Kim Reynolds becomes Iowa's first female governor
Watch as former Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds takes the oath of office as the first female governor of Iowa. Register file video
Kim Reynolds cast herself as a quintessential Iowan and set an agenda focused on tax reform and economic development as she took the oath of office Wednesday and assumed the role of Iowa governor.
Stepping in for Terry Branstad, who resigned the governor’s office Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to China, Reynolds became Iowa’s 43rd chief executive and the first woman to hold that office.
“As your governor, I won’t stop working until every Iowan, no matter where they live, has the same opportunity to succeed, have a satisfying career, raise a family and have a great quality of life,” Reynolds said in the inaugural-style speech that followed her swearing-in.
Reynolds had served as the state’s lieutenant governor since 2011; she will hold the office of governor through 2018, when she is widely expected to run for a full term.
The transition represents a novel and historic moment in Iowa politics and government: Branstad is the longest-serving governor in American history and an icon of the state’s Republican Party. Reynolds, in addition to becoming the first female executive, is the first lieutenant governor to replace a sitting governor in the state’s modern era.
In her speech, Reynolds outlined four top priorities for her nascent administration: tax reform, energy innovation, education and workforce training.
Alongside those broad policy strokes, she offered detail after detail vouching for her Iowa bona fides: She described herself as a fifth-generation Iowan, and talked of playing six-on-six basketball, working as a checker at Hy-Vee and waitressing at the Younkers Department Store.
"You know, I love this state and what it represents,” she said.
Newly sworn in Gov. Kim Reynolds says she's proud to be Iowa's first female governor, but wants to be known for more. Rodney White/The Register
Reynolds also addressed but didn’t linger on her history-making turn as the state’s first female governor.
“While I have some pretty tough shoes to fill, I’m excited to step into my heels…" she said early on in the speech as she acknowledged Branstad’s years of service. The rest of her comment was drowned out by cheers from the crowd.
She returned to the historical significance later, telling Iowans she found it “humbling and exciting” to be the first woman to hold the office, but did not want her tenure to be remembered for that alone.
“We can pursue a bold vision of innovation, ingenuity, and growth such that our chapter in the history of Iowa will be filled with great accomplishments, with page upon page about how we made Iowa an even better place to live, work, innovate, create and raise a family,” Reynolds said. “And then — if they must — they can add at the end of the chapter ‘oh, and, by the way, she was also Iowa’s first woman governor.’”
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds talks about what it means to her knowing she will be the first woman to be named Iowa's governor. Brian Powers/The Register
Kimberly Kay Reynolds, 57, took the oath of office in the Capitol Rotunda before a crowd of 375 — including Branstad and his family, the state’s new First Gentleman, Kevin Reynolds, and her children, grandchildren, extended family and friends.
Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady administered the oath of office.
U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst — herself a friend of Reynolds’ dating back to their days as county elected officials in southern Iowa — addressed the crowd via video remarks from Washington, D.C.
Ernst reflected on the experience Reynolds gained as lieutenant governor, when she frequently traveled and appeared with Branstad and, according to aides and observers, cooperated on decisions to an unprecedented degree.
“Her leadership on critical issues over the last seven years, and her work alongside Gov. Branstad, has prepared her well for this new role,” Ernst said. “Under Gov. Reynolds, Iowa's future remains bright.”
Reynolds described her ascent to the governor’s office with wonder, telling the crowd she never dreamed her political career would bring her to this moment. A St. Charles native who made her home in Osceola, Reynolds got her start in public service first as a clerk in the Clarke County Treasurer’s Office and then as the elected county treasurer.
In her speech, she described literally tearing down a wall within the treasurer’s office to improve customer service and communication among employees — a metaphor for what she frequently describes as her collaborative approach to governing.
“With the wall gone, we could collaborate and exchange ideas like never before. And that meant we could better serve the people of Clarke County,” she said.
It was during her tenure as county treasurer that she struggled with alcoholism — an experience she acknowledged in her speech on Wednesday.
“I’m especially grateful to the people of Clarke County for giving me a second chance when I needed it most,” she said, referring to her 1999 and 2000 drunken driving arrests and subsequent treatment for alcohol addiction. “I’m a better person today because of their ongoing encouragement, support and prayers. I’m not perfect. I’m not infallible. But I am an Iowan, through and through.”
Reynolds later became a state senator and, in 2010, joined Branstad’s ticket as he sought a fifth term as governor. The duo was re-elected in 2014.
“There’s probably something else you should know about me,” Reynolds said after describing the administration’s accomplishments over the last several years. “I’m never satisfied with the status quo, and a desire to make a difference is what drives me today.”
During Terry Branstad's last news conference as governor, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds thanked him for his service. Kelsey Kremer/The Register
On taxes, she argued reforms lowering the state’s rates and simplifying its “patchwork of exemptions, deductions and credits” could boost employment.
“Our tax code should be simple. It should be fair. And it should inspire — not inhibit — growth,” she said. “Because the bottom line is this: a simple, more competitive tax code makes it easier for businesses to grow and expand and creates lasting careers for middle-class Iowans.”
Reynolds outlined an education policy focused on science, technology, engineering and math — a holdover from her portfolio as lieutenant governor — and experiential learning. She described a commitment to post-high school workforce training and touted the administration’s recently released energy plan, which she said would continue to grow the state’s renewable fuel and wind energy industries.
Legislative leaders immediately embraced the new governor’s agenda, and particularly the call for tax reform.
“I loved her priorities,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said after the swearing-in. “I thought she had really good priorities and I’m looking forward to working on them.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, called Wednesday’s transfer of power “an exciting day of new opportunities.”
“As we go into this next session, we want to focus our time and attention on tax reform and a tax code that rewards hard work and investment in our state and creates new careers…” he said. “And that’s what you’re hearing from the new governor.”
Iowa Democrats, meanwhile, wasted no timing seeking to link Reynolds with what they described as a poorly managed and dysfunctional state government.
Lawmakers this year were forced to cut state spending and draw on rainy-day funds to balance the budget, and Democrats have excoriated the Branstad administration for closing health-care facilities, privatizing the state’s Medicaid program and signing into law bills limiting workers’ bargaining rights.
“While we sincerely hope Gov. Reynolds is able to succeed in addressing these challenges, Iowans cannot ignore her role in creating them in the first place,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Derek Eadon said in a statement. “For years, Gov. Reynolds has stood by as our state’s problems have mounted and our future has been jeopardized. Instead of prioritizing job creation and the economy, she has pushed for an agenda that puts partisan politics ahead of middle-class Iowans.”
Two Democratic aspirants to the governor’s office — state Rep. Todd Prichard and state Sen. Nate Boulton — likewise offered statements congratulating Reynolds but drawing sharp distinctions between their approach to governing and hers.
Boulton, D-Des Moines, was one of just a handful of Democrats to attend Wednesday’s transfer-of-power ceremonies, joining Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, Attorney General Tom Miller and just a couple others.
Reynolds will hold a press conference early Thursday in which she will announce her plans regarding the appointment of a lieutenant governor. The legal basis for appointing a lieutenant to fill the vacancy left by her ascension has been disputed, leaving some question as to how the new Reynolds administration will proceed.
Later on Thursday, Reynolds will hold an event in her hometown of Osceola and then embark on a wider tour of the state on Friday.