DES MOINES — In her first significant action as governor, Kim Reynolds likely managed to sidestep a dramatic legal challenge and also set the groundwork for her potential election campaign.
Reynolds last week hired Adam Gregg to serve as her lieutenant governor, albeit in an incomplete role. Gregg will work with Reynolds in a manner similar to his predecessors: He will lead program initiatives, attend events on behalf of the administration, appear with Reynolds at others and be involved in policy decisions.
But Gregg will not be in the line of succession. If Reynolds for any reason cannot serve as governor, Gregg will not be promoted. Instead, the Iowa Senate President — Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny — would become governor.
The unique arrangement was developed by the Reynolds administration after the state attorney general ruled recently that an individual promoted from lieutenant governor to governor — as Reynolds was this past week after the resignation of Terry Branstad to become U.S. ambassador to China — does not have the authority to name a new lieutenant.
Administration officials said they thought they had three options in the wake of the attorney general’s formal opinion:
• Not name someone and leave the position vacant.
• Name a lieutenant and run the risk of a legal challenge.
• Name an acting lieutenant who is not in the line of succession.
Reynolds wanted a lieutenant with whom to work and represent the administration, but she also wanted to avoid what likely would have been an expensive and contentious, public legal dispute. The setup with Gregg attempts to thread that needle.
Now, Reynolds has in Gregg a working partner in the administration and a potential running mate for the 2018 election campaign, which essentially already has started with candidates from both political parties touring the state.
“This (decision) came from meetings with her core team of advisers and staff,” said Tim Albrecht, Reynolds’ deputy chief of staff and a veteran of the Branstad-Reynolds administration. “We went through all three of the scenarios … all of them had upsides, and all of them had downsides.”
Maximizing staff, prepping for campaign
The unique setup seems to accomplish the administration’s goals of naming a lieutenant governor without drawing a lawsuit, said Timothy Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa.
“The advantage to Reynolds, of course, is she has another person in her administration that she can rely on,” Hagle said.
Hagle said a lieutenant governor can help spread the administration’s message by making public appearances where and when the governor cannot. That can be especially useful during a legislative session or an election campaign.
“A lot of times, it’s filling in for that top executive, because that person can’t be everywhere at the same time,” Hagle said. “By having him there, he’ll be able to attend a variety of events and represent the administration, and that’s going to be an important thing.”
Putting Gregg on the administration’s staff now also means he will be around for the next 19 months, which will give him an opportunity for voters to get familiar with him before next year’s election.
Reynolds has not officially said she will run for election in 2018, but she has hinted at it and is widely expected to run. She insisted in an interview last week that she is not making staff or policy decisions based on what it could mean for the politics of the 2018 election.
It appears likely she will face a primary challenge from Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. And at least a half-dozen Democrats already are running for governor or giving serious thought to a run.
Should she run, Reynolds will have some built-in advantages, in particular experience and name recognition from having served as lieutenant governor for the past six-plus years, and she has a huge head start on fundraising with more than $1 million in her campaign account.
Having Gregg serve with her in the administration could help their potential campaign get that running start.
“That gives them a chance to go around the state and increase his name recognition,” Hagle said. “At a minimum, that increases his name recognition so he can do a better job representing the Reynolds campaign in the general election, assuming she survives a primary challenge.”
Gregg’s intro to center stage
The 34-year-old Gregg brings a relatively fresh face to the main stage of Iowa politics, but not to Reynolds. He served as a legislative adviser in the Branstad administration for roughly a year and a half from late 2012 to 2014.
More recently, Gregg served as state public defender, whose office is designated to ensure low-income Iowans are given adequate legal representation.
Gregg also ran for attorney general in 2014, losing to longtime officeholder Tom Miller. It was Miller who delivered the formal opinion that, in part, led to Gregg serving as lieutenant governor in a partial role.
Kurt Swaim, an assistant state public defender and former Democratic state legislator, praised Gregg’s work to exonerate wrongfully convicted Iowans and his oversight and modernization of the state public defender’s office.
“Adam has a brilliant mind, a compassionate heart, impeccable character, and a resolute will to do the right thing always,” Swaim said in a statement. “The governor’s first decision, to appoint Adam Gregg as lieutenant governor, could not have been a better one. It’s hard to imagine a better pick.”
Jennifer Solberg, the chief public defender for Sioux City, said she worked with Gregg as an attorney and a supervisor in the public defender’s office and that she appreciated his professionalism and fairness.
“His leadership style and ability to make the tough decisions during the tough times is ideal,” Solberg said. “Although Adam will be sorely missed by the public defender’s office, he will be a huge asset to the state of Iowa.”