Like Cityview’s Civic Skinny, I’ve been hearing some chatter about former Governor Terry Branstad considering another gubernatorial bid. Branstad ruled out running for governor in May but has made ambiguous comments more recently. He may be encouraged by The Iowa Republican poll’s finding that he leads Governor Chet Culver 53 percent to 37 percent in a hypothetical matchup. In a hypothetical Republican primary, Branstad has 35 percent support to 31 percent for Bob Vander Plaats, with 19 percent of respondents unsure and all other candidates in single digits.
I’m skeptical about a Branstad resurgence. First, I doubt he would give up his prominent, lucrative job as president of Des Moines University. Second, the Iowa electorate has become much more Democratic than it was in Branstad’s day.
Third, I don’t think the Republican field would clear for him. I am not convinced the evangelical conservatives who were his base of support in the 1980s and 1990s will remain loyal. Branstad appointed two of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices who cleared the way for same-sex marriage rights, including Mark Cady, who wrote the Varnum v Brien decision. Moreover, he declined to condemn those justices after the ruling.
Most important, Branstad nearly lost his own party’s primary as a three-term incumbent in 1994. There’s a reason so many elected Republicans, like then State Auditor Richard Johnson, backed Congressman Fred Grandy in that race. The phrases “two sets of books” and “cooking the books” may ring a bell with Bleeding Heartland readers of a certain age.
I don’t expect Branstad to run for governor again, but if he does he should expect his management of state finances to come under a lot more scrutiny. Likely candidate Chris Rants told The Iowa Republican blog this month,
I am worried that we are backsliding to those days in the late 80’s when the governor and legislature fudged the numbers to look good for an election. They didn’t abide by generally acceptable accounting principles. That led to bigger problems and late payments to local school districts.
It’s frankly a joke to portray Branstad as more fiscally responsible than Culver. Branstad managed this state during tough times by keeping two sets of books and digging us into a hole. Under Culver, Iowa still has a healthy reserve fund and a AAA bond rating. He has made budget cuts when necessary and is ready to do so again if need be after final revenue figures come in.
Share any thoughts about the governor’s race in this thread.
UPDATE: Fascinating comment thread under Craig Robinson’s post at The Iowa Republican. It didn’t take long for someone to post news clippings from 1994 about Branstad “cooking the books” and Johnson endorsing Grandy. Also, I noticed a few social conservatives predicting that people would not abandon Vander Plaats for Branstad.