Culver makes big energy push
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver kisses his son John on the head before taking the oath of office during his Inauguration Friday in Des Moines. Culver is the state's 40th governor and follows two-term governor Tom Vilsack. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

DES MOINES – Chet Culver challenged Iowans to follow the lead of history’s risk-takers and transform their state into the “energy capital of the world” as he became Iowa’s 40th governor Friday.

Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge recited their oaths of office at Wells Fargo Arena in front of a joint session of the Legislature and hundreds of Iowans. As Culver, the son of a former U.S. senator, took the oath, his playful young son, John, hid behind his father’s coattails. His wife, Mari, and their young daughter, Clare, also stood beside Iowa’s new governor.

Culver’s father, former U.S. Sen. John Culver, sat nearby on a stage filled with family members and dignitaries.

“Well, my fellow Iowans, this is our time,” Culver, a Democrat, said in his inaugural address. “It’s our time to accept the challenge, to explore and discover Iowa’s unlimited potential. It’s our time to win the race to become the energy capital of the world.

“There is an energy frontier open before us, and we must explore it immediately. America and the world are counting on us. Simply put, we can’t afford to duck this responsibility.”

Like his successful campaign to win Iowa’s top office, Culver devoted much of his speech to the argument that Iowa’s economic future lies in energy harvested from the state’s fertile land. Culver, a former high school government and history teacher, tied the quest for renewable energy to the pioneers who explored and settled the state.

“These visionaries were undaunted by the practical challenges of the day. They were guided by their faith, their hopes and their dreams, even when no one gave them a map,” Culver said. “Let us all come together as one and lead our own 21st Century Iowa expedition.”

He renewed his call for creating a $100 million “Iowa Power Fund” to bankroll research that pushes the state beyond its current staples of corn-based ethanol and soy biodiesel. He argued for making “the entire state of Iowa a laboratory” to find cutting-edge forms of renewable energy.

The effort, he insists, will create the kind of quality jobs that would persuade young Iowans to remain in the state.

“It’s time for Iowa to become the first state in the nation to declare energy independence,” Culver said.

Judge also spent much of her speech touting renewable energy.

“The entire country is buzzing over opportunities renewable energy offers in breaking the stranglehold of foreign oil,” Judge said.

Culver’s energy message was welcomed on both sides of the political aisle.

“I really liked the focus on renewable energy,” said former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican. “It’s kind of neat, we’ve been promoting renewable energy in Iowa for 30 years, but the rest of the nation has finally discovered it in the last year or two.”

Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, also praised Culver’s message.

“I liked the idea of an expedition, because it is a new expedition for all of us,” Ragan said. “We are the majority now, and it will be interesting to see how we handle that.”

Culver was handed the torch on a historic day for Democrats. It’s been 42 years since the party controlled both the Legislature and governor’s office.

Culver follows Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack into office – the first time two Democrats have been consecutively elected to the office since 1937.

But even as he was handed sizeable political power Friday, Culver promised to embrace bipartisanship.

“Let us work together in a sincere and inclusive way, to create one Iowa,” Culver said. “After all, we serve the same Iowans, they are counting on us, and this state’s future belongs to all of us.”

Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said that part of Culver’s speech resonated with lawmakers.

“I think he invited all of us to the table, and that’s very important,” Winckler said.

Todd Dorman can be reached at (515) 243-0138 or


Gov. Chet Culver also outlined other pieces of his first legislative agenda during his inaugural speech.

He called for raising the cigarette tax “to save lives,” lifting barriers to embryonic stem-cell research and expanding state health insurance for children.

Culver urged lawmakers to raise teacher pay, make college more affordable and raise the state’s minimum wage. And he asked legislators to pass a bill requiring schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.

“We should never tolerate hate, especially in the form of bullying and threats in the workplace or in our schools,” Culver said.


Watch as Chet Culver takes the oath of office, surrounded by his family.