Governor Terry Branstad has resigned and was sworn in as the Ambassador to China.
Governor Terry Branstad has resigned and was sworn in as the Ambassador to China.
The woman who will become Iowa’s next governor later this morning credits her “small town roots” with propelling her to this point in her political career.
Republican Kim Reynolds will take the oath of office at about 10:30 this morning, shortly after Governor Terry Branstad resigns and is sworn in by a federal judge as the next U.S. Ambassador to China. Reynolds is well aware that as Iowa’s first female governor, she’s breaking barriers.
“Young girls just come up already and they’re so excited,” Reynolds told Radio Iowa yesterday afternoon, her voice cracking with emotion. “You have to see it sometimes to believe in it.”
Reynolds, who is 57, said there were very few role models on the state stage when she became Osceola County Treasurer about 17 years ago. She credited former State Representative Teresa Garman of Ames for being one of the women who showed her the ropes once she got to the statehouse in 2009.
“She stuck to her guns and believed in what she believed in and she took a seat at the table and she took charge and that was really impressive to me to see that,” Reynolds said. “I liked her style.”
Former Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning, who died this past weekend, was another mentor.
“She was adamant about encouraging women to run for office and to seek leadership positions,” Reynolds said, “and would really challenge me to step out there and even take on more.”
Reynolds is a native of St. Charles. She and her husband Kevin raised their three daughters in Osceola. Reynolds said living in a small town prepared her well for the tasks ahead.
“You can be a part of everything, so you’d get to get your feet wet and get out there. It’s time management. It’s teamwork. It’s collaboration,” Reynolds said. “…But I grew up in county government. I wanted to have a seat at the table. I want to be driving ideas and initiatives that would impact my county.”
Branstad described Reynolds as a “policy wonk” yesterday and Reynolds acknowledged she wants to know how things work, but Reynolds said she’s learned over the past six or so years as lieutenant governor that leaders delegate and trust others to follow through. Reynolds, though, intends to be the chief cheerleader for her priority issues.
“If I believe in something, get out of my way because I believe in it from my very soul,” Reynolds said. “…As a leader, then, you want to encourage other people to follow and to feel that same passion for those ideas.”
Look for one of her priority issues to be getting legislators to agree to provide a long-term funding stream for water quality projects, something left over from Branstad’s to-do list. Earlier this year, Reynolds began describing income tax reform as the “next step” to making Iowa more competitive with its neighbors. Reynolds is planning a listening tour of the state this summer along with meetings with legislators and interest groups.
“I think it’s important to get all stakeholders around the table so we’re all hearing the same discussion, we’re all hearing the same numbers,” Reynolds said. “We have different perspectives as we all try to wade through how to make it simpler and flatter and fairer.”
Reynolds recently met individually with the head of every state agency, soliciting ideas for streamlining state government operations, too.
“One of the first things I would like to do, too, is to do a retreat so we can all get together and just brainstorm and talk about innovative ideas and ways we can collaborate and better serve Iowans,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds will be serving the remaining 19 months on the gubernatorial term Terry Branstad won in 2014. She’s already raised more than a million dollars for her own reelection campaign in 2018.
“That’s just part of it and you can’t be afraid to ask. That says that you believe in yourself and you believe in the mission and that’s part of being a leader…convincing them that investment in you is an investment in Iowa and an investment in this state,” Reynolds said. “I’m not afraid to ask because I believe in what I’m doing and I’m excited to keep doing it.”
A handful of Democrats have already expressed interest in challenging her bid for reelection. And yesterday “Progress Iowa” launched a website to catalogue their criticism of Reynolds on a variety of topics.
Governor Terry Branstad will resign at 10 a.m. tomorrow and a federal judge immediately will swear him in as the next U.S. Ambassador to China.
“I was confirmed by the United States Senate with 82 votes,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “I was very proud to receive a strong, bipartisan endorsement in a time of significant partisanship and difficulty in our nation’s capitol.”
Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds briefed statehouse reporters this morning about tomorrow’s transition of power at the Iowa capitol (AUDIO is here).
Reynolds and Branstad hugged as Branstad gave up the microphone to her.
“I have no doubt that she will lead the state to bigger and better things in the future and I know nobody that’s ever been as well-prepared to take over the responsibilities as the chief executive of state,” Branstad said.
After their brief embrace, Reynolds began: “Well, I’m going to try to get through this without getting emotional, which is going to be a little bit of a challenge.”
Branstad picked Reynolds as his Lieutenant Governor running-mate nearly seven years ago. Today, Reynolds thanked Branstad for his “unselfish and historic service” to Iowans.
