Branstad - Condition of the State

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad delivers his annual Condition of the State address in January as the 2017 legislative session began at the Statehouse in Des Moines.


DES MOINES — The longest-serving governor in the nation’s history, Terry Branstad has delivered to Iowans a Condition of the State address 22 times.

The speech is given each year in January during the first week of the legislative session. Delivered in the House chamber at the Iowa Capitol, lawmakers, state Supreme Court justices and other statewide elected officials attend, and it is broadcast live on public television.

Typically, it is the largest audience the governor attracts each year.

On Jan. 10, Branstad delivered what likely will be his final Condition of the State address. The governor has been selected by President Donald Trump to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to China, and his confirmation is expected to come this spring.

To mark the occasion, a news researcher analyzed the texts of each of the six Condition of the State addresses Branstad has made since returning to the governor’s office in 2011 — starting with his 2012 speech. Obviously, his messages vary, but the analysis shows some recurring topics and word choices. Here are the most common:

We (295 times)

Together (81 times)

Us (51 times)

When Branstad says “we” and “together,” he most often is referring to himself and lawmakers and the work ahead.

“Together we can make our schools safer,” he said in 2015, using both words in the same sentence.

Another example, from 2013: “It is the promise of a good people, who demand a good government and expect the men and women serving in that government to put aside their differences and come together to make good public policy.”

Iowa (368 times)

This one should come as no surprise. From touting its successes to laying out visions for its future, the state’s name is going to come up often when a governor is giving a speech on the condition of the state.

Branstad used “Iowa” more than any other word in the past six speeches, and it’s probably safe to assume that would hold true for all 22 of his addresses, not to mention those of other Iowa governors.

An example from 2017: “I am confident Iowa will continue to move forward because Iowans care deeply about their neighbors, their communities and creating an even better future.”

Students (72 times)

Schools (91 times)

Education (78 times)

Branstad has a complicated relationship with education — public education in particular. The state continues to devote a healthy portion of its budget — more than half — to public education, but advocates say funding has been inadequate since Branstad’s return to office in 2011.

Branstad also led an effort to enact significant K-12 education reforms in 2013, which he spoke about in the next year’s Condition of the State.

An example from 2014: “We have begun to reform Iowa’s education system, and we can expect Iowa schools to pull away from the middle of the pack and reclaim pre-eminence in student achievement as measured against the rest of the United States.”

I (160 times)

It would be hard to be a state’s chief executive, speak for a half-hour about one’s plans to meet the state’s challenges and not refer to oneself fairly regularly. Still, his use of the first-person singular didn’t rise above 30 times each in five earlier speeches. It peaked at 36 this year, likely his last.

An example from 2012: “This year I will submit to the General Assembly a revised plan to reduce commercial and industrial property taxes by 40 percent over the next eight years.”

Jobs (81 times)

Economy (64 times)

Branstad has placed a primary focus on the state’s workforce, pledging when he returned to office in 2011 to create more than 200,000 jobs. In fact, his use of the two words was highest in his 2012 speech. It is natural that he would regularly refer to jobs and the economy in his speeches, but both have ticked downward a bit over the years. He used the word “jobs” 27 times in 2012, but only five times in 2017.

An example from 2015: “The proposals outlined today will impact every Iowan. They will help to create jobs, protect students and families and open up our government.”

Opportunity (73 times)

When Branstad talks about opportunity, often it is to lay out a piece of his agenda as he did during his first Condition of the State address since returning to the governor’s office.

An example from 2012: “Now, with our fiscal house much improved, and our fiscal year 2013 budget already substantially completed, we have a tremendous opportunity to focus the next few months on two other critical priorities: first, creating new jobs and careers for Iowans to significantly raise family incomes, and second, adopting common sense solutions for our schools to give our children a world class education.”

New (68 times)

Branstad often describes his proposals as “new.” He also regularly refers to “new jobs” when discussing a need to increase employment.

An example from 2016: “Together we can forge a new path that will lead us to stable and predictable funding for school infrastructure and historic long-term protection for water quality.”

Today (62 times)

Branstad uses “today” most commonly in two ways: To tell Iowans about what he thinks are good things happening in the state and to make pledges for the future.

An example of the latter from 2014: “Today, I am calling on members of the Iowa Legislature to join me in working to reduce costs to make college affordable and reduce the amount of debt incurred by Iowa students and their families.

Future (43 times)

The annual addresses are all about looking forward, having a plan for what’s next.

An example from 2017: “And while I am pleased with this progress and optimistic about Iowa’s future, I believe there is more work to be done.”

(Chris Essig of The Gazette contributed to this report.)