When Iowa governor-elect Terry Branstad succeeds Gov. Chet Culver in January, Iowa will jump straight from its 40th governor to No. 42 – and in a way, back to No. 39.
Or is it 38?
Confused? You’re not alone.
At issue is how to count governors who served non-consecutive terms. Samuel Kirkwood has been the only Iowa governor to do so, in the 1800s, but he’ll soon be joined by Branstad, who was the state’s chief executive from 1983 to 1999.
Forty individuals have served as the state’s governor. Branstad was the 38th and Culver the 40th.
Culver considers himself the 40th governor, counting Kirkwood once.
That’s not how the federal government does it, though. Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as U.S. president and is counted twice.
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the governor-elect will do the same and say he was Iowa’s 39th and will be its 42nd governor. That means Iowa goes from Culver saying he is No. 40 to Branstad at 42.
“I guess it’s just all in how you count it,” Albrecht said. “But given that Terry Branstad said he was the 39th governor and was widely regarded as the 39th governor, then for consistency’s sake, we’ve got to keep it the same.”
The matter is open to interpretation because the state apparently does not have an official count.
The Iowa Official Register, which serves as the historical record for the state, lists the governors but does not number them. Officials at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Legislative Services Agency and State Library of Iowa could not offer any clarification on what number Branstad should be.
“It’s just a little quirk in how the numbers line up,” said Jeff Morgan, a spokesman for the State Historical Society.
Culver may have just been following the lead of his predecessor, Tom Vilsack. Four years ago, as he was leaving office, Vilsack’s state website listed him as the 39th governor.
After Vilsack gave his last Condition of the State address in January 2007, the Legislature passed a resolution honoring him for his time in office that called him the state’s 39th governor.
A similar resolution was approved for Branstad in 1999, but it did not assign a number to his governorship.
Gazette archives from Branstad’s first stretch as governor refer to him as the state’s 39th governor. So do many current online resources.
There is no uniform policy among states. For example, Alabama has had four governors serve non-consecutive terms but only counts each person once. Minnesota, however, has had one governor serve with a break in between terms, and the state counts him twice.
In Iowa, the State Historical Society’s Morgan said, “I can tell you 40 individuals have held the office.”That much, at least, is clear.