can go with the flow and watch her legacy roll with it.