DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Kim Reynolds was sworn in as Iowa’s governor on Wednesday, becoming the state’s first woman to hold the job after taking over for longtime Gov. Terry Branstad the same day he was sworn in as the U.S. ambassador to China.
Reynolds, a 57-year-old former county treasurer, took the oath of office in a ceremony at the Iowa Capitol. Reynolds was Branstad’s lieutenant governor, and she took over after the fellow Republican was sworn in to the diplomatic post. Branstad was the nation’s longest-serving governor, being in the top job for more than 22 years.
“As your governor, I won’t stop working until every Iowan, no matter where they live, has the same opportunity to succeed, have a satisfying career, raise their family and have a great quality of life,” Reynolds told the crowd of hundreds. “It won’t be easy, but I know I won’t be doing it alone.”
It remains to be seen how Reynolds will differentiate herself from Branstad, who signed a range of conservative-leaning legislation this year that shifted the state sharply to the right, thanks to a trifecta of Republican control in the Statehouse not seen in nearly 20 years. The legislation included eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public workers, prohibiting local governments from individually raising the minimum hourly wage and requiring voter identification at the polls.
Reynolds hasn’t said much publicly about her future priorities as governor, though she provided a glimpse during a speech following her swearing in. She emphasized tax cuts aimed at spurring economic growth, though she faces budget constraints that could complicate that effort, along with plans to encourage innovation in energy production through wind power and renewable fuels. She also stressed expanding workforce training for adults and providing more science, technology, engineering and math education in public schools.
Reynolds got her start in politics as treasurer for Clarke County, a largely rural county in southern Iowa with a population of less than 10,000. After 14 years in the post, she was elected to the Iowa Senate and was serving in her second year as a senator when Branstad asked her to be his running mate. They were elected in 2010, and re-elected in 2014.
She largely remained in Branstad’s shadow while he was governor, and she’s taking over the high-profile job at a critical time for Iowa.
“It’s not like Branstad is handing her a bouquet of roses,” said Des Moines lawyer Doug Gross, a former adviser to Branstad and one-time nominee for governor.
Stagnant revenue growth forced lawmakers to make midyear spending cuts and pass an annual budget that included reductions to several state agencies, including the state’s three public universities. Also, residents’ views of the state have soured amid a slowing agricultural economy. Surveys this year show more people view the state as heading in the wrong direction than the right one.
“I’m going to travel the state and I’m going to go into communities and I’m going to talk to Iowans and I’m going to listen,” Reynolds said in a Capitol interview with The Associated Press ahead of her swearing in. “What are we missing? What are we doing right?”
Reynolds, a married mother and grandmother, will serve as governor through January 2019, when Branstad’s sixth non-consecutive term would have ended. She is widely expected to launch her own gubernatorial run in 2018, which could stretch her time in office by four years or more. As Branstad’s longevity in office showed, Iowa has no term limits.
Democrats, in the minority following the November election, were critical of Branstad and Republicans during the session, accusing them of not working in a bipartisan fashion. Senate Democratic Leader Rob Hogg said he is eager to see whether Reynolds does things differently.
“Here’s the question: Will she do what Gov. Branstad did and just work with Republican legislative leaders or will she say as governor, ‘No, you have to include Democrats in this decision-making process,'” he said. “We have a lot of ideas, and we’d love to work with her on that. It’s up to her now.”
Associated Press reporter Linley Sanders contributed to this report.
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