After months of Democratic rivals touring the state critical of budget cuts and Republican control, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds continued the official kick off of her 2018 campaign with a stop in the Quad-Cities on Thursday, urging people to reject the downside and see the good things that are happening.
At Ross' Restaurant, Reynolds told a roomful of supporters the state is moving forward on a number of fronts.
"There are great things happen in this state. We sometimes only hear about the negative, but we should celebrate the positive every chance that we get," she said.
Several times, Reynolds and Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg mentioned a ranking of states from the publication U.S. News & World Report that put Iowa first. And Gregg pushed back at what he called "gloom and doom" spread by others.
For months, the seven Democrats seeking the party's nomination to run for governor have criss-crossed the state, criticizing budget cuts, gaps in the state's mental health system, the privatization of Medicaid management and the level of K-12 education funding.
The three-day kickoff tour by the governor and her running mate was an answer to that, as well as to the criticism coming from former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who has mounted a challenge to Reynolds for the GOP nomination.
It also was a chance to highlight the state's first female governor, and her own story.
The governor's remarks Thursday were a melding of her personal story — she grew up in a small town and noted she only got her college degree at age 57, having spent much of her life working and raising a family — as well as her determination to continue working for the state. "I'm never, ever satisfied with the status quo," she said.
In particular, she said the state needs to reorient its workforce for the future.
She also rejected the idea that the state is shortchanging education funding, saying the state has invested hundreds of millions of new dollars over the past seven years.
Tony Knobbe, a Republican and chair of the Scott County Board of Supervisor, praised the governor. "There is a lot of good that's happening," he said, adding he didn't want to see a return to "borrowing and more deficits."
Troy Price, chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, responded to the governor's tour Thursday by saying her outlook doesn't match reality. "People feel anxious, they have a lot of concerns about the future of this state," he said.
A Des Moines Register poll last month said Reynolds had a 47 percent approval rating in the state. The survey also said she would defeat all her Democratic rivals in hypothetical fall matchups, but by only small margins. The poll had her leading state Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, by just 4 points and businessman Fred Hubbell, also of Des Moines, by 5 points.
School funding bill
The governor's campaign stop also was paired with an official appearance at Davenport Central High School where she signed a bill to chip away at the inequity in the state's school funding formula.
The governor called it "an important step" to addressing the problem.
A handful of school districts in Iowa can spend $175 more per student than others, which has drawn complaints from the Davenport School District, in particular.
Superintendent Art Tate has led the district in spending more than the authorized amount, which prompted the state department of education to file an ethics complaint against him. The complaint is pending.
The new bill devotes $2.8 million to narrowing the inequity by $5. But it will mean relatively little money to the Davenport School District. Most of the additional funding from the bill will go to property tax relief, according to the district, with only about $14,000 going to authorized spending. This is because of how the state's complex school funding law treats districts on what is called a "budget guarantee."
The guarantee is for districts with declining enrollments.
Still, backers of the bill, including Davenport School District officials, say the legislation is a first step and an acknowledgement the inequity exists and needs to be resolved.
"This bill is a significant step forward," Davenport School Board President Ralph Johansen said at the ceremony. It did not appear that Tate attended the ceremony, which was held in the new Kahler Auditorium.
The equity legislation also includes $11.2 million to help with inequitable transportation costs around the state.
With the state dealing with lower than expected revenues over the past couple of years, there are questions about whether lawmakers will devote the additional money needed to further close the $175 gap.
"This legislation is an important step to address pending inequities among schools, and and we look forward to continue to work and to see what is possible in the years to come," Reynolds said.