CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett formally declared Tuesday his Republican candidacy for governor, saying he is poised to shake up the 2018 race with a “new game plan” for Iowa.
A former Speaker of the Iowa House and two-term city mayor, Corbett, 56, introduced a “core four” platform of issues, saying Iowa has receded in K-12 education, has an unfair, uncompetitive and complicated income tax system, has failed for years to address water quality issues and needs more compassion for the well-being of Iowans.
“It’s time to elect new leaders with new ideas that have a new game plan for the state of Iowa,” he said. “If we keep electing the same people to look at the same problems, they will keep coming up with the same solutions.”
Corbett would face Gov. Kim Reynolds, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s handpicked successor, in a Republican primary in June. The winner would face a Democrat in the November 2018 election.
Reynolds has hired a campaign staff and said she plans to run with Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, a former state public defender.
Tuesday, with the NewBo City Market as a backdrop, Corbett quickly set about criticizing a “lack of leadership” in Des Moines and slow progress on key fronts.
The state has been too slow, he said, to work on a plan for 72,000 people facing a loss of health insurance at the end of the year; has shifted mental health pressures through funding cuts to local hospitals, jails and shelters; and acted against the public interest in turning over management of Medicaid to private, for-profit, organizations.
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“I don’t think the current system is working,” he said. “It is not showing concern for people.”
Corbett said the state needs to better support public schools, and proposed performance-based pay for teachers.
“I believe in school choice, and I think having home schools, having private schools, having open-enrollment, and we probably need maybe a few charter schools, but the vast majority of our kids, our grandkids, go to the public schools,” Corbett said. “We have to make sure we are champions of public education, not undermining public education.”
Corbett pitched himself as an open-minded conservative.
“I’m not a renegade Republican,” he said. “I’m not a rubber stamp Republican, either. I’m a conservative Republican with an independent streak. I can think for myself, but I also appreciate advice and counsel from people. ... I am not going to be a raw red meat candidate.”
Brian Anderson, 51, of Cedar Rapids, who was among 200 people on hand for the rally, said he believes Corbett can replicate statewide the leadership he showed after the 2008 flood.
“We faced the darkest part of the city’s history, and he got us through it,” Anderson said.
Greg Januska, 64, of Cedar Rapids, said he came for the free food and criticized Corbett for continuing to push for a local casino. He said he likely would not vote for Corbett, but said he was glad to see him give Reynolds competition.
Corbett was elected seven times to the Iowa House, rising from a 26-year-old representative to Speaker of the House at age 32. He returned to Cedar Rapids to help raise his young family in 1999. He was hired as president of the former Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, where he led an initiative to change the city’s form of government, and later held a senior position at the CRST trucking firm.
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Corbett ran for mayor after the 2008 flood, winning in 2009 and being re-elected in 2013 promising to end a “culture of delay” at City Hall. He helped revitalize the city after major flood events in 2008 and 2016 with what he called an “open for business” mind-set.
Corbett has supported policies in the non-partisan mayoral position unpopular with Republicans, including using automated speed cameras on Interstate 380, providing tax incentives to lure private development, championing a local-option sales tax and supporting a pro-union initiative called project labor agreements.
Corbett has been traveling the state since 2015 with his “conservative think tank” Engage Iowa and more recently on a book tour for “Beyond Promises” to discuss his vision for the state.
Corbett now plans to leave on a three-day “barnstorming” tour.
Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa chairman, said he and the party don’t take sides in primaries, and welcomed Corbett’s entry.
“I don’t think primaries are bad for a party at all,” Kaufmann said. “It will be an uphill climb to challenge an incumbent governor, but the Republican Party is not afraid to have conversations about issues and discuss what we believe.”
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