Iowa’s first female governor, senator make Hall of Fame

Maggie Curry

Iowa’s first female governor and first female senator will both be added to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.

Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was elected in 2014 and sworn into her position in 2015. Ernst was Iowa’s first new Senator in almost thirty years and the first woman to be elected to Congress from Iowa. She is halfway through her six-year term.

Ernst may be most recognizable to Iowans for her support of fellow veterans and her summer barbecue Roast and Ride, which took place this past weekend. She was the first female U.S. combat veteran in the U.S. Senate and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.

Governor Kim Reynolds became Iowa’s first female governor following Terry Branstad’s resignation to become ambassador to China.

“It’s certainly a historic moment, especially given that a mere three years ago Iowa was one of only three states to have never elected a woman to the US Congress,” said Kelly Winfrey, coordinator in research and outreach for the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women & Politics. “Now we have both our first female senator and governor serving.”

Historically, women have been underrepresented in leadership positions. In 2017, women make up 23% of the Iowa legislature, 29% of State Executive positions, 50% of the U.S. Senate and 0% of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, who inducts four women each year into the Hall of Fame.

Reynolds touched on being the first female governor in her acceptance speech, but was quick to say she didn’t want that to be what she was known for.

“I’m excited to step into my heels on behalf of the people of Iowa and work hard every single day,” Reynolds said. “I will leave to the historians to write what they will about the meaning of this day in the story of Iowa. Becoming Iowa’s first woman governor is both humbling and exciting. I will do my best to serve as a role model for others to follow and hope to emulate the finest qualities of those who led before me.

“However, it is my responsibility, my challenge, to do my best. To give them the opportunity to write much more than ‘she was Iowa’s first woman governor.'”

28 states in the U.S. have ever had a female governor, but only 23 were elected to the office. Four other women, like Reynolds, became governor through succession.

Although she wasn’t elected to the governor’s office, Reynolds was elected as lieutenant with the possibility of becoming governor if Branstad had to leave the office for any reason. 

“Iowa voters knew when they cast their ballot that she would take over if Branstad vacated the office,” Winfrey said. “I definitely think Iowa is ready for a female governor. The challenge Reynolds faces is that she has less than two years to establish herself as her own governor, independent of Branstad, before the next election.”

Two other current female governors came into office in similar situations to Reynolds.

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown became governor February 18, 2015, following Gov. John Kitzhaber’s resignation. Gov. Brown won a special gubernatorial election held in November 2016 to complete Gov. Kitzhaber’s unexpired term, according to the National Governors Association.

Alabama Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey became governor April 10, 2017, following the resignation of Governor Robert Bentley.