The national spotlight is on Iowa as candidates for the Republican presidential nomination flock to the Hawkeye State to court voters. In January, Iowa Republicans will hold the first-in-the nation presidential caucus, but the national attention is a result of more than just the campaign. Both presidential candidates and the media are focusing on Governor Kim Reynolds and her success of advancing conservative pro-growth economic and social policies, which have made Iowa the gold standard for state-based public policy.
Iowa was once a swing or “purple” state. In 2008 and in 2012 Iowans voted for President Barack Obama, and in 2016 and 2020 voters supported President Donald Trump. Today, Iowa is not just a strong “red” Republican state, but it is solidly conservative. Iowa Democrats are in full retreat and trying to understand why Iowa voters continue to reject their message and policies. One reason for Iowans rejecting the Democrat Party is their embrace of a radical liberal and cultural Marxist policy agenda. Also, President Donald Trump’s America First policy agenda is appealing to many Iowans, especially blue-collar voters, who feel that for too long that elites in both political parties have ignored their interests. This “silent majority” is no longer silent. Nevertheless, Iowa’s shift in a more conservative direction is the result of the policy agenda and leadership of Governor Reynolds.
Governor Reynolds since assuming office has not only proposed bold conservative policy reforms and ideas, but she has actually delivered on her promises to Iowans. The Governor has demonstrated not only extraordinary leadership, but even challenging members of her own Republican Party. The Governor is placing Iowa families and their interests first before both political party and politics. As an example, prior to the legislative session the Governor actively got involved in several state legislative primaries and she endorsed candidates who pledged support for advancing parental choice in education. Previously, several Republican legislators had obstructed the advancement of legislation that would have created an Education Savings Account (ESA) program. As a result, many of those Republicans lost their primaries and this led to the legislature passing a universal ESA measure early in the legislative session. Parental choice in Iowa became a reality only as a result of the leadership of Governor Reynolds. A record number of families across Iowa have applied for the ESA program demonstrating not only the demand for greater parental choice, but the popularity of the Students First Act.
The Students First Act, which created the universal ESA, is one of the most expansive school choice policies in the nation. However, even before this passed the Governor has been on the frontlines fighting for greater parental choice in education. During the COVID-19 pandemic she ensured that schools remained open and in previous years the legislature passed measures that reduced barriers to open enrollment and expanded charter schools.
Further, the Governor has stood with parents with their growing concern over the increasingly inappropriate and often radical curriculums and other content that is infiltrating schools. This session the legislature passed laws that prohibited sexually explicit books in school libraires, required parental notification for the use of pronouns, and banned gender identification and identity “education” in the classroom. The Governor also signed a bill prohibiting sex change operations and other such medical procedures for minors. Finally, the Governor is also defending life and has championed legislation to protect the unborn.
Governor Reynolds is also demonstrating that it is possible to champion limited government fiscal policies. Since 2018, the Governor has made pro-growth tax reform a priority. Previously, Iowa was plagued by some of the highest income tax rates in the nation. Governor Reynolds and the legislature have passed a series of income tax reform measures that led up to the historic 2022 reform measure that replaces the nine-bracket progressive income tax with a flat 3.9 percent rate by 2026. Iowa’s 2022 tax reform measure is the most extensive state-based tax reform that has been passed in the nation. Further, the Governor has signaled that she is not going to be complacent and it is certain that in 2024 she will fight for a even lower flat income tax rate and even placing the income tax on a path toward elimination.
Even more important than pro-growth tax reform, Governor Reynolds and the legislature have controlled spending. Conservative budgeting is a pillar for the Governor, and this is a major reason Iowa has been able to lower tax rates. It is in this spirit that the Governor reflects President Calvin Coolidge who regarded “a good budget as among the most noblest monuments of virtue.” In its Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors 2022, the Cato Institute ranked Governor Reynolds as the best governor in the United States for her record on spending.
As a result of conservative budgeting, Iowa’s fiscal house is on a stable foundation. Even with tax rate reductions and the uncertain national economy as a result of poor federal economic policies, Iowa’s revenue continues to be strong. In addition, Iowa’s reserve funds are full and for the last several years Iowa’s budget has been and continues to be in surplus. In fact, as a result of these policies, Iowa was one of the states to emerge the strongest from the pandemic.
This session the Governor not only made sure that spending was limited, but she actually worked to limit government. Governor Reynolds spearheaded the first major state government reorganization in almost 40 years. Her proposal, which is now law, reduces the number of executive-level agencies from 37 to 16. It also makes other reforms that streamline and make state government more efficient. The Governor is actually reducing the size and scope of the bureaucracy and making government more responsive to the taxpayer. The Governor also issued an executive order that requires an extensive review of regulations in order to repeal burdensome rules that only serve as an albatross on individuals and businesses.
While Governor Reynolds is getting the attention from presidential candidates and the media for Iowa’s policy success, she is the first to admit that all this achievement is a result of a team effort. The Governor credits the Iowa legislature with helping her advance conservative public policies. The Governor works closely with legislative leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, who has been a significant ally in advancing these policies, especially in the fight to keep spending limited and to lower tax rates.
The Governor also provides credit to her fellow Republican governors across the state. Governor Reynolds is the current chair of the Republican Governors Association, and she often talks about the competitive policy nature between governors. This “red state” federalism has resulted in a healthy policy competition, especially among Republican governors. This competition is federalism at its best and is what the Founding Fathers intended. This has resulted in numerous policy reforms, especially concerning tax and education policy, in many states.
Iowa is now the gold standard for sound conservative public policy. The reason Governor Reynolds is so popular in Iowa is that she delivers on her promises and fights for Iowans. She also stands for principle and her policies defend the family, place the taxpayer first, and otherwise provide common sense solutions to policy problems.