First speech by Governor Kim Reynolds reveals major blind spots

Governor Kim Reynolds promised today not to “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.”

Judging by her first speech in her new role, Reynolds has some major blind spots about her own record and the challenges facing Iowans.

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady swore Reynolds in minutes after Terry Branstad resigned in what Todd Dorman described as “a fitting end to Iowa’s one-governor policy.”

The new governor then delivered an address that combined personal history with a list of four priorities. You can watch the 23-minute speech on Iowa Public Television’s website or read the full text at the end of this post. As far as I could tell, Reynolds didn’t deviate from the prepared script.

Although Reynolds claimed never to be “satisfied with status quo,” the policy agenda she outlined reads like Branstad 2:0, with no apparent plans to deviate from her mentor’s approach.

A few awkward moments and noteworthy omissions stood out.

1. Bragging about her early jobs after lowering wages for Iowans doing the same kind of work.

In the biographical section of her speech, Reynolds talked about growing up in a small town, learning “hard work and discipline,” “fiscal responsibility and penny pinching.” Iowans in larger communities learn those same values, but that’s not what bothered me.

Reynolds fondly recalled her days as a waitress and a grocery store check-out clerk. Tens of thousands of Iowans in jobs like those won’t get a raise due to a Republican bill signed by Branstad, with full support from Reynolds. Thousands more had already received a raise, which Branstad snatched away when he signed the minimum wage pre-emption law.

Reynolds said today she “grew up learning the value of a dollar and not to waste it.” Thanks to policies she endorsed, thousands of Iowans will earn more than a dollar less for every hour they put in, for the foreseeable future. The Reynolds quotes in the press release about that law echoed business lobbyist talking points, ignoring the real hardship for Iowans earning wages far below the level needed to cover basic household expenses.

2. Her selective view of “hard-working taxpayers.”

While listing some of the Branstad administration’s accomplishments, Reynolds asserted today, “We gave hard-working taxpayers a seat at the table.”

The hard-working taxpayers earning minimum wage didn’t have a seat at the table when Republicans lowered their wages.

The hard-working taxpayers doing physically challenging jobs didn’t have a seat at the table when Republicans made it more difficult for them to qualify for workers’ compensation and dramatically lowered benefits for shoulder injuries.

The hard-working taxpayers in the public sector didn’t have a seat at the table when Republicans rushed to take away almost all their collective bargaining rights.

Reynolds has yet to convey any concern for people who aren’t represented by conservative interest groups like the Iowa Association of Business and Industry or Americans for Prosperity.

3. Silence on Iowa’s health care crisis.

Reynolds said her “first priority” will be “reforming Iowa’s tax structure.” She may feel pressure to emphasize that part of her agenda because Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is poised to make tax policy a centerpiece of his likely Republican campaign for governor.

But the reality is that nothing can happen on tax reform until legislators convene for the 2018 session next January. And while the governor’s second priority (energy policy) is important, neither wind energy nor biofuels are currently threatened.

In contrast, thousands of Iowans on Medicaid are facing cuts to their health care services. Reimbursement problems have put some providers out of business and created financial problems for many more, including major hospitals. Over the past year, Reynolds has stuck to the official line: “modernization” of Medicaid has been a huge success. Those claims can’t withstand scrutiny.

The collapse of Iowa’s individual health insurance market threatens to leave some 70,000 people without coverage, beginning January 1. What, if anything, is Reynolds planning to prevent this disaster?

Reynolds said nothing today about health care, unless you count the last clause in this sentence: “We gave hard-working taxpayers a seat at the table, made it more affordable to own and operate a business, restored liberties, protected life and made it more attractive for doctors to be in Iowa.”

More affordable to own and operate a business? Many self-employed people and independent contractors are panicking at the prospect of no health insurance options for 2018. At a health care policy discussion in Des Moines this week, a CPA told me approximately half of his clients are considering relocating outside the state before the end of the year in order to guarantee access to health coverage.

The governor’s comment about a more attractive climate for doctors probably refers to new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits. That law will reduce payouts for some injured patients, but as the Des Moines Register’s editors explained well, Iowa had no malpractice problem before the Republican bill passed. We were already ranked “the best state in the country to practice medicine” and “fifth among states with the least expensive malpractice liability insurance.”

