Former Governor Terry Branstad has resigned from his job as president of Des Moines University to pursue a “bigger calling” in 2010. Branstad plans to travel to all 99 Iowa counties to talk with Iowans about running for a fifth term as governor.
“I’m humbled by the thousands of people that have written or emailed or contacted me and urged me to run for governor,” Branstad said this afternoon. “I want to go out and talk to those people and talk to others across the state to get their ideas, to get their thoughts on what we can do.”
During a news conference at Des Moines University, Branstad highlighted portions of his 16-year tenure as governor, saying that when he left office in January of 1999 the state had a $900 million surplus.
“And then I look at the fiscal debacle that exists today and I believe that we can do better and I believe that we need to put the focus on bringing quality, private sector jobs to Iowa, permanent jobs that’s going to cause this state to grow and prosper in the future,” Branstad said. “And I believe that I have the experience and the ability to do that.”
Branstad spoke privately over the noon-hour with Des Moines University faculty, staff and students before holding a news conference at one o’clock. He walked into the room without his microphone, however, and had to restart. Branstad laughed as he returned to the center of the room, announcing to the reporters assembled in the room: “Take two.”
Branstad is taking a plunge back into politics, but not without what he termed an “emotional” good-bye to Des Moines University.
“This was a difficult decision because I love this place,” Branstad said. In fact, Branstad intends to be a frequent campus visitor, as he chose to retire from Des Moines University rather than resign for a reason.
“Now there is an important distinction because by retiring I’m eligible to use the Wellness Center and I also get invited to the holiday parties,” Branstad said, with a chuckle, “And that’s important because I want to stay connected with this Des Moines University community…I’m proud of this institution.”
Nearly all of Branstad’s immediate family attended today’s private announcement to faculty and staff and the news conference which followed. His six-month-old granddaughter was there, but his other granddaughter opted out.
“She was given the choice of whether she wanted to play with her friends or listen to her grandfather speak,” Branstad explained at the opening of his news conference. “And she chose to play with her friends.”
Branstad’s returning to politics with the blessing of his wife, Chris, although he said she asked him why he had to run when there were already a handful of other Republicans running for governor.
“They don’t have the name recognition that I have. They don’t have experience that I have,” Branstad said. “And I guess that at this point in time the people of Iowa, by the thousands, are saying: ‘We want a leader with experience that we know has the proven ability to do it.’
Branstad leaves tomorrow for Las Vegas to attend the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants convention, then he’ll return to “devote (his) full attention” to “exploring” a run for governor.
“I’ve always said I only have one speed: overdrive,” Branstad joked. “And yet I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older to pace myself and be more deliberative in the way I approach things.”
Some modern-day critics in his own party have questioned Branstad’s conservative credentials, pointing to his budget record, the fact that he appointed some of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who paved the way for gay marriage in Iowa and pointing out he approved two increases in the state sales tax. Branstad laughed when a reporter asked him if he was “conservative enough” to win the G.O.P.’s 2010 nomination for governor.
“You know, this is pretty amazing because in most of my life I’ve been accused of being too conservative,” Branstad said. “I am a conservative. I’m proud of my conservative record and I’ll be glad to defend it and whatever, but I find it almost, well, I find it laughable.”
According to Branstad, “the whole picture” shows he was an effective governor who cut taxes and pursued a conservative agenda.
Hear all of Branstad’s remarks here : Branstad 22:00 MP3