Kim Reynolds slated to become the first female governor of Iowa

The nation's longest serving governor will get to add another prestigious title to his long list of accomplishments.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has formally accepted President-elect Donald Trump's offer to become the next U.S. Ambassador to China.

"During our 30-year friendship, President Xi Jinping and I have developed a respect and admiration for each other, our people and our cultures," Branstad said in a statement Wednesday. "The United States - Chinese bilateral relationship is at a critical point. Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever. The President-elect understands my unique relationship to China and has asked me to serve in a way I had not previously considered."

This signals a significant change in Iowa politics -- Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds will become Iowa's first female governor if Branstad gets confirmed.

"Terry Branstad has really involved her in every step of the way ever since choosing her in 2010 as his lieutenant governor," Tim Albrecht, former communications director for the Branstad-Reynolds administration, said.

Reynolds also has a long list of accomplishments herself, Republicans close to the Branstad-Reynolds team point out, citing her efforts in STEM education and trade missions.

Jimmy Centers, who worked in several different positions with Branstad and Reynolds from 2009 until 2015, says Reynolds has never left Branstad's side.

"She has been involved in every budget decision, interviewing department heads, and judges," Centers said. "She is there crafting policy."

Prior to her current position, Reynolds worked her way up from Clarke County Treasurer and served on several committees in the Iowa Senate.

Reynolds was on vacation with her family as news broke of Branstad's nomination and released a statement praising the Governor's experience.

"Gov. Branstad has been my mentor and friend, devoting his life to advocating for Iowa," Reynolds said. "His record-setting public service as governor speaks for itself and has, without a doubt, made this state better. Gov. Branstad has never backed down from a challenge. I’m excited and proud to see him accept the responsibility as top envoy between the U.S. and China, and know that Iowans will be proud of his service on the world stage. I have been honored to be a full partner with Gov. Branstad in this Administration and know that the experience I’ve gained over the last six years has prepared me well for this next chapter of service to all Iowans."

There's been a lot of speculation surrounding the 2018 gubernatorial race. But Centers said only time will tell.

"Of course the Lt. Gov. as an incumbent would have some institutional advantages that other candidates won't," Centers said. "That doesn't mean that other candidates can't consider it, but it makes it far more difficult for them.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey ended rumors of a possible run for 2018 Wednesday afternoon.

“I was beginning to explore a run for a potentially open seat for Governor in 2018," Northey said in a statement. "If I made the decision to run, it would not have been a decision to run against a fellow Republican, but because I feel I have more to give by serving in a different role," Northey said in a statement. "I encourage Iowa republicans to unite behind Lt. Governor Reynolds, help ensure her election in 2018 and join me in working to keep Iowa red for the next generation.”

The Hill, a Washington D.C. based publication, reported Rep. Steve King (R - Iowa) was thinking of a possible 2018 run.

It'll be important to watch who Reynolds will pick as her lieutenant governor as well. If she picks a current elected official, Centers said, a special election will have to be held to fill that seat.

This also comes at a time when the statehouse is now under Republican control in both chambers, as well as the Governor. Tax reform, job creation and water quality remain as the top policies lawmakers hope to discuss in the 2017 legislative session.

"I think you'll see some subtle differences," Centers said. "That's natural in two different leaders."

But Centers expects Reynolds to uphold the party's values and top priorities. The 2017 legislative session starts January 9.

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