4. Promises on education that don’t match her record.

Reynolds said her third priority will be “educating our children. Our children need and deserve an education that meets the demands of the 21st century – focusing on STEM, ensuring our best teachers stay in the classroom and renewing Iowa’s emphasis on literacy.”

Funding for K-12 schools has not kept pace with rising costs during the Branstad/Reynolds years, leading to staff and program cuts.

Destroying collective bargaining rights for educators will undermine the stated goal of keeping good teachers in the classroom. Since Wisconsin adopted a similar policy in 2011, that state has experienced “acute teacher shortages, especially in STEM areas and especially in rural districts. For example, 54 percent of Wisconsin districts reported an extreme shortage of math teachers in the 2015-16 school year.”

Huge turnover among teachers, sometimes in the middle of the school year, has been another consequence of the Wisconsin collective bargaining law.

Many talented Iowa educators and students receiving teaching degrees may soon seek opportunities in other states, where they are offered better contracts than what’s available in some of our school districts.

5. Glossing over her record of underfunding state universities and community colleges.

The fourth priority for Reynolds will be

training Iowans with the skills they need for the jobs of the future. Future Ready Iowa will connect Iowa’s efforts in education, workforce training and economic development.

Our goal is that by 2025, 70% of our workforce will have an education or training beyond high school. We’re going to build an Iowa where hard-working, middle-class families can live anywhere in our state and have the skills they need to find successful careers. This is about opportunity for more Iowans.

You’d never guess that the Branstad/Reynolds administration proposed and enacted huge cuts to state universities and community colleges this year. Those institutions lost tens of millions of dollars that had already been appropriated.

For the fiscal year that begins on July 1, Branstad proposed spending $10 million less on the Skilled Workforce Training Fund, which covers most community college job training programs. Iowa House and Senate Republicans restored that appropriation to the net level for the current fiscal year (after mid-year spending cuts).

Iowa’s state universities will receive less state funding during fiscal year 2018 than they did this year, even after the mid-year cuts.

Where will Reynolds find the money to invest in her ambitious job training goals? The conditions that created this year’s revenue shortfalls may get worse before they get better.

6. Revisionist history on bipartisanship.

Reynolds spun a good tale about her two years in the state legislature.

When I arrived in the Legislature, I was a freshman member of the minority party. I knew if I wanted to get anything done, I had to reach across the aisle.

But that came easy to me. I learned it from my grandfather. He was an FDR Democrat, so we saw the world very differently. As we sat around the kitchen table, we would debate – even disagree – but always with respect for each other’s view.

Where I come from, party label didn’t matter nearly as much as getting the job done. I took that same approach with me to the Legislature, which means bringing people together to work for Iowans.

One small example is how I worked across the aisle to enact a law that allowed Iowans to pay their court fines at the treasurer’s office. That may sound simple, but it meant that Iowans could restore their suspended driver’s licenses, legally drive, go to work and take care of their families.

That bill passed with bipartisan support. It was a great example of common-sense legislation that Iowans expect.

Good for Reynolds for helping to pass that court fines bill, which was not on my radar.

That said, I followed the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions closely and don’t remember any major vote on which Reynolds crossed party lines. She certainly didn’t build a reputation for setting ideology aside to work with Democratic colleagues.

During this year’s legislative session, Reynolds said not one word to encourage Republicans to work more closely with lawmakers in the minority. She did not question any of the divisive, far-reaching bills that passed on party-line votes.

Reynolds also sat by while her staff denigrated independent Senator David Johnson, who had the audacity to question whether the constitution permits her to appoint a new lieutenant governor. When Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller issued a well-researched opinion that interfered with her plans, Reynolds piled on to accuse Miller of partisanship.

If party labels really mean so little to the new governor, she can prove it by inviting Democrats to help her draft policies on tax reform, fixing Medicaid, or funding water quality and education.

7. Gratitude for her own “second chance” while offering no such compassion for disenfranchised Iowans.

Alluding to her struggle with alcoholism and two drunk driving arrests in 1999 and 2000, Reynolds said today,

I’m especially grateful to the people of Clarke County for giving me a second chance when I needed it most. I’m a better person because of their ongoing encouragement, prayers and support. I’m not perfect. I’m not infallible. But I am an Iowan, through and through.

Reynolds got huge applause after delivering that line. I’m glad she had a strong support system while she was in treatment for alcohol addiction.

