Very soon, Terry Branstad will serve his final day as Iowa’s governor, ending the country’s longest-ever gubernatorial tenure.
It seems fitting to use this space to reflect a bit on Branstad’s time in office --- at least the small portion that I have covered, dating back to 2012.
I will leave it to others to assess Branstad’s imprint on Iowa.
But I do feel comfortable offering my perspective on what it was like to be a reporter covering Branstad’s administration.
Reporters are creatures of simple needs. Give us access, an outlet and wifi, and we’re happy. A table or even just a chair would be great, but we can survive without if we have the big three.
And Branstad provided access.
I don’t have the requisite experience to compare Branstad’s accessibility to other administrations. If you’re curious to that end, bend the ears of Statehouse press corps veterans Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa, Rod Boshart and James Lynch at the Gazette, or Kathie Obradovich at the Des Moines Register. They’re better equipped than I to make that comparison.
But I know how stingy politicians can be with access, and that rarely is an issue with Branstad.
It starts every Monday with his weekly press conference. That has been a standard during Branstad’s time in office, but it’s not something all governors do. It’s not even something all Iowa governors do. But Branstad is there almost every Monday fielding questions from Iowa reporters.
Sure, the governor takes a little time each week to promote his issue or cause du jour. After that, the floor is open and he stands before the firing squad.
Branstad also makes time for reporters at almost all of his public events. Whether it’s a bill-signing in his formal office at the Capitol or after touring a business in Peosta, Branstad carves out a few minutes --- usually at the conclusion of the event --- to field questions from reporters on any subject.
And it doesn’t matter which reporter you are, or what media outlet you represent. When he makes time for reporters at those public events, whether at the Capitol or throughout the state on his annual 99-county tour, Branstad fields questions from veteran Statehouse reporters and local journalists alike.
Not all elected officials are so willing to stand in front of the microphone. Branstad rarely shied away. As a reporter whose job for the past five-plus years has been to relay to my readers the goings-on at the Iowa Capitol, I can appreciate Branstad’s accessibility.
“Gov. Branstad has always enjoyed a great relationship with the press,” Branstad’s spokesman, Ben Hammes, said. “He has always tried to be accessible to the press, knowing that is sometimes the best way to ‘talk’ to Iowans around the state.”
I should note here the difference between being accessible and forthcoming.
Yes, if Branstad is out and about in almost any fashion, he nearly always can be snared by a reporter with a question.
No, his answers are not always as forthcoming as journalists would like. For instance, during any legislative session the Branstad answer, “I always withhold judgement on a bill until I see it in its final form,” gets imprinted on every Statehouse reporter’s tape.
But that’s not out of the ordinary for an elected official. And least Gov. Branstad has there, far more often times than not, to take the question.
A recent analysis by the University of Virginia Center for Politics gives a glimpse into the historical odds of Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds winning Iowa’s 2018 race for governor, should she choose to run.
Reynolds will soon become governor once Branstad is confirmed as U.S. ambassador to China and resigns his office. That would give Reynolds roughly a year and a half in the office before the November 2018 election.
Reynolds has not said she would run for election in 2018, but most expect her to.
Since 1946, almost two-thirds of successor incumbents who sought election went on to win the general election, according to the center’s report.
However, candidates who had not previously won a statewide election did not fare as well as candidates who had. For example, successor incumbents who previously served as secretary of state or agriculture won election 69 percent of the time. But successor incumbents who had not previously won a statewide election --- like Reynolds, who was a state legislator before becoming Branstad’s lieutenant --- won the governor’s race just 54 percent of the time.
You can read the full report online at the center’s website, centerforpolitics.org.