In another display of dominance intended to show there will be no serious competition in the Republican gubernatorial primary, Governor Kim Reynolds’ campaign announced today that U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst will join Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey as state co-chairs.
In a press release enclosed in full below, Grassley praised the governor’s “dedicated service” and “hands-on approach,” while Ernst attested to her friend’s “leadership, hard work, and compassion for her fellow Iowans.” Grassley also mentioned the “groundswell of grassroots support” for Reynolds and her running mate Adam Gregg, reflected in “more than 1,000 county chairs from all 99 counties” who are supporting them. The Reynolds campaign released that unusually long list of endorsers the day before Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett officially launched his own Republican campaign for governor in June.
Grassley and Ernst might help any prominent Republican office-holder facing a competitive primary; both urged GOP voters to stick with Representative Steve King in the fourth Congressional district last year. But they have particular reason to help the governor fend off a challenge from Corbett. One of the worst-kept secrets in Iowa politics is that State Representative Pat Grassley (Senator Grassley’s grandson) wants Northey’s job as a stepping stone for his own U.S. Senate campaign when his grandfather retires in 2022. Reynolds will soon be able to appoint a new Iowa secretary of agriculture, assuming Northey is confirmed to a high-ranking post in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Reynolds encouraged Ernst to run for her old state Senate seat in 2010 and was an early supporter of Ernst’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2013.
Last week, Reynolds-Gregg campaign manager Phil Valenziano apologized for his arrest in late June on a public intoxication charge. Valenziano pled guilty to a simple misdemeanor, paid a fine and will be on probation for a year. He told the Associated Press, “I made a mistake, and I am sorry. I am disappointed in myself for letting down the governor and her team […] I will ensure this never happens again.”
A staffer getting drunk and urinating in a public place is not nearly as troubling as the Reynolds campaign soliciting and accepting both direct and in-kind contributions from someone who has a casino license application pending before a state commission. Although Iowa’s campaign finance regulations do not prohibit such contributions, the apparent conflict of interest is obvious. Reynolds insists that using Gary Kirke’s plane and cashing his checks is no problem, since she has promised not to advocate for her donors to receive another casino license. Surely members of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, whose continued service is subject to the governor’s appointment power, will be aware of the applicants’ political connections. Furthermore, the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich wrote last month,
Iowa governors are regularly faced with legislation and policy decisions that affect the casino industry. Tax reform, which Reynolds has identified as a top priority for the 2018 legislative session, is just one of many issues that potentially could affect casinos and their wealthy owners. Casinos often lobby on issues related to the Iowa Lottery, which is seen as competition for gaming dollars.
Reynolds has pledged to refrain from trying to influence decisions on casino licenses, but she has not promised to divorce herself from any issue that affects casinos. She probably couldn’t do that even if she tried.
Final note: like all other official communications from the governor’s office and the Reynolds campaign, today’s news release refers to “Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg.” The Iowa Constitution defines the office of lieutenant governor and states (Article IV, Section 17) that the governor’s powers “devolve upon the Lieutenant Governor” in the event of the head of state’s “death, impeachment, resignation, removal from office, or other disability.” In May, the Reynolds administration acknowledged that Gregg will have no place in the line of succession, saying he will “operate” but not “hold” the office, serving “in an acting capacity, fulfilling all duties of the lieutenant governor’s office through the January 2019 inauguration.”
Ever since that day, Reynolds, Gregg, and those who speak on their behalf have been trying to flush down the memory hole the fact that Gregg is not really the lieutenant governor, because Reynolds didn’t have the authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor.
Press release from the Reynolds-Gregg campaign, July 11:
Today, the Reynolds-Gregg team announced that U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst will serve as state Co-Chairs of the campaign, as the Governor and Lt. Governor prepare for the 2018 election. The Senators join Secretary Northey as state Co-Chairs and over 1,050 county chairs from all 99 counties in support of the Governor and Lt. Governor’s bold agenda to Build a Better Iowa.
Senator Grassley said “I’ve gotten to know Gov. Kim Reynolds and about her dedicated service to Iowa over a long period of time. I’m glad to stand with the groundswell of grassroots support for her campaign. It’s clear that Gov. Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Gregg understand what it takes to be effective leaders, and that is to build support and energy from the bottom up. You see that with more than 1,000 county chairs from all 99 counties already with them. In office and on the campaign trail, their hands-on approach reflects what it takes to win, and I’m glad to support Gov. Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Gregg as they work to build on successes in another term leading our state. I hope Iowans will join me in supporting them.”
Senator Ernst stated “I have known Governor Reynolds for over ten years now, and can attest to her leadership, hard work, and compassion for her fellow Iowans. I’ve watched her rise from the county courthouse, to the State Senate, to Lieutenant Governor and now to the Governor’s office and at each stop along the way she has dug in, learned the details, and tried to find new ways to serve her fellow citizens. Her vision for the future of our state will ensure that our children and grandchildren have the maximum possible opportunity to achieve success right here in Iowa. I’m thrilled to call Kim Reynolds my friend and my Governor, and am going to do everything I can to ensure she remains in that role for many years to come. I will be supporting her and Lt. Governor Gregg in 2018, and urge my fellow Iowans to do the same.
Governor Reynolds stated, “I’m honored to have Senator Grassley and Senator Ernst serve as Co-Chairs. Their dedication to Iowans and relentless support of our nation is unquestioned. Every day, our senior senator, Chuck Grassley, holds government accountable and models our Midwestern values. He leads with the greater good in mind and Iowans trust him to do the right thing. Senator Joni Ernst has committed her life to Iowans and her country. Joni quickly stepped into her senatorial role and began making a difference for Iowans. Whether it’s fighting for our veterans, looking out for farmers, or working to empower Iowans, she doesn’t back down. As we prepare for the 2018 election we are thrilled to have these two humble public servants serve as co-chairs of our campaign as we work to build a better Iowa.”
Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg said “The Governor and I work hand in hand with Iowans across all 99 counties each day to build a better Iowa. As we lay the groundwork for the 2018 election, there are no two leaders we’d rather have supporting our efforts than Senator Grassley and Senator Ernst. The Senators works as tirelessly on the campaign trail as they do representing Iowans in Washington, and we will build a campaign that meets and hopefully exceeds the high bar they have set. We are honored to have their support.”
The campaign has announced Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey as a state Co-Chair. Previously the campaign reported over 1,050 County Chairs in all 99 counties who are working with the Governor and Lt. Governor to Build a Better Iowa, and updates to its staff, digital, and social media presences.