She's only been Governor a little more than a year. But a lot has happened and her re-election campaign is already in full swing. We sit down with Governor Kim Reynolds on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.                 


For decades, Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, June 22 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.    


Yepsen: Governor Kim Reynolds now has a year under her belt as the state's chief executive. She signed a sweeping tax reform package, bills to improve water quality and address mental health concerns and a controversial abortion ban. She has also faced budget challenges and fired an agency director accused of sexual harassment. She'll spend much of the next few months campaigning across Iowa to be elected Governor in her own right. And she is with us now here at the Iowa Press table. Governor Reynolds, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Reynolds: It's great to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.

Yepsen: It's good to have you with us.

Reynolds: Thank you.

Yepsen: Joining the conversation are political reporters Brianne Pfannenstiel of the Des Moines Register and Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Governor, this week the political community has been talking about policies for border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico border. You've had some things to say. You said that the executive order that the President issued in the middle of this week shouldn't be an excuse for Congress not to act. And then President Trump has said, don't do anything, wait until after the election. What do you think Congress should do? What policy should be done?

Reynolds: Well, I think they should do their job. I think we need to find a solution to this. The uncertainty that that's bringing to families across this country and this has gone on through multiple administrations so this just isn't something that President Trump has dealt with, President Obama dealt with is, President Bush. It's really time I think that we have Congress and we have the administration sit down and find solutions and find some common ground and get something done.

Henderson: This summer rather than after the election?

Reynolds: I think that they should do it now. It's time to get something done.

Pfannenstiel: Several other governors including some republicans have said that they will not commit their state's national guards to the southern border. If you're asked would you commit the Iowa National Guard to go down to the southern border?

Reynolds: Well, I have said that I would be open to that. It would depend on the circumstances. So I think if we're talking about separating families, no, that would not be the case. But there are other issues here, trafficking, drugs coming across, safety at the border. So if that would be a request then I would consider that.

Henderson: On July 1st a new state law will direct the state not to send tax dollars to cities or counties that fail to cooperate with immigration agents. Are there any cities and counties that starting on July 1st you will cut the money off?

Reynolds: Not that I'm aware of.

Henderson: What sort of preparation have you made for that law?

Reynolds: Well, that would be done through the Department of Management. They work closely with the communities across this state so I imagine that they would be the ones that would handle that. But right now there isn't. But I don't think it's unreasonable. One of my number one responsibilities is to make sure that we keep Iowans safe and I don't think it's unreasonable if somebody that's here and they have broken the law and they have been apprehended then it's unreasonable to send them back because it's important that we maintain the safety of Iowans.

Henderson: You sent out a fundraising email in February citing what the city council in Iowa City has done, referring to them as a far left city that made a policy that you didn't agree with. So what they have established by ordinance there is fine, it doesn't violate this law?

Reynolds: Well, if it does I would have to take a look at it, Kay. I don't know what the specific details are of that. But the law is in place, it wasn't at the time and if they are violating it then they'll have to be held accountable.

Pfannenstiel: Iowa Congressman Steve King has made several inflammatory comments regarding immigration and this is kind of continuing on a trend. A lot of people have called on you to remove him as a campaign co-chair. Would you do that?

Reynolds: Well, first of all, I don't agree with the comments that he has made, I have made that very clear in the past. No two people are going to agree on everything. I don't think some of the comments he made are absolutely reflective of Iowans and who they are as a people. He is one of over 4,000 honorary chairs in my campaign. I have all of the republican congressional delegation that have signed on to be an honorary chair in my campaign. He is not involved in policy or issues that we're working on. And the fact of the matter is he does represent over a fourth of the state, so people that live in his district. So we're not going to agree on everything. I make it clear when asked where I stand on specific issues and I'll continue to do that.

Henderson: He has raised concerns about having Somali refugees working in meat packing plants. Do you have the same concern?

Reynolds: I don't. I don't agree with it. This would be one of the comments that he has made that I absolutely don't agree with. And so somebody needs to ask him about that.

