I didn’t believe the early speculation about Governor Terry Branstad becoming ambassador to China, for two reasons. First, the governor shot down the rumor the day after the election. WHO-TV’s Dave Price quoted Branstad as saying on November 9, “I’m not interested in living overseas,” adding that the governor “pointed out he has seven grandchildren now and wants to remain in Iowa.”
Second, I doubted First Lady Chris Branstad would ever agree to move halfway around the world from her grandkids. At a November 21 press conference, the governor said he would consider a job offer from President-elect Donald Trump but added that he wanted to stay in Iowa and that his wife’s views on the matter would carry weight: “We are not doing anything without her blessing, that’s for sure. […] We have been married for 44 years and I want to stay married.”
In what may be his final appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program Friday, Branstad explained that some of his grandkids will be moving to China along with him and his wife.
Dean Borg led the “Iowa Press” panel for one last time before handing regular hosting duties over to David Yepsen. From the IPTV transcript:
Borg: Who else is going along in your family?
Branstad: Well, in addition to my wife we think my daughter Allison and her husband Jerry and their two little girls.
Borg: Living in the Embassy?
Branstad: There is a special guest house. We have visited with Abby Huntsman who is the daughter of former Ambassador Huntsman who was Governor of Utah before that, she and her husband lived over there. In fact, the Huntsman’s have seven children, one of them is an adopted Chinese girl. So we’re trying to learn as much as we can from previous ambassadors and whatever and we’re hopeful that they can come over and maybe Marcus and his wife and kids can come at some later date as well.
Now it makes more sense that Chris Branstad agreed to move to China. She won’t have to give up seeing all of her grandchildren regularly.
Side note: the governor’s daughter is a highly-regarded teacher at a Waukee elementary school. A friend whose children attend that school was very disappointed to hear this news.
Many of my friends have lived overseas while raising children. The experience can be enriching for everyone, and I wish all of the Branstads well. I would be concerned about the “extreme levels of pollution” in Beijing, though. Presumably the grandchildren would attend one of the international schools that has a dome and massive air filters to protect students. But chronic exposure to dirty air in the Los Angeles area–where pollution is not nearly as severe as in Beijing–has been shown to cause lasting health problems like asthma and chronic respiratory diseases in many children.
Former New York Times South Asia correspondent Gardiner Harris described here how filthy air (worse than Beijing’s) affected his son’s health during the family’s three years in Delhi.
One of the governor’s children definitely won’t be moving to China. Branstad told the “Iowa Press” panel that his son Eric, who ran Trump’s general-election campaign in Iowa, is in line to become “the liaison between the Department of Commerce and the White House.”
Borg asked whether the governor will bring any of his staff to Beijing. Branstad responded,
Branstad: I think there is an opportunity to maybe bring a few staff with. It’s a huge embassy, 2,000 employees. There are five consulates. So I still have a lot to learn and to find out how many can go. But I think somebody that would be the chief of staff and maybe a couple of other staff people are possibilities.
I’ll be interested to see whether Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds makes any significant staff changes after Branstad departs for China. My hunch is she won’t.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
P.S.- I was disappointed that no one on the “Iowa Press” panel asked the governor why his Branstad-Reynolds Scholarship Fund has failed to disclose donors to his 2015 inauguration festivities. As president of that non-profit, Branstad is responsible for its compliance with federal law. The excuses provided so far by the governor’s staff are not credible.