Iowa governor breaks gender barrier for state's top job

Published: Feb. 8, 2018 at 3:30 PM CST
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The only woman to ever become governor in either South Dakota, Iowa or Minnesota....and she says people need to be thinking differently about the role women play in politics.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has been on the job for less than a year; taking over a big job and having to fill some big shoes.

We sat down with reynolds at her office at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines, where I learned about her unlikely rise to political power and a place in politicial history.

Last May, Iowa's longest serving governor....Terry Branstad....resigned his post to become ambassador to China.

Just minutes later, his lieutenant governor of six years....Kim Reynolds...was sworn is as Iowa's 43rd governor.

Before becoming lieutenant governor, Reynolds had served 22 months in the Iowa Senate. Before that...she was a county auditor.

And before all that...she lived a life that never included the idea of making political history.

"I wanted to be at home with the girls but we had a hard time making ends meet." Early on, Reynolds focus was on being a wife and a stay-at-home mom to three girls.

But it became clear another income would be needed.

So Reynolds worked nights and a check out clerk for Hy-Vee.

And in the back of her mind...a goal to earn a four year degree. "I continued to take community college classes while working nights and weekends and I did that throughout my career."

And it was in the midst of raising a family and trying to earn a degree....that she would run for the Iowa Senate and win.

And 17 months into her term....a phone call..."I certainly never, ever in my wildest dreams dreamt that I would get a call from former Governor Branstad asking to serve as his lieutenant governor."

From that moment until now, where she is serving in the state's top job, Kim Reynolds has been in the spotlight and she understands why. "It's just real humbling, I think, to live out history and to be a part of it and that's not lost on me."

Reynolds is balancing a lot right now.

Clean water legislation. The state budget and a huge problem with health insurance. "Our individual healthcare market had collapsed." At one time there were nine insurance companies offering policies in Iowa.

Now there is one and Reynolds says the one that remains, Medica, has dramatically increased its premiums. "We've seen premiums increase at 57% so we still have Iowans, especially farm families, working class families, small business owners, that can't afford that 57% increase in premiums."

In the midst of all this, Reynolds says the last thing she is focusing on is that she is Iowa's first female governor.

She says the idea of women in high ranking political roles needs to be seen as something normal....not something historic. "I'm really focused on doing the job at hand. I think that will speak for itself. While I'm very proud to be the first female governor of the state of Iowa, I certainly want my chapter in the Iowa history to read much more than that."

To help open more political opportunities for women, Reynolds is focusing on young Iowans; girls who show an interest in government.

She shows them the capitol, the chambers of the legislature and then her own office. "I bring them up to the office and I sit them in the chair and I tell them to dream big because you know anything is possible."

Remember Kim Reynolds dream of earning a four year college degree?

She began working towards that goal in the last 1970's but always kept it on her to do list. "In 2016 I finally, finally at the age of 57 got my Bachelors Degree and was able to walk across the stage at Iowa State University."

And when you talk to Kim Reynolds about the idea of a legacy she says hers would be the idea that persistance really can pay off. "If you're really passionate about something or it's important to you it's never too late. It's never too late to go back to school. It's never too late to change careers. If you have a passion to do something we want to help people realize that."

And sometimes that passion leads you to places you never expected to be.

For some context the first female governor ever was Nellie Ross of Wyoming .who served between 1925 and 1927. Closer to our neck of the woods Kay Orr of Nebraska who served from 1987 to 1991.