A Conversation at the Capitol with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad

Born, raised, and educated in Iowa, Terry Branstad began his political career by serving in Iowa’s House of Representatives between 1972 and 1976 and was elected lieutenant governor in 1978. He ran for governor in 1983 and served until 1999. During his term, he weathered an economic recession and brought Iowa’s unemployment rate to a record low of 2.5 percent. After his four terms, Branstad served as president of Des Moines University and decided to run for governor again in 2009. He was elected the following year. Now Governor Branstad is the longest serving governor in United States history and takes pride in visiting Iowa’s ninety-nine counties every year. The Gate spoke to Governor Branstad on Caucus Day at the Iowa State Capitol.

Gate: You are currently the longest serving governor in United States history but took a break to run Des Moines University from 2003 to 2009. Can you talk about being recruited to run for governor and what influenced your decision to seek office again?

Governor Terry Branstad: Michael Bousselot, my Chief of Staff, and Ted Stopulos, who is now the legislative liaison, were seniors at Drake Law School, and they were not happy with the way things were going in Iowa. So, they started moving on Facebook to draft me to run for governor again. They got 10,000 people to sign up. Now, at the time, I was the president of Des Moines University, a medical school, which pays a lot more than being governor and, you know, I loved the job I had, but I wasn’t happy with what I saw happening in the state. The state was going into debt, and the previous governor did a 10 percent across-the-board cut, so there was a lot of disruption. So, they started that in the summer, and then in October, after we had the scandal with the film office and the across-the-board cut, I finally reached the point where I said, “Okay,” and that’s when I decided to retire from Des Moines University and explore running for governor again.

So, those guys weren’t old enough to vote and Facebook didn’t exist when I was governor twelve years before. But, I’m proud to say that once I got elected, I called them and said, “Well you got me into this. I want you to help me.” Michael and Ted are now on the staff and are key players in this. It’s interesting how that happened.

There were some other people like Bruce Rastetter who put a group together up in Harden County and invited a lot of prominent leaders in the business community, and they too approached me about running again. I went through about a three-month period of thinking about this, first saying no, but then eventually coming around to saying, “You know, I’m a very competitive person. I’ve never lost an election. There were already like six or seven candidates in the race when I got in for the Republican nomination, and eventually two or three of them stayed in. I won the primary in June, and then I went on to defeat the incumbent governor Chet Culver by twelve points. We hadn’t had an incumbent governor lose in the state since 1962.

Gate: How does your political agenda interact with the presence of so many presidential candidates and the national attention that Iowa receives leading up to the caucus?

Governor Branstad: First of all, I understand that when you have presidential candidates here, that’s going to overshadow what we’re doing. I’ve been around long enough that I understand that, but I also understand that tomorrow they’re going to be gone, and I’m still going to be here. I think one of the things that people appreciate about me is that I go to every county, every year. I’m a very hard worker, I grew up on a farm and learned to work hard at a very early age. I think I’m a good listener, so I learn as I travel. If somebody has a problem with government, and they tell me about it, I get their name and phone number, and I’m calling the agency in question on the way to my next meeting. And I expect that the department head will call them immediately, and people are just shocked that when they have a problem with government, the governor is so responsive.

I did that when I was president of Des Moines University as well. The students complained that even though we were a wireless campus and every student got a computer, their computers would die because they were in class all day, and we didn’t have outlets  in three of the classrooms. We had built a new building that had outlets for every spot—so, they told me about this. I had lunch with students about once a month, so I said, “Okay, we’ll get batteries to get through this year, and then that summer, I had those classrooms all wired. The president listened to the students and responded. Now, they also wanted the library open all night. It’s open from 6 a.m. to midnight, and I said, “You’ve got to sleep at some point!” I didn’t give them everything they wanted, but on an important issue like wiring those classrooms, I did.

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