Corbett embraces underdog role


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Josep

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett poses for a portrait on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. Corbett calls himself an underdog in the 2018 Iowa Republican primary for governor. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett takes on incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary campaign.

By Molly Hunter

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A year out from the 2018 gubernatorial election, and the Iowa Republican Party is throwing its weight behind Gov. Kim Reynolds, but Ron Corbett, the Republican mayor of Cedar Rapids and candidate for governor, remains undeterred.

“I am an underdog,” he said.

RELATED: Corbett eyes run for governor

But with 13 years in the Iowa Legislature, the last five of which the 56-year-old Corbett spent as speaker of the House, and eight years as mayor of Iowa’s second largest city, Corbett said his experience is equal to Reynolds’.

Corbett’s biggest struggle will perhaps be the uphill battle against an incumbent governor.

“All the party establishment and the donor class has rallied behind Kim,” he said.

Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa chair, declined a Daily Iowan request for comment.

Before Terry Branstad was nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to China, most observers didn’t think he would run for re-election in 2018, said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science. Reynolds, 57, was expected to run but not as an incumbent.

“In Iowa, we kind of like our incumbents, so it makes it harder — even for the other party — to run against them … When there’s an open seat, you have more interest,” Hagle said. “Now that Branstad is gone and Reynolds is the governor, for all intents and purposes, that makes her the incumbent.”

RELATED: Trump praises Branstad at ‘Thank-You’ tour stop in Iowa

So far, Steven Ray, the mayor pro tem of Boone, is the only other Republican to announce he will run against Reynolds.

Patrick Wronkiewicz of the UI College Republicans said members of his group think Reynolds, as the incumbent, has the best chance to win the 2018 gubernatorial election.

“Our organization as a whole endorsed Gov. Reynolds for the election above all the other candidates and potential Republican candidates,” Wronkiewicz said. “Ron Corbett would be better than any of the other Democratic nominees, but we like Gov. Reynolds’ chances.”

Hagle said Corbett’s low statewide name recognition will be another challenge.

“That was one reason, when he published his book [Beyond Promises], he went around the state on a book tour,” Hagle said. “Ostensibly to talk about the book and political stuff, but it was also a way for him to try to increase his name recognition.”

Corbett faces other obstacles, too.

“The financing is a part of this as well,” Hagle said. “Kim Reynolds has a pretty good war chest at this point and will certainly be doing additional fundraising over the next year or so.”

Corbett is sure he’s going to be outspent, but Hagle said Corbett hasn’t done too poorly himself.

Donations and pledges to Corbett’s campaign have reached nearly $1 million.

The money will help Corbett get around the state, which is what he’ll need to do if he wants to be a serious challenger to Reynolds in the Republican primary, Hagle said.

The primary campaign should also give Corbett another chance to increase his name recognition.

“It’s usually good to have a primary,” Hagle said. “It can be a danger because if you have a nasty primary and the candidate … comes out damaged, politically or financially, then that can hurt for the general election.”

Primaries also give candidates a chance to get in shape politically, helping them hone their message, he said.

Corbett’s “core four” issues are tax reform, health care, education, and water quality.

“Iowa is a slow-growth state. … We’re starting to see the signs of a slow-growth state manifest itself in the state budget,” Corbett said. “We need to modernize our income-tax system and provide more growth for our state and more budget stabilization.”

Corbett said he plans to introduce tax reform using a grass-roots approach to decision-making.

“It takes a little more time, because you have to go out, and meet with people, and talk to them about their issues, and try to build consensus,” he said. “Sometimes, top-down works faster, but you get problems.”

Corbett said the state of Iowa’s health-care industry is a result of top-down decision-making.

While interviewing Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett on his plans to take on incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds in the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary campaign, he shared his early history owning an ice cream company.

“Many of the providers today are getting squeezed by the managed-care organizations on their reimbursement rates, [and] beneficiaries are being denied services by the managed-care organizations because of the restrictions that they’re putting in place,” Corbett said. “That was a result of a top-down decision. I’m going to try to change that.”

Iowa’s performance in K-12 education is another important issue for him.

“We used to be No. 1 for K-12 education. … People stayed in Iowa because of that, people moved to Iowa because of that,” he said. “We’ve allowed ourselves to incrementally get to the middle of the pack, and I want to get us back to No. 1.”

Corbett is also a strong supporter of the 3/8 penny tax for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Protection trust fund.

“If that were to be funded, we would have the resources to improve our water quality and take care of some of the flooding issues that Iowa seems to have almost every year,” he said.

Right now, Corbett said, the burden for conservation and water quality rests on farmers and their ability to invest in sustainable solutions on their own.

“Our water-quality efforts shouldn’t be based on the price of corn,” Corbett said. “It has to be ongoing, it has to be sustainable, and that’s the beauty of the trust fund.”

Corbett might be an underdog, but he doesn’t see himself as a fringe candidate.

“I’m not a renegade Republican, but I’m not a rubber-stamp Republican, either,” he said. “I’m a conservative Republican with an independent streak.”


Corbett’s career working in public service:

Iowa state representative, 1986-1999

Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, 1994-1999

President of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, 1999-2005

Youngest speaker of the house at 34 years old

Mayor of Cedar Rapids, 2009-2017


Reynolds’ career working in public service:

• Clarke County treasurer for eight years

  Iowa state senator, 2008-2010

  Lieutenant governor under Gov. Terry Branstad, 2011- 2017

  Governor of Iowa, 2017-2018

  Took over governorship at the end of May from Branstad, who became the U.S. ambassador to China

  First female governor of Iowa

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