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Branstad’s move to China means Iowa’s first female governor

Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds speaks to Floyd County visitors during an October campaign stop at the Charles City Pizza Ranch. File photo
Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds speaks to Floyd County visitors during an October campaign stop at the Charles City Pizza Ranch. File photo
BARBARA RODRIGUEZ, The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The likely departure of the nation’s longest-serving governor to accept an appointment as U.S. ambassador to China means Iowa could soon be led by its first female governor, just as the state shifts to full Republican control of its Legislature.

An aide to President-elect Donald Trump confirmed Wednesday that he’d offered to nominate Gov. Terry Branstad as China ambassador, and that Branstad was expected to accept.

If Branstad accepts and is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds would become Iowa’s governor. She would hold the position until Branstad’s term ends in January 2019, and she could run for governor in 2018.

Reynolds, 57, was a first-term state senator when Branstad chose her to run as his lieutenant governor. During her six years as lieutenant governor, she has focused on economic development and education.

Before meeting with Trump, Branstad was asked about Reynolds’ qualifications. He noted Reynolds’ multiple international trade missions and her involvement in key appointments in his administration. Branstad also highlighted her promotion of education efforts, especially those involving science, technology, engineering and math.

“She’s very well-prepared and has great leadership ability,” he said.

Before being elected to the Legislature, Reynolds worked as treasurer of Clarke County, a southern Iowa county of less than 10,000 people.

When former Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, Reynolds was courted to run. She decided against it, telling The Associated Press in a story published in 2015 that she was more focused on the state. She backed now-Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican who was elected in 2014.

Branstad, 70, is in the midst of his sixth nonconsecutive term as governor. With more than 21 years at the helm of Iowa government, Branstad is the country’s longest serving governor.

Before Trump offered him the ambassadorship, Branstad indicated he planned to complete his current gubernatorial term and hadn’t ruled out another four-year term.

If Branstad leaves office, Reynolds would become governor just as Republicans take control of both legislative chambers in Iowa and mark the first time in 20 years that GOP has controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office.

Republican leaders have already indicated their plans to push a conservative agenda.

Because Branstad faces a confirmation process, it’s unclear how quickly Reynolds could be sworn in. It’s also unclear how quickly Reynolds would appoint someone to serve as her lieutenant governor.

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