Reynolds inaugural ‘celebration’ is strategic move for GOP
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will be the headliner at an unofficial inaugural event this week that raises money for the Republican Party, a strategic move that highlights the GOP’s focus on the upcoming midterm election and Reynold’s anticipated gubernatorial run.
The Republican Party of Iowa is footing the bill for what it’s calling an “Inaugural Celebration” for Reynolds, who was sworn in May 24. A ticket to the Friday night event at a downtown Des Moines hotel will cost $75.
Iowa GOP spokesman Carlos Cruz said more than 1,000 people are expected to attend. He emphasized the occasion is not a formal inaugural event, but a fundraiser that’s comparable to the party’s Lincoln Dinner that features presidential hopefuls.
“It’s a celebration, not a ball,” he said in an email, referencing the typical description of festivities after an Iowa governor wins an election and is sworn in.
Reynolds is finishing Gov. Terry Branstad’s term that would have ended January 2019. He stepped down recently to be U.S. ambassador to China. Tim Albrecht, a Reynolds spokesman, said the new governor will not have an inaugural ball.
There is nothing in Iowa code or the state Constitution that instructs how inaugural activities must be organized. It typically involves a committee of private individuals who raise contributions to host a ceremony and ticketed ball. Leftover money has previously been given to charity. It hasn’t historically been directed to a political party, though nothing prohibits that, either.
Jim Larew, an Iowa City attorney who was former Democratic Gov. Chet Culver’s legal counsel and chief of staff, said the GOP approach is unusual.
“Rather than to have a public event that celebrates the access of all Iowans to the office of the new governor, they’ve converted it into what may appear to others to be the starting point in the next campaign cycle,” he said.
Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Iowa GOP, said Republicans are in a unique position to raise money at a time when they’re trying to keep congressional seats and maintain majorities in the state House and Senate.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how much money they can raise at an event like this, because it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to somewhat ‘cash in’ on the transition of going from one governor to another without an election,” he said.
When Reynolds and Branstad were elected and re-elected as a pair in 2010 and 2014, they used the Branstad-Reynolds Scholarship Fund to pay for inaugural events. The private foundation, which would use some money for college scholarships, required annual disclosure of the names of anyone who gave $5,000 or more. The Iowa GOP discloses contributions to the Federal Election Commission, though the filings will not specify how the money will be used.
The money can go toward candidates. Reynolds and Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg are widely expected to run on a gubernatorial ticket in 2018, though Cruz pointed out the party won’t formally back a candidate until after the primary next year. Reynolds has already raised more than $1 million for a campaign.
Rachel Paine Caufield, an associate professor of political science at Drake University, said besides being a fundraiser, the inaugural event helps Reynolds by projecting her strength at a time when at least a half-dozen Democrats are considering running for governor, and Republican Ron Corbett, the mayor of Cedar Rapids, is considering seeking the office.
“In her mind, it’s about showing her strength to Democratic challengers,” Caufield said of Reynolds. “It’s also about showing her strength to her party opponents. She’s trying to preemptively signal that she’s in a good position to win.”
Corbett, who plans to announce a decision by mid-June, said while the GOP-backed inaugural event is an appropriate way to celebrate Reynolds’ swearing in, Iowans don’t want to see an appointment process for Reynolds going forward.
“They want an election process, and that’s what the primary and primaries are all about,” he said.