In February, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett delivered a promised “big surprise” that was not a big announcement. On June 20, Corbett is promising to make a big announcement that will not be a big surprise.
And, unlike February, there will be no singing.
“I’ve given up on my singing career,” said Corbett, who belted out “Sweet Home Cedar Rapids” at his final State of the City speech. Surprise.
Corbett has not said, officially, he’s running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. But on June 20 he’s renting the NewBo City Market and plans to make a speech timed to catch the 6 p.m. news audience. That’s not something you arrange to let folks know you’re calling the whole thing off.
Surprise? Not so much.
“I think everyone can conclude that I will be announcing,” Corbett told me Wednesday. “I’ll be advocating for a new game plan for Iowa.”
After all, this has been Corbett’s game plan since August 2015, when he launched his Engage Iowa think tank. He’s been traveling the state giving speeches to Rotary clubs and other groups advocating income tax reforms, water quality improvements and other policy prescriptions.
In recent weeks, since releasing a biographical book, “Beyond Promises,” Corbett ramped up his travel schedule. On Monday and Tuesday, he logged 652 miles visiting 18 towns in central, north central and western Iowa. He’s hitting libraries, city halls, county courthouses, service groups and Republican county central committees.
“I don’t have a jet. It’s all miles on the car,” said Corbett, referencing news stories about Gov. Kim Reynolds’ use of a casino owners’ jet to tour the state.
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Reynolds is who Corbett likely will face in the June 2018 GOP primary. She’s a well-financed incumbent with ample early backing from the party’s establishment and donor class. Just last week 1,300 of those folks gathered in Des Moines to celebrate her history-making inauguration.
But outside of what he calls the “Des Moines bubble,” Corbett says Reynolds’ aura of inevitability fades. He contends Republicans he’s met around Iowa would rather have a choice on the ballot than an “appointment or anointment” process. The new governor’s clear early advantage also could be dented as Reynolds navigates worsening state budget problems, tackles issues spawned by Medicaid privatization and myriad other challenges.
Corbett says he’ll discuss his “new game plan” in more detail at his announcement. But he’s provided plenty of clues. Corbett has called for raising the sales tax to pay for flattening income tax rates and boosting water quality efforts. He says new dollars are needed to help public schools afford top teaching talent in the wake of dramatic collective bargaining changes.
In choosing NewBo as his venue, Corbett can point to a project sparked by the city’s successful 2008 flood recovery and protected by its swift flood response in 2016. His central role in the city’s recovery will be a core theme in his gubernatorial run.
It’s a run he fully acknowledges is uphill. But with a year between now and the primary, anything can happen. Including some big surprises.
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