Gov. Kim Reynolds delivered a 43-minute Condition of the State Address to a joint convention of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday, the first ever by a woman in the state’s history. She laid out her agenda for the upcoming legislative session, and took the bully pulpit on the issue of sexual harassment.
Reynolds received an unusually long standing ovation….just for showing up.
“It's an honor to be here today as your 43rd governor and to deliver my first Condition of the State address,” Reynolds began.
Reynolds said she hopes her governorship will inspire women and girls to pursue their dreams. Then the speech moved quickly into praise for the condition of the state. It included a review of the accomplishments of Iowa’s Republican majority which mostly Republicans applauded, such as curbing collective bargaining, strengthening gun rights, approving voter ID, and restricting abortions.
“We will never stop fighting to protect the unborn,” Reynolds said to a limited standing ovation.
But the governor went on to outline plans to cut taxes, improve water quality, boost services for the mentally ill, and curb opioid abuse that received more bipartisan approval.
Reynolds will offer a bill this year to simplify and cut individual income taxes only.
“We have to focus on what we can afford,” Reynolds said. “While I want to reduce our uncompetitive corporate taxes, this is not the year.”
Reynolds got Democrats on their feet when she admitted mistakes were made when Iowa turned over its health care program for the poor and disabled to for-profit companies.
“We will make this right,” she said.
“I’m pleased that she went further than what we thought she would say today about Medicaid,” said House Minority Leader Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown). “I want to see the details of what would improve the system.”
The top Democrat in the Iowa Senate, Sen. Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines) gave the speech good marks overall.
“I thought she did a really nice job at being optimistic,” Petersen said, “but unfortunately she has a cloud over her head with the state's budget situation.”
Reynolds took on the issue of sexual harassment, saying it’s up to elected officials to set an example to end sexual harassment in the workplace.
“All of us in public office must ensure not only a safe workplace but serve as a model for the public and private sector,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds remarks follow last year’s $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement against Republicans in the Iowa Senate.
“I think she was very genuine in her concern about the environment here at the statehouse,” Petersen said.
But Petersen has ongoing concerns about the sexual harassment case in the Senate.
Former staffer Kirsten Anderson was fired after complaining of a toxic work environment.
“The only example people have seen in this chamber of someone coming forward the victim was fired and no one else suffered consequences,” Petersen said.
The governor’s tax plan will face some tough scrutiny from even her fellow Republicans.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said the budget may not allow it.
“We're not going to find ourselves in a position where we can't take care of the things Iowans expect us to,” Upmeyer said.
A coalition of groups, including organized labor, who oppose the governor’s agenda rallied at the capitol delivering what they called the People’s Condition of the State. And there was an unofficial Democratic response from the one state lawmaker who hopes to hold the state’s highest office himself, Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines), a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor.
While Reynolds touted what she called record spending on education since 2011, Boulton disagreed.
“You have to have a very narrow view of education funding to call what Iowa has done in the last ten years a success story,” Boulton said. “If you ask teachers they are struggling in their classrooms.”
Reynolds will also launch a new initiative led by acting Lt.Gov. Adam Gregg to explore improvements for rural Iowa.
Speaking on Iowa Public Radio’s Talk of Iowa, UNI political science professor Chris Larimer saw a little politicking there.
“That’s a little bit of play on electoral politics in terms of talking about the urban rural divide, trying to distance herself saying she’s not a Des Moines politician,” Larimer said.
Reynolds will follow up her speech, as governors have done before her, with a statewide blitz through the rest of the week.
She's dubbed it the Unleashing Opportunity Tour.