Iowa Governor Terry Branstad often speaks of his 30-year friendship with the President of China, Xi Jinping. It now appears that relationship is opening up a new opportunity for the longest serving governor in U.S. history.
President-Elect Donald Trump has tapped Branstad to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China, an honor that Branstad accepted this week.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Branstad in a statement. “I believe that the respect and admiration built over a decades-old friendship between President Xi and I give me an opportunity to help the President-elect and serve Iowa, the United States and the world for the better.
“The United States/Chinese bilateral relationship is at a critical point. Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever.”
Branstad’s appointment will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate after Trump takes the oath of office January 20.
“This new mission to continue serving my state, and my country, in a new role is essential to building a bright future for our children and grandchildren,” said Branstad. “With my wife Chris by my side, I look forward to the work ahead, but we will never have Iowa far from our hearts.
The appointment means Iowa could have its first female Governor: current Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. She has served alongside Branstad for six years.
“Gov. Branstad has been my mentor and friend, devoting his life to advocating for Iowa,” said Reynolds in a separate statement Wednesday afternoon. “I’m excited and proud to see him accept the responsibility as top envoy between the U.S. and China, and know that Iowans will be proud of his service on the world stage.”
Reynolds said her experience working with Branstad “has prepared [her] well for this next chapter of service to all Iowans.”
Neither Reynolds nor Branstad provided a timeline for a possible transition of power, which comes roughly one month before the first day of the 2017 legislative session on Jan. 9, 2017.
State Representative Jerry Kearns (D-Keokuk) said his only interactions with Lt. Gov. Reynolds have been during formal events at the state capitol or in his district. But he does not anticipate much of a change in philosophy from the governor's office when she takes over.
“She’s pretty much been in his (Branstad's) camp on most policy decisions that I know of,” said Kearns. “You might expect the Lt. Governor would be, so I’m not sure if it will make a whole lot of difference. Frankly, I hope in some cases it does because I think the Democratic minority is probably in for a rough couple years here [in Des Moines].”
Kearns added that this would give Reynolds a leg up in the 2018 race for governor thanks to the power of incumbency.
When it comes to Branstad’s appointment, Kearns said it’s an honor for someone from the state to be named to such an influential position.