“It’s difficult to even try to convey how much I appreciate the opportunity to work with you,” Reynolds said. “…I have had the opportunity learn from one of the best, the best governor in the nation.”
According to Reynolds, Branstad’s “competitive nature” has been contagious.
“Whether it was the 99 counties or Governor’s Steer Show or who could get to a groundbreaking or a ribbon cutting first — I did know who was always supposed to come in first,” Reynolds said, and Branstad laughed. “But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t challenged every day to get right there to the edge.”
Reynolds voice shook as she called Branstad the “right person at the right time” for the job of U.S. Ambassador to China.
“You continue to make us proud not only from your service and dedication and love for this state, but to continue to take that unselfish service and Iowa’s values to the world by being the ambassador to China is such a great testament to who you and Chris are,” Reynolds said. “…I just want to say personally: ‘Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve with you.'”
Reynolds delivered an upbeat ending in her tribute to Branstad.
“We’ve had fun and we’ve worked hard and we’ve made a difference,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds will take the oath of office and become Iowa’s 43rd governor at about 10:30 tomorrow morning.
Terry Branstad is going to spend his last day as governor where — in his words — “it all began.”
“I just want to say, ‘Thank you,’ to the people that launched my career,” Branstad said this morning.
Branstad was born in the Forest City hospital, grew up on a farm near Leland and practiced law in Lake Mills.
“I’m going to see the new Freedom Rock that’s just been painted in Lake Mills which has my picture on it, in my army uniform,” Branstad said. “I’m proud that they chose to do that.”
Branstad’s first successful campaign for office was to represent Lake Mills and the surrounding area in the Iowa House.
“They were so generous and supportive of me and I want to let them know how much I appreciate the honor and the opportunity that I’ve had coming from that small county in Minnesota border,” Branstad said.
Branstad will visit the museum in Forest City where some of his political memorabilia has been deposited and where more of it is being transferred as he packs for his new post as U.S. Ambassador to China. He’ll also visit his elderly aunt as well as other family and friends in the area.
“And I have literally made friends in every county of this state and I just want people to know that I am so humbly appreciative of the support and assistance that we have received over the years,” Branstad told reporters this morning, “and I won’t forget it and I will be back.”
Branstad made his comments to reporters in the statehouse this morning. Branstad has held weekly news conference throughout his tenure as governor. Branstad, along with Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, spoke at Branstad’s final weekly news conference this morning (AUDIO here).
“I’m in a believer in free press and, you know, I grew up reading the Forest City Summit and the Lake Mills Graphic,” Branstad said.
Branstad also did weekly legislative updates on KILR Radio in Estherville when he was a state representative. Branstad told Iowa reporters he’ll be an advocate of American values like freedom of the press as ambassador to China, but the Chinese media is very different than ours and controlled by the state.
“I’m realistic,” Branstad said this morning. “I don’t know that I am going to be able to change their system, but I certainly want to be an advocate for human rights, for intellectual property rights and for many of these issues that we, as Americans, care deeply about.”
Branstad may be able to take one or two staff members with him to China, but he’s working with the State Department on the details. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to bring in her own staff once she becomes governor, but she declined to share the details of those staff changes today.
Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will take the oath of office tomorrow at 10:30 in the state capitol, right after Governor Branstad resigns in the office he’s occupied for more than 22 years and is sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to China.
Reynolds will deliver her first speech as governor tomorrow and she gave a hint of what it may contain this morning.
“I’m just going to talk a little bit about me and who I am and my journey from county treasurer to serving as lieutenant governor to now serving as the governor of the great state of Iowa,” Reynolds said. “…And, of course, some forward-looking policy as well.”
Early this month Iowa’s attorney general issued an opinion that Reynolds did not have the authorty to name her replacement once she becomes governor. On Thursday, Iowa’s next governor will reveal whether she’ll name her replacement on Thursday.
“I will have the opportunity to share my news about the lieutenant governor process,” Reynolds said this morning. “Iowans expect a smooth transition and so that’s what we’re focused on right now. I’ll be sworn in tomorrow and then on Thursday we’re going to be making that announcement.”
Reynolds and Branstad both spoke to statehouse reporters today. It was Branstad’s final news conference as governor.
AUDIO of news conference, 41:00
Eighty-two U.S. Senators voted for Branstad’s nomination and 13 Democrats voted no late this afternoon. Branstad will resign as governor on Wednesday morning and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will be sworn in as Iowa’s 43rd governor.