Yepsen: Well, Governor, Steve King is Steve King and everybody, he has done his a long time, but yet the criticism that is made is he is giving Iowa a bad name here as a place to locate a business. Do you think it's hurting Iowa's economic development to have him --

Reynolds: No. I think, first of all, I think they’ll look at what we're doing and the environment that we're creating and I am so proud of the growth that we're seeing in this state. We were just recognized as the number one state in the country and you don't get a recognition like that if you're not doing some things right. So it's a recognition of our people, our work ethic, our values and a business environment, we're number two when it comes to low cost of doing business, we're number eight with workforce participation. Just this week we had the, we were seeing personal income growth by 5% the first quarter of 2018, last quarter of '17 it was 4.5%. So I think people recognize that this is a great state to live, work and to raise a family and it is a great place to do business. And we're seeing that play out.

Pfannenstiel: Farmers across the state are worried about this escalating trade war and some estimates have said that farmers could be losing up to $624 million. What is your response to the Trump administration? And is this hurting the economy that you have worked so hard to build up?

Reynolds: Well, we're certainly watching and every day regardless of the administration I'm fighting hard on behalf of Iowans. I think the Renewable Fuel Standard is a great example of me going to bat with an administration that promised Iowa farmers that they would maintain a robust Renewable Fuel Standard. Trade is no different. Any time I have the opportunity to talk to the President I talk about how important that is to farmers and the Iowa economy. And when it comes to NAFTA I'm not in favor of pulling out of NAFTA. I think we should modernize it, I don't think that is unreasonable. But our number one and two trading partners for Iowa, extremely important. But there has been some unfair trade. China has been a bad actor. The price of doing business in China shouldn't be technology transfer and they shouldn't be able to steal our intellectual property and that is a fact. We need free and fair trade. We need to hold them accountable. But we can't, we're the first, ag is the first place they go and we are the first casualty and we need to be mindful of that and they need to get this done sooner rather than later. I will highlight real quickly though there are some positive things happening as well. We opened Argentina to pork and that had been shut down for 25 years. And we have reauthorized the KORUS agreement. And we should be always looking for opportunity to expand markets and not contract them and there's a lot of opportunity out there. But it's extremely important for Iowa that we get these done so we can start to bring some certainty to the market.

Yepsen: Just to put a finer point on Brianne's question, should the EPA administrator be let go? Governor, you and Senator Grassley and Senator Ernst all seem to be parading out to talk to the President to sort of clean up something in his administration. The EPA administrator has got all kinds of ethnical problems. Isn't it time for him to go?

Reynolds: Well, that's not my decision. Where I've said is I'm going to continue to fight for Iowa farmers and that's what I've done at every turn and I'm never going to stop. And I did it with the Renewable Fuel Standard, when I felt that Administrator Pruitt wasn't heading in the right direction or really following through with the commitment that the President made to Iowa farmers multiple times when he was in the state, I've called him out on it and will continue to call him out on it because it's important. So they'll make the decisions if he is falling into line. He has been helpful when it came to Waters of the U.S. and a lot of the regulatory things. They did actually get us in a timely manner the RVO's for the Renewable Fuel Standard. So he has done some things right but we are going to continue to hold him accountable when it comes to really helping us grow the industry. That was the intent of the legislation and he needs to follow through with what this President told Iowa farmers was important to him.

Yepsen: Governor, I want to switch gears in our interview and switch to politics in the campaign. I asked your opponent, Fred Hubbell, to introduce himself and talk about his message and I want to ask you to do the same thing. What is your message now that you're officially a candidate for re-election and the republican nominee? What is your message to Iowa voters?

Reynolds: Well, I talk a lot about I think we have a great story to tell, we have a lot to be proud of and we have a lot of work to do. I am so proud of the progress that we have made the last couple of years and I think the recognitions that we're receiving are a reflection of that, those positive things happening in the state of Iowa and I want to continue that momentum going forward, I want to build on that positive environment. And we're seeing in communities all across this state, my opponent wants to undo everything that we've done. I want Iowans to be able to keep more of their hard-earned money, I want to help small businesses find affordable health care plans that were really preventing them from being marketable and bringing in employees so that they can grow and succeed. I believe in Iowans. I believe in creating an environment where you can make a difference in communities all across this state, not in government, it serves a role but maybe it's a reflection of where I came from and where I grew up, but I want Iowa to be a place where we continue to unleash opportunities in every single corner that if you made a mistake you get a second chance and if you, maybe life got in the way, you get a second start.