She is fortunate she was able to remain Clarke County treasurer after her second drunk driving arrest. Had she been convicted of an OWI (an aggravated misdemeanor) instead of pleading to a lesser charge, she would have lost her right to vote and hold office because of the “infamous crime.” Reynolds would have been covered by Governor Tom Vilsack’s 2005 executive order, automatically restoring voting rights to most people with criminal records. But in all likelihood, she would not have been in a position to run for the Iowa Senate in 2008, nor would Branstad have chosen her as his running mate two years later.

The very first day Branstad was back in the governor’s office, he rescinded Vilsack’s order and set up a system under which nearly 60,000 Iowa citizens are now unable to vote. A disproportionate number of those citizens are African-American. Less than 1 percent of Iowans who have completed prison terms or probation since January 2011 have gotten their voting rights back, even though Branstad claimed to have “streamlined” the restoration process twice.

Reynolds has fully endorsed Branstad’s voting rights policy, one of the harshest in the nation.

Yet the majority of disenfranchised Iowans committed non-violent crimes, and in many cases their offenses stemmed from drug or alcohol addiction.

Are they not also “Iowans through and through,” deserving the same support and encouragement Reynolds received in her darkest days?

In an interview with the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble earlier this year, Reynolds said she wants to be a role model for others: “I just hope by how I live my life every day that people can see there is another side to addiction. […] You can live with it and have a successful life.”

Abandoning Branstad’s policy on voting rights would be an easy way for Reynolds to show she believes in second chances and success after addiction. Research has shown expanding voting rights strengthens communities “by increasing civic engagement and decreasing crime.”

Any comments about Iowa’s new governor are welcome in this thread. The top staffers for Reynolds will include Jake Ketzner as chief of staff, Tim Albrecht as deputy chief of staff and senior advisor, Ryan Koopmans as chief policy advisor and senior legal counsel, and Catherine Huggins as chief advisor.

Full text of the first speech by Kim Reynolds as Iowa governor (as prepared for delivery):

“Mr. Ambassador and Mrs. Branstad, Mr. Chief Justice, justices and judges, Majority Leader Dix, Speaker Upmeyer, legislative leaders, legislators, elected officials, family, friends and fellow Iowans. I’m incredibly honored to stand before you today as your governor.

Ambassador Branstad and Mrs. Branstad, thank you for your unselfish and historic service to this great state. There are really no words to describe the honor I’ve had serving with you these past six years.

But, Mr. Ambassador – if you will indulge me for a moment – I’d like to try. First, thanks for having the confidence in me to serve as your Lt. Governor. Every step of the way you’ve inspired me, challenged me, believed in me – sometimes more than I believed in myself.

You’re more than a mentor. You’re a friend and someone I look to for advice. Your competitive nature is contagious: 99 counties, Governor’s Steer Show, Iowa leadership in the country and around the world.

I’ve watched you time and time again do the right thing regardless of politics or unbelievable pressure. If I can achieve but a fraction of the success you’ve achieved over the past 22 years, I will consider it the greatest accomplishment of my professional life. We worked hard, had fun, and we made a difference.

While I have some pretty tough shoes to fill, I’m excited to step into my heels on behalf of the people of Iowa and work hard every single day.

While today marks the closing of an important era for Iowa, it also is the beginning of an incredible opportunity for both of you. We’re so proud to see you take our Iowa values to the world stage. I cannot think of a better couple more uniquely qualified to take on this new adventure. Please rise, so we can share our gratitude.

To my husband, Kevin, and my three daughters and their families – thank you for your unending encouragement, support and love.

To my Mom and Dad – you have always been there for me. Pushing me forward or lifting me up when I needed it most. From school events to my days of playing six-on-six basketball right to today, I can’t even remember a single time when you weren’t there.

To my eight and soon to be nine grandchildren – it’s going to be a busy couple of years. But I want you to know that there is nothing more important to me than all of you and my family.

You know, I love this state and what it represents. I’m a rural Iowa girl who grew up in a small community, was able to run for county office, to serve as a state senator and your lieutenant governor. And now, to serve as the governor of our state.

It’s reflective of what can happen when you have a passion, you want to make a difference and you’re not afraid to go out there and work for it. I’m a fifth-generation Iowan, born and raised in St. Charles. It’s a small town, but it had a big impact on my life.