Maryland Senator Ben Cardin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he praised Branstad during remarks on the Senate floor before the confirmation vote was taken.
“I had a chance to meet with him in my office and I must tell you I was extremely impressed about how he was prepared to move on to be the ambassador to China and how he spoke in favor of our strong ideals,” Cardin said.
Cardin said Branstad “has a passion about American values.”
“I would say he’s anxious to represent American and global interests for China improving their human rights record, in dealing with the right of religious minorities, in dealing with dissent and the right of a free press,” Cardin said. “He very much spoke about the need for the rule of law.”
“I have no doubt that he will stand strong for American values such as freedom of the press and religious liberty and work to strengthen peace, stability and prosperity between our two nations,” Grassley said.
Grassley also stressed Branstad’s tenure as the nation’s longest-serving governor.
“He will bring Midwestern humility and level-headed leadership to the job,” Grassley said. “He is a workhorse who is unafraid to get into the trenches to get the job done.”
Joni Ernst, Iowa’s other U.S. Senator, said Branstad will be an “effective advocate” for U.S. interests in China.
“Iowa’s extensive trade relationship with China has given Governor Branstad a front-seat view of the complexities of our country’s broader trade and economic relationship with China,” she said.
Ernst also mentioned Branstad’s long-standing relationship with the man who is now China’s president after their initial meeting in Iowa back in 1985.
“But he is also prepared to tackle the many other complex, bilateral issues we have with China,” Ernst said, “from North Korea to the South China Sea to human rights.”
Governor Terry Branstad will be in front of a screen watching later today as the U.S. Senate votes on his nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to China.
“It’s coming up at 5:30 eastern time,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “That’d be 4:30 our time.” Branstad is wearing a red tie, made in China today, but the governor isn’t superstitious and his fashion choice wasn’t intentional. There’s a gathering this evening at the governor’s mansion for staff and state agency directors that Branstad says will be one of the last official things he does there.
Branstad and his wife have been sorting through their belongings. Branstad admitted to reporters he and his wife will probably do more packing tonight as well.
“She’s kind of been the lead person on that, but I’ve been helping,” Branstad said. A reporter asked: “Does she have item veto power or do you?” Branstad and some of his staff laughed. “She’s a thrower and I’m a saver, let’s put it that way, but that’s always been the case, but I have a tendency not want to throw anything away.”
They’re packing for a long-term stay in China. They’re sending some things to their home on Lake Panorama. Some of it’s going to a museum in Forest City, near the farm where Branstad grew up. His military uniform and some other military memorabilia has already been deposited at the Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge in Johnston. This is day 8,167 of Branstad’s tenure as governor.
“That’s longer than anybody else has ever served in any other state,” Branstad said. “But time flies when you’re having fun, right?” Branstad has indicated for months that he intends to resign “within a matter of days” after he’s confirmed, as expect.
The governor presided over his final executive council meeting earlier this morning. That’s the group of statewide elected officials, including the governor, who meet weekly.
Former House Speaker Don Avenson of Oelwein, an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1990 and a statehouse lobbyist ever since, died of a heart attack on Friday. He was 72.
Avenson was first elected to the Iowa House in 1972. A couple of years later his Democratic colleagues elected Avenson to be a floor leader. Avenson ultimately served eight years as House Speaker, the legislature’s most powerful post. No other speaker has had a longer tenure. Jerry Fitzgerald and Avenson struck up a friendship shortly after the two were elected to the House nearly 45 years ago.
“Very much a family man and just a decent guy,” Fitzgerald said of Avenson during an interview this afternoon. “Wanted to do good…wanted to leave the world a little better place.”
Fitzgerald was with Avenson when he died. The two had been vacationing. They were driving through Nebraska when Avenson suffered a heart attack.
Avenson was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in 1990. Republican Governor Terry Branstad, who won that race, issued a written statement today, calling Avenson a “strong and effective legislator…who cared deeply about…the people of Iowa.” Avenson was the legislature’s top leader during Branstad’s first two terms as governor and Branstad said even though he and Avenson “sometimes disagreed on politices,” Branstad said he knew he could “always rely on Avenson’s word.”
Branstad said “together,” he and Avenson were “able to accomplish many things.”
Avenson steered the Groundwater Protection Act through the legislature in 1987 as well as a bill that dramatically reorganized the executive branch of state government. Fitzgerald said Avenson was “a towering figure” with shrewd deal-making skills.
“Everybody got something that they thought was worthwhile,” Fitzgerald told Radio Iowa. “…People, when they get into politics — regardless of what they believe and what part of the political spectrum they are they come to realize what the institution is about: try to find solutions (and solve problems.”
