WATERLOO — Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett hasn’t had the typical political career trajectory.
He was elected young, ousting an incumbent. He chose not to seek re-election after rising to House speaker, but returned to public service at the height of a crisis. Now, as his mayoral career winds down, Corbett once again is doing the unexpected.
Corbett is touring the state to publicize the release of his book, part-memoir, part-recounting of the Cedar Rapids flood recovery, called “Beyond Promises.” That is instead of launching what otherwise might be called an exploratory bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
“I really thought that I could have a dual-purpose for the book, that it not only could tell the Cedar Rapids story but tell the Ron Corbett story, and it might be a fun and unique way to introduce myself to the people of Iowa,” Corbett said after dropping off books at the local Waterloo Public Library last week.
Corbett is not shy about discussing his future ambitions. He expects to make the decision in the next 30 to 45 days.
That would give him a year to gear up for the primary he’s likely to face against soon-to-be Gov. Kim Reynolds and perhaps other contenders.
While Reynolds — who will take over as governor once Gov. Terry Branstad is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be ambassador to China — is seen as a favorite for the nomination, Corbett makes clear he’s not afraid of an uphill battle.
He said it’s not about ousting an incumbent but about spreading ideas.
“When you don’t have a competitive race for governor, you don’t have the robust discussion of issues,” Corbett said. “I feel like there’s somewhat of a void, and that concerns me, and so I would — if I do eventually decide to run — I would really want to focus on the future of Iowa.”
Corbett has been traveling the state the past couple years as part of his think tank Engage Iowa to spread the word on three topics: income tax modernization, water quality improvements and revitalizing K-12 education. He adds a fourth issue in health care.
“So many people feel like they’re disconnected from politics, and I’ve been encouraging people not to feel disconnected, to re-engage and to have these kitchen-table discussions,” Corbett said.
He acknowledges the current political climate favors partisanship, while his career has largely been built around team-building. He said it takes leaders to forge bipartisan relationships.
“When you have … policy that only passes with one party and then the other party gets in control, they don’t have allegiance to that policy … and then you have it swinging back,” Corbett said. “So, you’ve got to get that buy-in, that ownership, and it’s so valuable to do that.”
He saw that buy-in in action during efforts to stave off floodwaters in Cedar Rapids in 2016. He said people came out in droves to help protect the city because the community worked together after the historic 2008 flood to make recovery a citywide project.
But that doesn’t mean it’s been all smooth sailing during his career. Corbett admits at times he’s “stubbed my toe.”
He adds, “It doesn’t mean you put your tail between your legs and go into hibernation. You just get up the next day and try to continue to make your community better.”