Branstad formally enters race for Iowa governor
DES MOINES – Former Gov. Terry Branstad officially entered the race for governor Tuesday, announcing his bid for the Republican nomination after months of toying with the idea of a return to politics.
In making his bid formal, Branstad vowed to cut state spending by 15 percent while at the same time putting a new focus on schools. He said his first chore as governor would be to repair the state’s tattered budget.
”We start by getting Iowa’s fiscal house back in order,” Branstad told a few hundred supporters at a campaign kickoff event. ”When I left office, Iowa had a $900 million surplus. Today we face a projected $1 billion deficit.”
Branstad, who has spent months raising money, opened a 17-city campaign tour with his announcement Tuesday. His first chore will be a Republican primary, where he faces three challengers for the right to oppose Democratic Gov. Chet Culver.
Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats has already announced his campaign for the GOP nomination, and state Reps. Christopher Rants and Rod Roberts also say they’ll run.
While Culver has not formally announced his intentions, he’s been raising money and has left no doubt he wants a second term. When Branstad disclosed last week that he had $1.3 million in the bank, Culver quickly announced he had $2.6 million – setting up what is sure to be the state’s most expensive gubernatorial race.
Even before Branstad made his announcement, Democrats had launched a concerted attack on his 16 years as governor, a tenure that saw two increases in the state’s sales tax and an increase in the gasoline tax.
”I agree with Terry Branstad on one thing: He made mistakes as governor,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan said. ”Iowans cannot afford for him to make more, and we’ve learned some things over the last 12 years: We are better off without him and his mistakes.”
Kiernan was shadowing Branstad on many stops of his tour across Iowa.
”It’s very tough to see how Iowans are going to embrace a governor who ran up a deficit over one who has balanced budgets without raising taxes,” Kiernan said.
Branstad won the state’s top political office in 1982, serving four terms in office before leaving in 1998. In seeking a return, Branstad, 63, said he has the experience to solve tough financial problems.
”Balancing the state budget and restoring fiscal discipline is our highest priority,” Branstad said. ”When we get that done, the rest of our dreams and goals are possible.”
The former governor pledged to create 200,000 new jobs, and set a goal of increasing family income by 25 percent. To lay the groundwork for that, he vowed to cut deeply into state spending.
”The cost of government must be reduced by 15 percent,” said Branstad. ”Government spending has skyrocketed, yet our population has remained the same.”
At the same time, Branstad vowed a new commitment to Iowa schools.
”Test scores are slipping at the very time our children need to be at their best,” Branstad said. ”Mediocrity is not acceptable. Education excellence is my passion, it’s time for our schools to come back.”
The first challenge Branstad faces is with social and religious conservative in his own party. The Iowa Family Policy Center, a leading social conservative group, held a rally last week backing efforts to overturn a Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and to endorse Vander Plaats in the GOP primary.
Leaders of that group said Branstad has not been vocal enough on key social issues like gay marriage, and said they wouldn’t support him if he wins the GOP nomination.
In his announcement, Branstad focused solely on the budget and economy, arguing that jobs and balanced budgets are what moves voters.
”We must lead a historic comeback in the Iowa economy to benefit all Iowa family incomes across the state.” Branstad said. ”It’s time for family incomes to come back.”
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