By Erin Murphy, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES —— Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s 43rd governor and the first woman to hold the office, was inaugurated Friday to lead a state she described as “one big small town.”
Reynolds was elevated to serve as governor in 2017 when former Gov. Terry Branstad became ambassador to China. In doing so she became the state’s first female governor. In November, the Republican became the first woman elected Iowa governor.
She was sworn in Friday at a ceremony in a ballroom at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in downtown Des Moines. The oath of office was administered by Iowa Supreme Court Justice Susan Christensen, a Reynolds appointee and the court’s only woman — though not its first.
“In a small town, residents don’t wait for the government or far-flung strangers to take care of their ailing neighbors; they do it themselves,” said Reynolds, who was raised in St. Charles, population 621. “When a farmer gets sick, the community drops everything to harvest his crops. When a neighbor loses her job and is struggling to get back on her feet, the town sees her through it; food and clothing are provided, and Christmas presents find their way under the tree.
“In a small town, everyone works together and does life together, and because of that everyone takes care of each other. That’s Iowa. Whether it’s Des Moines or Sioux Center, Decorah or Davenport, Iowans exhibit those small-town values. They work hard, but not so much for themselves. They’re ambitious, but not at the expense of others.”
Reynolds said she saw that spirit in 2018 in the aftermath of tornadoes and floods, and in searches for missing loved ones.
“Iowans were flashing that small-town character and taking care of each other,” she said.
Adam Gregg was sworn in as her lieutenant governor during the ceremony.
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Gregg, who was raised in Hawarden, served as acting lieutenant governor for the past year-plus under Reynolds. But due to a lack of clarity in state law and the state constitution, Gregg was not in the official line of succession; had Reynolds left office, he would not have become governor.
With Reynolds’ and Gregg’s electoral victory in November and his swearing-in Friday, he officially becomes the lieutenant governor and next in line to the governor’s office.
Reynolds called for Iowans to put aside their differences — political or otherwise — and avoid divisive arguments, especially on social media.
“My ask of all Iowans as we go into the next four years is that we devote less time to online political arguments and more time to each other. That we don’t let a screen steal from our family and friends, from our communities and schools,” Reynolds said. “Because here’s the thing: If we look up and to each other, we’ll see that there are great things happening in this state. And if we put our energy into action instead of outrage, we’ll find that there are even greater days to come.”
Reynolds set that tone earlier this week in her Condition of the State address at the Iowa Capitol. There, she focused on issues like workforce growth, education, mental health care and second-chance programs, that have support from both political parties.
She also talked about workforce and education during her inaugural address. She noted Iowa’s low unemployment — December’s rate was the third straight at the historically low 2.4 percent — but also the challenge that business owners face in finding workers with the necessary skills.
She also gave an optimistic view of the future.
“As I travel the state, I am seeing a resurgence in many places. Our young people are coming home, new shops are opening and the schools are brimming with as much pride as they ever have,” Reynolds said. “In the months and years ahead, it’s my hope that we can ignite that kind of passion in even more communities. That we can connect every part of Iowa to high-speed internet, that we can connect every Iowan to a rewarding career and affordable health care, that we can connect Iowa, our products and services, to every part of the world.
“If we do that — if we bring prosperity to every corner — then Iowa will remain the best state in the nation.”