DES MOINES — Soon, Iowa will have its first female governor.
With Gov. Terry Branstad set to resign to become the next U.S. ambassador to China, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will, at some point in 2017, be promoted. When that happens, Iowa will be crossed off the list of 23 states that have never had a female governor.
Reynolds, 57, has been Branstad’s lieutenant governor since he won another term in 2010.
In a statement, Reynolds said she has “been honored to be a full partner with Gov. Branstad in this administration ...”
She is vacationing this week with her family and is expected to be back in Des Moines on Thursday in time for that night’s rally downtown President-elect Donald Trump.
Republicans who know the governor’s administration say Branstad has been preparing Reynolds as his successor, including her in policy and personnel decisions and deploying her to head large initiatives, including the effort to generate more interest in science, technology, engineering and math careers and the state’s long-term energy plan.
“I would venture a guess that there’s not a lieutenant governor in America that’s more prepared to take the reins of running a governor’s office than she is,” said Robert Haus, who has worked in the administration her chief adviser.
Before serving as Branstad’s lieutenant, Reynolds served two years in the Iowa Senate representing seven southeast Iowa counties. She was elected to the Senate in 2008 but served only two years before resigning to be Branstad’s running mate in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
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In the Senate, she served on multiple committees — including on local government and economic development budgeting — and served on the board for the state’s fire and police retirement system.
Haus said that experience will help Reynolds, who will be taking over at a time when Republicans have full control of the Iowa Capitol — majorities in the House and Senate and a GOP governor — for the first time in 20 years.
“She understands the legislative process. She understands having worked with (legislators) for many years now in the governor’s office. She understands the committees, the players and all the interests that will be brought to bear,” he said.
Reynolds was Clarke County treasurer for eight years before that.
Fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said Reynolds’ work in local government has provided experience that will help her as governor.
“She did just a tremendous job listening to her constituents in the county, and then in her state senate district, and now as lieutenant governor as well,” Ernst said. “She listens very well to Iowans and their concerns, and that’s why she’ll succeed as governor.”
Reynolds encouraged Ernst to run for local office (Ernst served as Montgomery County Auditor), recruited Ernst to succeed her in the Iowa Senate and encouraged her to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Reynolds and her husband, Kevin, live in Osceola, roughly 50 miles south of Des Moines. She grew up about halfway between the two, in St. Charles, population 634.
The Reynoldses have three daughters and eight grandchildren.
“What you have is somebody who has come from a small town, very humble, great work ethic and has never forgotten her roots,” Haus said.
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Because Branstad cannot be formally nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to China until Trump is inaugurated and all appointments must then be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, it is likely Branstad will continue to serve as governor at least through January and February.
Once confirmed, Branstad will resign and the duties will fall on Reynolds, who would then select a lieutenant.
The exact format for that transition is being worked out between the offices of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, according to a secretary of state spokesman.
Reynolds and her lieutenant governor then would serve out what remains of the current term, which expires at the end of 2018. They then would need to run for election.