Growing up in St. Charles, I learned the importance of community and love of country, of hard work and discipline, of fiscal responsibility and penny pinching. But most importantly, I learned to place my faith in God.

There weren’t a lot of jobs for teenagers in St. Charles, so every weekend I would head to Des Moines where I worked as a waitress at Younkers. Waitressing is hard work, but if you knew how to turn tables, you could make good money serving chicken dinners to Iowans after church.

After Kevin and I were married, I worked as a check-out clerk at Hy-Vee. If you ever want to see real penny pinching in action, spend a day selling groceries to Iowans.

In this state, we grew up learning the value of a dollar and not to waste it – a lesson I intend to apply every day as your governor.

I didn’t set out to become a politician or elected official. But when the Clarke County treasurer decided to retire in 1994, I saw an opportunity to take my ideas and turn them into action. That meant breaking down barriers – sometimes literally.

In the county treasurer’s office, there was a wall that split the office in half. It made it difficult to work and to properly serve our residents. It got in in the way of what I wanted to accomplish. So within weeks of taking office, I decided that it needed to come down.

I floated the idea to the Board of Supervisors. They didn’t care if the wall came down. They just couldn’t pay for it. So, like many Iowans, I had to think creatively.

And in this case, that involved my husband, Kevin, some friends, a sledgehammer and a wheelbarrow.

Over the weekend, we tore the wall down, piece by piece. We were covered in dust from head to toe, but the office was open for business.

When my team showed up on Monday, they couldn’t believe the change. 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 and take on additional services like issuing drivers licenses from the treasurer’s office.

After 14 years in the treasurer’s office, I was honored to be elected to the state Senate. When I arrived in the Legislature, I was a freshman member of the minority party. I knew if I wanted to get anything done, I had to reach across the aisle.

But that came easy to me. I learned it from my grandfather. He was an FDR Democrat, so we saw the world very differently. As we sat around the kitchen table, we would debate – even disagree – but always with respect for each other’s view.

Where I come from, party label didn’t matter nearly as much as getting the job done. I took that same approach with me to the Legislature, which means bringing people together to work for Iowans.

One small example is how I worked across the aisle to enact a law that allowed Iowans to pay their court fines at the treasurer’s office. That may sound simple, but it meant that Iowans could restore their suspended driver’s licenses, legally drive, go to work and take care of their families.

That bill passed with bipartisan support. It was a great example of common-sense legislation that Iowans expect.

In the summer of 2010, I received a call that would forever change my life and my family’s and led to a whole new level of public service. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe a young girl growing up in St. Charles, Ia., would one day receive a call from Terry Branstad asking her to be his lieutenant governor.

Since that time, we partnered toward a common purpose with a sincere belief that Iowa’s best days were ahead. As lieutenant governor, I’ve traveled the world representing Iowa, working to expand our markets, while bringing investment and jobs to our state.

I’ve worked on policy that attracts, retains and expands high-tech firms and fosters growth across Iowa. We’ve seen over $14 billion of capital investment in our state, which represents a choice companies made to invest in Iowa, to grow in Iowa and to join our community of leaders.

We created pathways for Iowans to find careers that will keep them in Iowa. We focused on apprenticeships, skilled worker training and actively supported statewide economic development.

We gave hard-working taxpayers a seat at the table, made it more affordable to own and operate a business, restored liberties, protected life and made it more attractive for doctors to be in Iowa.

We’ve modernized our education system and while our graduation rate is No. 1 in the nation, we must not let up.

There’s something else you should know about me. I’m never satisfied with status quo, and a desire to make a difference is what drives me. Part of being a successful leader is listening and looking for opportunities to bring people together.

While we’ve had many successes, our job is not done. Know that each day my team and I will ask ourselves what can we do to build a better Iowa. Let’s move toward this shared goal together.

Let’s make Iowa more competitive, bringing quality jobs to our families, neighbors and communities, building a fair economy where if you work hard, you get rewarded.

My vision for our great state embraces our past, builds a better, brighter future. As governor, I will focus every day on four key priorities: reforming Iowa’s tax structure, innovating our energy policy, educating our kids and training for adults.

So let’s talk about my first priority: reforming Iowa’s tax structure. There is no doubt that we can do better. Our tax rates are some of the highest in the nation, and our code books are filled with a patchwork of exemptions, deductions and credits. That’s not how it should be.

Our tax code should be simple. It should be fair. And it should inspire – not inhibit – growth. 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.

