Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in many respects reflects the values of her political mentor and predecessor, Terry Branstad.
From the time Branstad selected Reynolds as his running mate in 2010 until his resignation to become U.S. ambassador to China, he was committed to preparing her to one day succeed him. That occurred in May 2017.
Yet, Reynolds is not a Branstad clone. One emerging difference involves government transparency and public accountability.
For decades, going back at least to the administration of Robert Ray (1969-1983), the governor met with statehouse reporters every week.
The arrangement was good for the journalists, for the governor and especially for the public they mutually served.
Weekly sessions meant less chasing for reporters, trying to get a quote here or an answer there. They gave the governor an opportunity to explain positions and present talking points in a calm, professional setting. Reporters didn’t feel forced to shout out questions in capitol corridors or at public events; in many cases they knew they could hold their questions until the next weekly session.
The only down side for the politician is that it’s harder to duck tough questions.
Unfortunately, Reynolds last month stopped hosting the weekly press briefings, citing her busy schedule. Really? Somehow, she is finding time for events related to her gubernatorial campaign.
Branstad managed to run for re-election — numerous times — while keeping up with his official duties. It isn’t too much to expect Reynolds to do the same.
Another move toward greater transparency under Branstad has taken a step backward under Reynolds. In 2017, the Legislature agreed with Branstad that citizens had a right to know the reason when a public employee was terminated or resigned to avoid termination. Yet twice in recent months, that hasn’t happened.
Mark Bowden was suspended from his job as executive director of the Iowa Board of Medicine in June, then was reinstated — only to abruptly retire just as the board was poised to reconsider his reinstatement. Bowden, a former newspaper editor in Cedar Rapids, referred to “substantial deficiencies in service and a lack of adequate support” — accusations the public has an interest in knowing about. But the Reynolds administration has been tight-lipped.
When Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison was fired in March amid charges of sexual harassment, the governor’s office likewise refused to release information.
The Legislature put that rule in place — at the urging of Branstad — to shed light on issues of public concern. We’ve had no trouble securing documentation about departures of lower-level local officials, why not for high-level state positions?
Another sign that Reynolds is clouding the transparency picture: This month she held a roundtable discussion with southeast Iowa farmers. It was an official event, listed on her public schedule, but she barred journalists from being present to report what was said.
How are citizens to assess an official’s positions and performance if official events are conducted in secret? How can they know if words are consistent with deeds?
Reynolds should reassess her direction on this issue. She’s heading down the wrong path.