Henderson: You have been critical of your opponent, Mr. Hubbell, for using his own money to finance his campaign. President Trump used $66 million of his own money to finance his campaign in 2016. Did you criticize him for doing that?

Reynolds: Well, it's just a fact. He will have unlimited resources. But I have also said that I don't believe that Iowans can be bought. I think they're happy with the direction that this state is going. I think they're excited about having more money in their paychecks. And I think they're excited about learning new skills so that they can obtain a job.

Henderson: So what is the difference between Fred Hubbell using his own money and Donald Trump using his own money?

Reynolds: Well, I just said he'll have unlimited resources that I might not have an opportunity -- I can't write myself a check, I can't do that. So I'm not running against the President, I'm running against Fred Hubbell, I'm running to be the Governor of the state of Iowa and in this race it's a fact that he spent almost $3 million in the primary, $7 million total. I'm out there talking to Iowans, talking about my vision. There's a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and we're going to continue to do everything we can to be competitive. But the fact of the matter is that he can fund his campaign.

Pfannenstiel: One of the issues that Fred Hubbell has been critical of you over is your management of the state budget. We've seen some cut to the budget, we've seen some transfers out of reserves and then this past session we saw one of the biggest tax cuts in state history. And so his criticism is whether you have been a good steward of the state's budget. What is your response to that?

Reynolds: Well, the budget is balanced. We have a healthy savings account. We're helping Iowans maintain, make sure that they can keep more of their hard-earned money, working families, small businesses, farm families. He wants to raise taxes, I don't. I want to continue to look for opportunities to make sure that Iowans can take that money and invest it how they see fit. And that is a big difference between the two of us. Now, when we passed tax reform we did it in a manner, we put safeguards in place, we did it in a responsible manner to make sure that we could honor or priorities of education and health care and public safety. And I'm proud of the safeguards and triggers that we put in place that will allow us to maintain that. But if we hadn't passed tax reform this legislative session then Iowans were going to see their taxes go up and that’s not the direction that I want to take this state.

Pfannenstiel: As Governor you're in charge of all Iowans, you're a representative of all Iowans. So what are you going to do to kind of heal this rift between urban and rural? Or will this campaign kind of exacerbate some of the problems that we've seen?

Reynolds: No, I said if Iowa is going to truly be successful then we have to see growth in every single corner of the state and that means not only our urban areas doing well but our rural areas also. I'm going to, shortly here  I'll be signing my third executive order and that will be the Governor's Empower Rural Iowa Initiative and I'm really excited about that. It's about investing in rural Iowa, it's about growing the next generation of leaders in rural Iowa and making sure that we have the connectivity that we need where you can start a business or you can maintain and compete worldwide.

Yepsen: Governor, aren't you trying to fashion this campaign as you're the small town candidate against the big city boy?

Reynolds: Well, I am the small town candidate, that's a fact, it's my background. I grew up in rural Iowa, I grew up in a town of about 500, St. Charles, Iowa. That's just who we are. That's where I came from, that impacts the decisions that I make, the visions going forward. But no, I want every area of Iowa to be successful and we're seeing that. We're seeing that in a lot of our larger cities, we're seeing growth, and I want to make sure that we have those same opportunities in rural Iowa as well. So it's about both. It's not about pitting one person against the other, but it's about my background and where I came from and how I, that's how I, that is what forms the decisions that I make going forward.

Yepsen: So, in your Condition of the State message you said something that I want to ask you about. You said, and while I love our capital city and everything it offers, I believe the heart, soul and spirit of Iowa will always remain in our small towns and rural communities. Does that imply that those of us who live in the cities don't have a heart or soul or spirit?

