OTTUMWA — Gov. Terry Branstad brought his re-election campaign to Ottumwa on Thursday, hoping to repeat his county win from four years ago.
“It was a thrill to carry Wapello County last time, and we want to do it again,” he told a packed room at the Vine coffeehouse.
Branstad focused on the decline in unemployment over the past four years and the bipartisan success last legislative session in passing property tax reform. Property taxes had long been a target for members of both parties, but the package passed by the Legislature was the first substantial change in decades.
Calling it “the biggest property tax cut in Iowa history,” Branstad said the results will help boost businesses by reducing the taxes they face without raising the burden for local governments. When combined with tax breaks, he said the package should give more businesses reason to open or expand in Iowa.
“You’ll see it on the tax bills that go out this summer,” he said. “We’re very excited about that.”
One policy point Branstad stressed during his comments is outreach to veterans. Iowa members of the National Guard have spent substantial time in recent years deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The 833rd Engineer Company from Ottumwa has had three separate overseas deployments.
That has created a new generation of veterans, and Branstad said the state needs realize they have skills that can benefit Iowa. He wants to eliminate taxes on military retirement benefits and to grant former military personnel in-state tuition for college degrees. The proposals drew applause.
Branstad pointed to Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and others on his staff as deserving credit for helping him over the past four years. “You don’t do this by yourself. It’s a team that you put together,” he said.
Branstad is running for an unprecedented sixth term as Iowa governor. He served four terms before leaving public office. Then, in 2010, he challenged incumbent Democrat Chet Culver and won a fifth term.
Wapello County, which has a far higher number of registered Democrats than Republicans, fell into Branstad’s column for the first time in that election. Reynolds gently teased Branstad about being “competitive” when he told the audience he wants to do the same this time.
“I’m competitive,” he replied, “but I’ve never lost.”
The Democratic side of the contest is still taking shape, but recent withdrawals and endorsements suggest Jack Hatch is the likely challenger.