Avenson was an avid outdoorsman and a voracious reader of non-fiction. Acquiring books was part of their annual vacation together, according to Fitzgerald.
“We’d buy books, but he bought a lot more than I did,” Fitzgerald said.
Several years ago, Avenson tracked down every book about the Lewis and Clark Expedition that was still available in print and he read each one.
Avenson is the father of three adult children as well as grandchildren. He and his wife Diane were married in 1964 and have made their home in Oelwein. He joined the family business after graduating from college and became president of Oelwein Tool and Die Company in 1984. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Governor Terry Branstad today said the parents accused of mistreating two Iowa teenagers who’ve recently starved to death will be held accountable by the justice system and the governor said staff in the Department of Human Services who did child welfare checks in both homes are trying to do the best they can.
“We have to review what went wrong and how we can do a better job to prevent these kind of things from happening in the future,” Branstad told reporters.
An outside consultant is being hired to review the state’s child welfare system. Natalie Finn of West Des Moines starved to death last fall, despite reports from neighbors and school officials who raised concerns about her home environment. Sabrina Ray of Perry, who also was 16, died last week and the medical examiner said she was severely malnourished. Child abuse investigators had visited her home as well.
“It just breaks my heart to see this happening in our state and I want to do all I can to try to prevent it from happening again,” Branstad said.
A few Democrats in the legislature have called for the resignation of Iowa Department of Human Services director Chuck Palmer after this second case of an adopted teenager dying of starvation. Branstad said Palmer’s running the biggest agency in state government and it deals “tens of thousands” of child welfare cases.
“It’s such a terrible tragedy when you have a teenage child that starves to death or is mistreated,” Branstad said. “But I also want you to know that Chuck Palmer is a very dedicated public servant who has worked hard to deal with a lot of important issues, everthing from the redesign of our mental health system to Medicaid, to protecting children.”
According to Branstad, Palmer has “done a lot of good”and the agency has prevented tragedies.
“But we are very, very disappointed and upset that we have lost these young children and we obviously want to make sure we do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Branstad told reporters this afternoon.
The Republican chairmen of the Government Oversight Committees in the House and Senate released a statement about their own investigation of the state agency. The GOP legislators say the starvation death of a second child who was “on the Department of Human Services’ radar…confirms the need” for an examination of the state’s foster care system and how child abuse reports are handled.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is closing four of its clinics in Iowa because of a new state policy approved by the Republican-led legislature and Governor Branstad.
June 30 is the closing date for Planned Parenthood clinics in Burlington, Keokuk and Sioux City. Another clinic in Bettendorf will close “in a matter of months.” After June 30, organizations that provide abortions will no longer be reimbursed for family planning services provided to Medicaid patients.
“Despite every effort to fight back against ‘defunding’ by these extreme Iowa lawmakers who are driven by misguided beliefs and not facts about patient needs, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is now forced to close four health centers in Iowa,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland president & CEO Suzanna de Baca told reporters this afternoon.
About 30 staffers who’ve worked in the four clinics will be laid off.
“As heartbreaking as this is for our affiliate, our staff, supporters and our donors, the more important number here is 14,676,” she said. “That’s the number of patients these four health centers have served over the last three years.”
Tax dollars have not been spent on abortions for years, even on medically-necessary abortions for indigent patients. Backers of the move to completely “defund” Planned Parenthood say tax dollars should not go to any facility where abortions are performed. De Baca called the new policy an “extremist” attack that will harm “an untold number of Iowans.”
“We dotted every ‘i’, we crossed every ‘t’ and exhausted every possibility. It is devastating to now be forced to turn away patients in these communities,” de Baca said during a conference call with Iowa reporters. “…For far too many of these vulnerable, low income and rural Iowan patients, there now may be nowhere to turn for the health care they deserve, certainly not to get the same compassionate, nonjudgmental care that they received at Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood will continue to operate eight clinics in Iowa. They’re located in Ames, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Iowa City and in the Des Moines metro. Groups that have pushed for the new policy say Medicaid patients who’ve been going to Planned Parenthood will be able to get prescriptions for contraceptives and reproductive health exams at other facilities in or near their communities.
Jenifer Bowen of Iowa Right to Life, a spokeswoman for a coalition of groups that lobbied for the new policy, issued a written statement this afternoon.
“The reallocation of our tax dollars, away from the abortion industry, and into the hands of true health care facilities will only empower more Iowa women,” Bowen said.