Iowa’s once, and possibly future, governor was in Fort Dodge for most of the day Nov. 30. Terry Branstad has begun his still unofficial campaign for governor by traveling the Hawkeye State to listen carefully to the concerns of community leaders and members of the public.
Branstad’s 16 years as Iowa’s chief executive makes him unusually well-informed about the issues that confront this state. It would be easy for someone so well-schooled in Iowa government and politics to conclude he had little new to learn. One of the former governor’s most attractive qualities, however, is a total lack of the arrogance that all too often makes longtime politicians unwilling to seek out new information and ideas.
“I don’t claim to have all the answers,” Branstad told The Messenger. “I find that there’s a lot of knowledge, there’s a lot of insight out there among people in the communities around the state of Iowa.”
That open, humble approach to beginning this quest to return to the governor’s office is an appropriate stance for this stage of the campaign. Before honing his message, Branstad wants to ensure that after a decade out of the governmental center ring he understands today’s political landscape.
What became very clear during Branstad’s day in Fort Dodge, however, is that the former governor’s grasp of how Iowa should be governed in the 21st century is already exceptional. That’s particularly true of his budgetary philosophy.
The economic mismanagement of state government by Gov. Chet Culver and the Democrats in the state Legislature has led to a huge budget deficit. Branstad said Culver and the Democrats should have seen the shortfall coming and handled budget decisions much differently than they did.
“(Culver) was about the last one to have discovered (the shortfall),” Branstad said. “David Vaudt, the state auditor, has been warning about this for three years. The Legislative Service Bureau, which is a nonpartisan group that works for the Legislature, they’ve been saying the same thing. Even the agriculture economic people at the University of Iowa and Iowa State have been saying it. And Republicans in the Legislature have been saying it. … You had eight straight months of revenue below the previous year. When I was governor, we watched revenue every month. And if it’s down below the previous year, that’s an indication you’ve got troubles coming. … And that’s why I don’t understand why they not only spent at the level they did, but … insisted in going out and borrowing that money too.”
Iowa must return to a pay-as-you-go approach to budgeting. Government spending should be carefully aligned with anticipated revenues. As governor, Branstad rigorously adhered to that philosophy. He pledged it will once again become central to state budgeting if he is elected. Sadly, however, Branstad said the economic chaos presently afflicting state government could make restoring budget sanity a slow process that could take four or more years.
That sober diagnosis, unfortunately, is exactly correct. Fortunately, Branstad has already begun to formulate a game plan for rectifying the situation.
“We’re going to do a kind of a comprehensive review of all of the state and local spending and the delivery system,” he said. “I know what we did back in ’91 – ’92 and I put together a group – and it was a bipartisan group – and we said ‘I want to review everything’ – and it was primarily focused on state government.”
What Terry Branstad offers is a tested combination of professional competence and an unflinching willingness to make hard choices – to lead. If he returns to the gubernatorial helm, Iowans will have the good fortune to be led once more by one of America’s finest chief executives.
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