Reynolds' money suggests more of the same, unless she breaks the mold

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We all know Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will take over duties as Iowa’s governor when Gov. Terry Branstad leaves for China later this spring. I have May 4 in the pool. Star Wars Day. Ask a geek.

What we don’t all know for certain is what sort of governor she’ll be.

Even in the midst of a very loud legislative session, with big debates and big issues crashing around like elephants in a wind chime outlet, it seems like Reynolds has been sort of quiet. That’s why it was actual news earlier this month when she uttered a few generalities about prospects for tax reform to a suburban Des Moines conservatives group.

We basically need “bang for the buck,” as soon as we “run the numbers,” she said. Experts are on the case, but the budget’s tight.

“It continues to be a priority,” said Reynolds, who continues to wait in the wings as Branstad signs bills curtailing public sector union rights, dumping local minimum wage increases and other hot potatoes his lieutenant won’t have to personally handle.

Last Sunday, I wrote that Branstad campaign contribution reports speak volumes about the current governor’s values and priorities. Reynolds’ money reports do the same.

If you’re looking for some new hope after viewing “The Branstad Empire Strikes Back” over the past six years, you may be out of luck. Coming soon, “Return of the ‘Stache-Backers.”

Reynolds’ 2016 donor report, filed in January, is a Branstad’s greatest gifts album. She raised $645,160 last year without appearing on a ballot, and finished 2016 with nearly $1.2 million in the bank.

There’s a $25,000 contribution from Eldon Roth of Dakota Dunes, S.D., the owner of Iowa Beef Products, who along with his wife, Regina, gave Branstad $267,000 since 2009. Ankeny developer Denny Elwell, another top Branstad donor, chipped in $20,000. Adventureland amusement park CEO Michael Krantz, who provided $17,711 worth of food, drinks and room rental for Branstad’s 2016 birthday bash, donated $20,000 to Reynold’s committee in September.

Reynolds received backing from several political action committees that supported Branstad, including Iowa Health PAC, the governor’s top Iowa PAC contributor, the Associated General Contractors, Iowa Industry PAC, Iowa Realtors, Archer Daniels Midland and other groups.

In December, after President Donald Trump picked Branstad as his ambassador to China, the five-figure checks rolled in to Reynolds’ committee from Branstad backers, including $25,000 from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, $10,000 from Wild Rose casinos owner Gerald Kirke and $15,000 from Douglas and Donna McAninch, adding to the $10,000 they gave to Reynolds in July. Douglas McAninch leads McAninch Corporation, a large earthmoving contractor. Kyle and Sharon Krause donated $15,000. Kyle Krause is CEO of Kum & Go.

Reynolds also got $15,000 from Nixon Lauridsen, a Des Moines businessman who founded the Lauridsen Group. He drew a few headlines and a fleet of YouTube views when his $10 million yacht rolled over on launch in 2014 in waters north of Seattle. Lauridsen later filed a lawsuit.

Between Dec. 7 and Dec. 31, Reynolds raised nearly $240,000. Happy holidays.

So Reynolds hasn’t outlined much in the way of her personal policy positions, but it’s a pretty good bet these donors are expecting Branstadian governance to continue. And that’s probably a pretty safe bet, especially when it comes to Branstad’s tireless efforts to please big business and corporate agriculture, regardless of the cost. Folks who can afford $10 million yachts will still have a good friend at Terrace Hill.

“It will be a seamless transition,” Reynolds told our editorial board back in January.

But will Reynolds’ political affection for movers, shakers and kingmakers be coupled with Branstad’s famous disdain for constituencies he found much less important? Poor, sick, vulnerable etc. Folks sinking without a yacht.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, Reynolds likely will push ahead full speed with Branstad’s recklessly executed, callous and costly Medicaid privatization. Or maybe she could look at the mounting mess and make a responsible course correction. It will be her call.

Reynolds could push for something long-term, sizable and meaningful on water quality, perhaps even come around to champion filling a trust fund created in 2010 by the same voters who put her on a path to the state’s highest office.

Maybe the path to tax reform under a Reynolds administration could be more than a series of backroom meetings between business lobbyists bearing bill language and their Republican allies. There are any number of issues where Reynolds could chart a different, more consensus-driven path from Branstad’s unilateral lockstep approach.

The money strongly suggests more of the same. But charting a different course may become politically necessary. By 2018, voters might be weary and wary of the equivalent of a seventh Branstad term. Reynolds may have to break the mold to keep the job.

We’ll see how it all unfolds, after Branstad departs. And May the 4th be with you, always.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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