While we are blessed to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, there are still more than 50,000 people looking for work today. These are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, looking for a better life.

As governor, I will wake up every day thinking about what we can do to help these Iowans gain the meaning and purpose that comes with earning a paycheck.

My second priority is: innovating Iowa’s energy policy. We must view our rich, renewable resources in ways never thought possible. For years, our fields have fed the world. Now, they energize it. They produce products that fuel cars and they host wind turbines that power our communities and businesses.

And yet, those fields are filled with untapped potential. Our energy plan will help us continue to lead the way in wind energy and renewable fuels. Working together, we can have the most innovative energy policy in the country.

My third priority is: educating our children. Our children need and deserve an education that meets the demands of the 21st century – focusing on STEM, ensuring our best teachers stay in the classroom and renewing Iowa’s emphasis on literacy.

Students and parents want educators and employers working together providing real-world learning experiences. We’ve already see innovative classrooms and schools spreading across the state – from Iowa Big North to the Pella Career Academy to the elementary coding school in Sioux City.

That’s just the beginning. Let’s take these pockets of innovation statewide!

My fourth priority is: training Iowans with the skills they need for the jobs of the future. Future Ready Iowa will connect Iowa’s efforts in education, workforce training and economic development.

Our goal is that by 2025, 70% of our workforce will have an education or training beyond high school. We’re going to build an Iowa where hard-working, middle-class families can live anywhere in our state and have the skills they need to find successful careers. This is about opportunity for more Iowans.

Building a better Iowa also means connecting Iowa to the world by expanding high-speed internet access, regardless of the size and location of the town. A connected community means better jobs, safer communities, better education and better quality of life. And, it’s the expectation of our young people.

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. It won’t be easy, but I know I won’t be doing it alone. 5

I’m grateful for my faith, my family, an incredible team, friends, neighbors and Iowans in all 99 counties standing beside me. I’m especially grateful to the people of Clarke County for giving me a second chance when I needed it most. I’m a better person because of their ongoing encouragement, prayers and support. I’m not perfect. I’m not infallible. But I am an Iowan, through and through.

Lastly, I will leave to the historians to write what they will about the meaning of this day in the story of Iowa.

Becoming Iowa’s first woman governor is both humbling and exciting. I will do my best to serve as a role model for others to follow and hope to emulate the finest qualities of those who led before me.

However, it is my responsibility, my challenge, to do my best. To give them the opportunity to write much more than “she was Iowa’s first woman governor.”

While I am extremely proud of that fact, there needs to be more to it. I am confident that with your help and support, we can build on the good things accomplished over the past six years.

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.

And then – if they must – they can add at the end of the chapter “and, oh by the way, she was also Iowa’s first woman governor.”

Today, I stand before you as your humble servant and governor.

Thank you, and may God bless you, and God bless this great state of Iowa and our nation.”

  • Water and "rich fields"

    I read nothing about water quality in that speech (did I miss it as it flashed by?), even though we’ve been told that Republicans finally do recognize that water quality a major issue for Iowa voters. And when I read her comments about Iowa’s “rich fields,” I remembered that the average Iowa cropfield acre is losing topsoil twenty times as fast as that topsoil is being replaced (literally) and that soil experts say that massive soil loss is going to catch up with us sooner than we think, just in terms of crop yields. And the Branstad/Reynolds team has said almost nothing about that issue, let alone addressed it.

    And that’s on top of all the problems pointed out above. “Branstad 2.0” sounds about right.

  • Low wage/minimum wage and small Busisness

    For years we have heard that raising low wage workers pay would be detrimental to small business. When do we discuss the sacrifices of workers in this equation? They are expected to subsidize the profit margin of owners yet are dismissed as lazy or having a lack of responsibility simply because they don’t have the education, upbringing or just plain luck that others have. If a business owner can’t pay a living wage to their employees then they are either greedy or failing at it.

    This ties in nicely as well to the new Governor and her DUI convictions. She should have had a felony herself but wealth, luck and being connected saved her from losing the right to vote. How many low wage workers who weren’t lucky enough to have her resources are now barred from voting? I was.

    As a new Governor after the most detrimental session for workers in Iowa’s history her first act should be to reverse this order and pay some of her luck forward to the thousands of Iowan’s who weren’t graced with it. Without reversing this EO her words will ring hollow.

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