Reynolds: Oh for heaven's sake, you know better than that. No, what that means -- it's so funny because I ask when I travel the state, we talk about that a lot. I said, how many here in the group, raise your hands if you came from rural Iowa. A lot of times many of them did. How many of you here know somebody that lives in rural Iowa? Do you want rural Iowa to be successful? Yes, they do. They want our entire state to be successful. We can't have growth and prosperity happening in just pockets. We need that experience to be happening in every single corner of the state and then Iowans can make the decision where they want to live. We can have people that want to move back to the state and experience the quality of life that we have. So it's, we are one big small town and that's what Iowa is and I see it every day. It's about community, it's about giving back and it's who we are as a people.

Henderson: You have said there's more to do, which is why you're seeking a full term as Governor. Let's go through some perhaps policy prescriptions you'll pursue. The Republican Party's platform says there should be no exceptions to the state's abortion law. As Governor in the next term would you sign no exceptions to the abortion ban you did sign?

Reynolds: Well listen, it's in the courts right now. I think we'll probably see what happens there. But I've signed a bill, first of all, I'm pro-life, I'm proud to be pro-life, I think it's immoral to stop a beating heart. If death is determined when a heart stops beating then I think a beating heart indicates life. And so I'm going to stand true to who I am and will always do what I can to fight for the unborn.

Henderson: So ultimately do you think a child conceived by rape or incest should be, there should be no exception in cases of rape or incest?

Reynolds: I have said that in the life of the mother there should be an exception.

Henderson: Also, the party platform calls for getting rid of public sector unions. As Governor, would you sign a law that would make that illegal in Iowa?

Reynolds: I don't think that I need to stand here today and talk about -- those are things that we need to take a look at and as I said the other day when I got asked, Kay, about the republican platform, it is an overarching, grassroots document that people come together and work on. But people have to represent the areas that they come from and they are elected by the people in the various areas of the state. And so those are the issues that when we get together in the legislature you take a look at and move forward. We did comprehensive, excuse me, collective bargaining reform. I think that was the right thing to do. What that did is that gave more flexibility to schools and to local governments to allow them to better manage their resources and I think that was the right thing to do.

Henderson: A lot of Iowans said that was a surprise so that's why we're asking about the public sector union, if you would get rid of them?

Reynolds: I think we did the right thing in doing what we did.

Pfannenstiel: You've expressed some interest in pension reform. Will IPERS or should IPERS be transitioned into a 401K style program?

Reynolds: Whenever we talk about pension reform I start the conversation with we have to make sure that we honor the commitments that have been made. So any time we talk about taking a look at reforming IPERS that means that we start from the perspective that we have to honor the commitments that were made. These are individuals that were promised that, that have worked for the state, and we have an obligation to deliver on those. We also need to make sure that it's sustainable going forward. So as we look at maybe doing a hybrid or different options we have to have, first and foremost it has to make sure that we're maintaining the commitments that have been made.

Yepsen: So you are looking at that, that would be an option --

Reynolds: They have talked about that for a long time and I think we should always take a look at something to make sure it's sustainable. You've seen a lot of states, we're about 80% funded, there are a lot of states that are in real trouble. Illinois is a great example of that. So we want to make sure that we can do that.

Yepsen: Governor, in the small town I come from there's an old saying about if it ain't broke you don't fix it. What's broke about the IPERS system?

Reynolds: Well, you have to make sure that you can sustain it in the long run and make sure that it's --

Yepsen: It's over 80% funded.

Reynolds: I think we should always not be afraid to continue to look at it. It doesn't mean we'll change it tomorrow. We've been talking about that for a long time but I think it's healthy. I think actually the legislature every other year is supposed to take a look at it and just review it. We should always do that. We should never be satisfied with the status quo. We should always be willing to review a system and see if there are better and more efficient ways that we could do it. It doesn't mean you make a change, it just means you take a look at it and see if there are ways that we can do it better.

Pfannenstiel: Water quality was something that we saw action on this last session. Would you support raising the sales tax by three-eighths of a cent to continue to fund those efforts?

Reynolds: I wouldn't do it just in itself, if it was maybe tied to additional tax reform or in the context of that I would take a look at it.

Henderson: So additional tax reform, you've said there is more to do on taxes. You did sign a tax policy bill this past spring. What more do you want to happen in the tax arena?

