I would have loved to have seen the smile on Governor Terry Branstad’s face when he read the opening sentence of Jennifer Jacob’s article on Monday about the condition of the state. The article opened with, “For the first time in more than three years, Iowans think the state is on the right track.” That one sentence perfectly encapsulates what motivated Branstad to come out of political retirement and run for governor once again – competent and measured leadership.
The latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows that 52 percent of Iowans think that the state is once again heading in the right direction. To put that into perspective, the only time during the Culver administration that more than 50 percent of Iowans thought that the state was heading in the right direction was in the January immediately following Culver’s election. At the lowest point in the Culver administration, only 34 percent of people approved of the direction of the state, while 57 percent disapproved.
The poll also showed that 56 percent of Iowans approve of the job that Branstad is doing. Branstad’s numbers have climbed since he was inaugurated last January despite the fact that some of his major proposals have been blocked by the legislature due to Democrats controlling the Iowa Senate. Both Branstad and the Republican House have found it difficult to advance their agenda despite controlling two-thirds of state government.
Branstad’s favorable numbers may also reflect a slowly improving economy in Iowa. The unemployment rate has dropped from 6.1 percent to 5.6 percent from January of 2011 to last December. While the unemployment rate is still too high, it is an improvement over 2010 when the rate never fell below 6.1 percent.
Another possibility for why most Iowans may have a more favorable outlook in regards to the state and Governor Branstad is that the past year has been rather uneventful in comparison to prior years.
When Governor Culver took office in 2007, he was also provided with a legislature that was totally controlled by Democrats. They passed a controversial law that provided special civil rights for homosexuals and also passed an anti-bullying measure that singled out protection for homosexual students. Culver also rammed through a costly and controversial infrastructure program that Iowans will be paying for over the next 20 years. The end of the Culver tenure included constant news of cuts and government layoffs.
While the battles in the capitol have been intense at times, outside of the golden dome, Iowans have not been inundated with either controversial issues or news of government cut backs and layoffs. It seems as if a “do nothing” state government is more appealing that one that is rapidly moving contentious legislation.
While Branstad is being rewarded for his brand of governance, Republican activists might not be satisfied that there is little progress to tout as another election nears. The biggest change Branstad and Republicans have been able to institute are largely budgetary modifications. Switching the state to two year budgeting and cutting down the use of one-time monies is a major shift from previous administrations, but it does little to excite the GOP base. Thus far, Branstad and House Republicans have been unable to pass major tax reform or limitations on abortion like a number of other states have been able to advance or enact.
The Register’s poll numbers are good news for Branstad, but Republicans need a major accomplishment that they can campaign on in the fall. While they will be able to cast the Democrat controlled Senate as their foil, they can’t blame everything on the slim majority the Democrats have in the chamber. That said, maybe Branstad can leverage his positive poll numbers to get one of his major proposals through the divided legislature.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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