Why Rod Roberts should be Reynolds’ lieutenant governor1/4/2017
First things first. The news of the appointment of the nation’s longest-serving governor, Iowa’s Terry Branstad, to be ambassador to China is encouraging for a host of reasons, from national security to agricultural export opportunities to breakthroughs only possible through the sort of personal relationships Branstad has wisely cultivated over decades.
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s choice of Branstad, which likely will face little in the way of congressional backlash, means Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds can begin packing her bags for Terrace Hill and soon will achieve the distinction of becoming Iowa’s first female governor. That’s no small thing.
Reynolds’ biggest first call, and one that will in large part determine her success as the state’s CEO, is a selection of her own successor as lieutenant governor.
Rod Roberts is supremely qualified for this position and I’d urge Reynolds to give the former Carroll Republican legislator and director of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals serious consideration to be her partner in a rare, seize-the-moment session for a Republican governor whose party will control both chambers of the Iowa Legislature.
Reynolds clearly will benefit from the bureaucratic infrastructure and political architecture Branstad has built in the Hawkeye State since the 1970s and his own days as a legislator and lieutenant governor.
As governor-in-waiting, Reynolds would be smart to absorb all advice, from all corners, all comers. But in the end, this appointment of a lieutenant governor must be her gut-level choice alone. Rod Roberts should be on the other end of that Reynolds phone call.
Here are 10 reasons why:
- Roberts understands the delicate balancing act for a lieutenant governor who must be at once a leader and subordinate. He is a straightforward man who will not be jockeying for another office or coveting the keys to Terrace Hill himself. A deeply Christian man, and a former day-to-day pastor, Roberts sees himself in the celestial picture of God’s creation. Humbly acknowledging how small one is in God’s world summons better angels, allowing one to selflessly focus on big changes and advances for others. That’s Rod Roberts.
- Balance. Roberts brings gender balance to what would likely be a 2018 GOP ticket. Additionally, as a Carroll resident, and former decade-long state representative, Roberts is a western Iowan. Reynolds is a product of Osceola. What’s more, Roberts, an evangelical Christian who has strong support in heavily Catholic Carroll County, brings some religious diversity as Reynolds is a mainline Protestant as a member of the Methodist Church.
- Personal chemistry. Rod Roberts and his wife, Trish, the development director at St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll and an accomplished politician herself, have a long-standing and natural connectivity with Reynolds. Bottom line, there is trust here. And really, what’s more vital than that? Roberts is married to a highly effective professional woman himself, which positions him well to work with the state’s first female governor. He instinctively sees the value of women in roles of influence as he sits across from one at the dinner table.
- Roberts understands the state’s bureaucracy. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals has wide-reaching authority in the lives of Iowans. Roberts is a stalwart advocate for protections at nursing homes, helps oversee gaming in Iowa and even negotiates with the Native American tribes in our state. The portfolio for his current position is mind-bending in scope. Roberts can assist Reynolds in navigating the bureaucracy as well as the Iowa Legislature.
- Respect among Democrats. When our newspaper began aggressively floating Roberts’ name minutes after news broke on Branstad at Trump Tower, the response on social media was a rarity in what Time magazine calls “The Divided States of America.” People often at each other’s virtual throats, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, applauded the idea of Roberts as lieutenant governor. Reynolds and Roberts are both genuinely nice people — which, even in this Facebook-and-Twitter-polluted world of fake news and real ugliness, should count for something.
- Payback for loyalty at the most crucial of times. At the 2010 Iowa Republican Convention, Roberts, a popular candidate for governor who lost to Branstad in the primary, could have made a play for lieutenant governor himself, a direct challenge to Branstad’s selection of Reynolds, that, had it failed, could have created a highly dysfunctional outcome — a Branstad-Bob Vander Plaats ticket. Roberts, in endorsing Reynolds, won plaudits for class and loyalty. Reynolds would be well advised to remember how Roberts handled himself that defining day. Roberts’ speech six years ago is still top of mind with many Republicans who were there.
- Protecting her right flank. No one questions Rod Roberts on foundational social issues. He’s pro-life, period. He’s for traditional marriage and checks other key boxes where evangelical Christians are concerned — and he does it without the ugly posturing we see from too many like-minded politicians. Reynolds still faces questions about her deep commitment on these matters. A selection of Roberts would have a settling effect.
- Education. Education. Education. Reynolds’ most vocal role in the Branstad administration has been with science and math education. Roberts is a former Carroll Community School District Board member, and an advocate of private schools with a track record of action. He understands the state-local-federal intersections for education.
- Gaffe free. Reynolds can’t afford distracting mistakes or scandals from her administration. Rod Roberts is a big-stage player who will not create a crisis. He’s circumspect and inspiring as a speaker, a rare blend. In short, Roberts is a reassuring and steadying presence.
- Going with the gut. Reynolds needs to ask herself: Who will she be most comfortable interacting with daily, calling for advice and trusting (most importantly) when she has doubts about her own ideas or approach on a given matter? Who will have her back? Who will be the true friend, not a cloying climber? Who will make Kim Reynolds a better Kim Reynolds? I think she already knows the answer. Rod Roberts. ♦
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.