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In the Republican response, Reynolds blames Biden for inflation and division

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks in Des Moines before signing a bill to institute a flat income tax in Iowa. Reynolds signed the bill into law as she also prepared to give the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address.
Madeline King
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IPR
Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks in Des Moines before signing a bill to institute a flat income tax in Iowa. Reynolds signed the bill into law as she also prepared to give the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds took to the national political stage last night to give the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

Reynolds raised Iowa as a conservative alternative to Democrats in Congress and the Biden White House, whom she blamed for a divisive pandemic response and the highest inflation rate in decades.

“It feels like President Biden and his party have sent us back in time — to the late 70s and early 80s — when runaway inflation was hammering families, a violent crime wave was crashing on our cities, and the Soviet army was trying to redraw the world map,” Reynolds said.

President Biden told the gathered members of Congress that the U.S. has reached a new moment in the coronavirus pandemic. He said it is time to end the shutdown of schools and to make masks optional following new guidelines from the CDC.

Reynolds said Democrats were finally reaching the conclusion that she reached long ago, before she signed a law forcing all schools to reopen in February 2021, if they hadn't already. Reynolds added that Republicans are leading a “pro-parent, pro-family revolution,” which she gave the slogan “Parents Matter.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds gives her Republican response to the State of the Union address with the illuminated Iowa Capitol Building in the background.
Courtesy the Office of the Governor
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Gov. Kim Reynolds gives her Republican response to the State of the Union address with the illuminated Iowa Capitol Building in the background.

“Republican governors faced the same COVID-19 virus head on, but we honored your freedoms and saw right away that lockdowns and school closures, they came with their own significant cost. That mandates weren’t the answer,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she listened to the science when she made decisions to require full-time in-person learning and to block school mask mandates, but at the time many schools said they could not comply with the state rules while also following the advice of the CDC and most public health experts.

Republican leaders in Iowa have followed up on the controversies around masks and reopening schools to rally conservative parents around a larger set of issues in public schools.

A law passed last year in Iowa put limits on how school teachers talk about racism and sexism. Proposals this year would ban transgender girls from playing girls’ sports and punish schools that give students access to books some parents consider obscene.

Earlier in the day, before the State of the Union, Reynolds signed a tax bill that would phase in a 3.9 percent flat income tax. Along with other provisions, the plan would reduce tax collections in Iowa by around $1.8 billion by 2028. Republicans are celebrating it as the largest tax cut in state history.

Reynolds used the tax cut to draw a contrast with Democratic spending priorities, which she blamed for charging up inflation.

“(Democrats) were warned that spending trillions would lead to soaring inflation,” Reynolds said. “They were told their anti-energy policies would send gas prices to new heights. But they plowed ahead anyway, raising the price at the pump by 50 percent and pushing inflation to a 40-year high.”

Reynolds has criticized the amount of federal money put toward pandemic relief programs, but she has also incorporated money from COVID-relief into state programs. For instance, she used it to expand her broadband initiative in Iowa beyond what was funded by the legislature and initially allocated money toward a new human resources software system before the federal government said it was not an allowable expense. Reynolds has also pledged to use a portion of federal funding to give Iowa teachers $1,000 bonuses.

Iowa Democrats said it is hypocritical for Reynolds to promote her tax cut and criticize federal spending, while also taking credit when she spends that same money at the state level.

At a press conference before Reynolds’ speech, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear said Reynolds should be paying attention to challenges closer to home, rather than focusing on a national platform. DeJear said Iowa needs a leader to prioritize state issues first.

“While Kim Reynolds is going to be focused on her national platform [for her response], Iowans are still going to be faced with a great deal of challenges,” she said. “Our current governor is focused on a national, political agenda that we all know by now does no good for Iowa, and does no good for the rest of this country.”

DeJear added Reynolds should pay more attention to addressing the state’s lack of mental health resources, childcare access and workforce issues. She cited Iowa’s history of being highly ranked in education as well as leading the nation for desegregating schools, but said Iowa has fallen in the ranks.

“That is not where Iowa belongs. We all know that because we’ve done better before. We now need new leadership that’s willing to move this state forward,” DeJear said.

Reynolds has not yet announced a re-election campaign, but postcards sent to supporters announced an event next week that could be a campaign announcement.

If it is, Reynolds would be officially entering the race at a time when she has shown strong support in the state — a November Des Moines Register Iowa Poll put her approval rate over 50 percent — and soon after showing off her conservative credentials on a national political stage.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa
Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines