By Matthew Jack
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Wednesday accepted President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to China, vacating his role as the nation’s longest-serving governor and leaving Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to become the first female governor of Iowa.
“Gov. Branstad’s decades of experience in public service and longtime relationship with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders make him the ideal choice to serve as America’s ambassador to China,” Trump said in a statement.
Branstad has had a long-standing business and personal relationship with Xi since they first met in 1985, when Xi was an agricultural official sent to lead a Chinese delegation to study American agriculture.
Leaders of the Iowa Legislature released glowing statements regarding Branstad’s experience and unique relationship with Xi.
“[Branstad] is immensely qualified to strengthen the United States’ relationship with China and to promote economic prosperity and cultural understanding between the two nations,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann in a statement.
Branstad’s departure from the Iowa Statehouse raises interest in the direction of the Legislature. Reynolds is slated to be Branstad’s successor, serving the remainder of his term until January 2019. She would be eligible to run for re-election in 2018.
Iowa’s U.S. senators both had warm words for Branstad and expressed confidence in his abilities.
“Iowa has been, and will continue to be, in good hands under her leadership,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, in a statement, noting that she was “thrilled to congratulate [Reynolds], who will become the first woman to serve our state as governor.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley said Branstad’s long track record as Iowa’s leader has prepared him thoroughly for the role.
“As the longtime governor of Iowa, he understands the global nature of the state and national economies,” Grassley said. “Iowans have chosen him for his successful track record as the chief executive, his trustworthiness, and his reputation as a straight shooter. Those attributes would serve the United States very well if he’s confirmed for the position.”
Reynolds, a 57-year-old Truro native, began her career in public service as treasurer of Clarke County and afterwards as a board member for the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System from 1996 to 2001.
In 2008, she was elected to represent Iowa Senate District 48, where she was a member of five committees including Economic Growth and the economic-development appropriations subcommittee.
As senator, she voted for Republican-led legislation such as a concealed-carry firearm permits and a bill that would ban individual health-care mandates — a core component of the Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare.
Branstad nominated Reynolds for lieutenant governor in 2010, and she has led economic-development trade missions to various countries including China and South Korea intended to increase Iowa’s global exports — Branstad has underwent at least six trade missions to China as of this year.
“Watching her take such a role leading the state just as lieutenant governor … she is more than prepared to step into those shoes as governor,” Sen. Amy Sinclair, the sole female Republican in the state Senate, told the Associated Press.
In addition to Branstad’s governorship and Trump’s victory in the general election, Republicans have gained control of both chambers of the Iowa Legislature, granting them the most legislative control they have had in 20 years.
On her website, in a statement congratulating Branstad on his appointment, Reynolds said she has “been honored to be a full partner with Gov. Branstad in this administration, and [I] know that the experience I’ve gained over the last six years has prepared me well for this next chapter of service to all Iowans.”