Reynolds: Well, I said in the Condition of the State in January that I thought this year we needed to focus really on individual tax reform, that that was where we should start our focus, and in the interim we would take a look at -- because we were fourth highest in the country and when we talk about being competitive and wanting people to live here that was something that we needed to address. I said in the interim we would take a look at tax credits and really kind of do the due diligence, take a look at the return on investment, see if it, again, taking a look at the system as it is and seeing if there's ways that we can do it a little bit better, enhance it or maybe do away with some of them tied to reducing corporate taxes. So that's what we'll be taking a look at over the interim and see where we're at next year. But we need to see where we're at too with revenue and with the economy and if that's possible to move forward with that.

Henderson: Do you think the triggers that are built in to this law that you signed will work and that there will be additional tax cuts or this first round of tax cuts will be it because the economy may not be able to sustain the economic growth that is predicted in that law?

Reynolds: That's one of the reasons that we put them in because we don't want to have to turn around and raise taxes. And so that will give us the opportunity to see where the economy is at, to see if we're continuing to see growth or if we have seen some fallback from trade. And so that I think was a really smart way and a very responsible way to implement tax reform to make sure that if we're not meeting objections then we pause it. And if things are going well then there is an opportunity to come back and take a look at that also.

Yepsen: Governor, how worried are you about the adverse effects on your state's revenues to this tariff business that is going on? I heard a soybean grower today on the radio say that the price he is getting is $1 below his cost of production. And he said, my banker won't allow that to go on forever.

Reynolds: Yeah, and I've talked a lot to farmers too, we keep in close contact with them. Right now they're saying to me the same thing, that while I realize that we can't have this go on forever, they're giving a little bit of difference to the President to allow him to do the negotiations. But they need to get it done because it's going to start to impact their pocketbook and so then something is going to have to be done. But right now we talk to them and the angst is escalating just a little bit, the longer that it goes on it just is. But they really do recognize that it hasn't been fair, it needs to be fair and free. China has been a bad actor. And then we need to, in addition to getting a few of these done, look for opportunities to grow markets as well.

Yepsen: Less than two minutes.

Pfannenstiel: On Medicaid, we saw a lot of changes to that system this past year but we're still continuing to see complaints about access, funding questions. What more needs to be done to shore up the state's Medicaid program?

Reynolds: Well, we started with a system that wasn't sustainable and I wanted to make sure that when I looked parents in the eyes that were concerned about a system that would be available for their loved ones after they were gone that I had a system that would be sustainable and the old system wasn't. And so that was one of the reasons really that we took a look at managed care that several other states have done and have gone to. And it got off to a bumpy start, I think we've made a lot of progress this year. But it really is about managing care for vulnerable Iowans. There's a lot of people that are under the managed care, Medicaid system, and so this is about helping them manage their care. We're going to continue to work on it. It's something that I work on personally probably every single day as well as my team. We're committed to getting it right.

Yepsen: Just very quickly, sports betting. How do you feel about legalizing that?

Reynolds: Well, I had said earlier when I was asked about that, that we'll sit down with the legislature and take a look at it this next legislative session.

Yepsen: And how about medical marijuana?

Reynolds: I think we have a board in place. There might be some legislative fixes that we need to take a look at. But they really put a board in place to start to address if we expand to other illnesses or what the next steps might be. So that was one of the things that they charged the board with.

Henderson: Do you think there are enough access points?

Reynolds: Well, we have six distributing centers I think is where it's at right now. So that's what the board needs to decide, that's what it was created for. As we walk through some of these issues and we start to roll it out they can address some of those.

Yepsen: Governor, we're out of time. Thank you very much for being here.

Reynolds: Thank you. Thanks.

Yepsen: And thank you for joining us. We'll be back with another edition of Iowa Press next week. Our guest will be Governor Jay Inslee of Washington who chairs the Democratic Governor's Association. So join us for Iowa Press 7:30 Friday night and Noon on Sunday on Iowa PBS's main channel with a rebroadcast Saturday morning on our .3 World channel and always online at iptv.org. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa Bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.               

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