Face the Nation’s Longest-Serving Governor
Nearly three years ago, then-Branstad Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink and I (Branstad administration communications director at the time) began discussing the possibilities for an event commemorating the date Gov. Terry Branstad would become the nation’s longest-serving governor.
Having recently hosted the then vice president of China, Xi Jinping, we had fresh memories of the dinner held in the state Capitol rotunda, and believed a similar event would be a leading possibility. We hashed out possible guests of honor, program run of show and where proceeds should go. We knew Gov. Branstad would want event proceeds to benefit Iowans. We didn’t discuss the event broadly outside the two of us, understanding the governor would first need to win another election.
We kept brainstorming, even as Jeff departed the administration in the fall of 2013 for an opportunity at LS2 group, and I followed shortly thereafter for my current role as director of Redwave Digital. We both assisted with the 2014 gubernatorial campaign and continued tossing ideas around for the longest-serving event.
In the summer of 2015, talks for the event officially kicked off with the governor and his office. The date had been nailed down: December 14, 2015. That would be the 7,642nd day of Gov. Branstad’s service to Iowa, when he would surpass Founding Father and New York Gov. George Clinton, who also served as vice president under Jefferson and Madison.
And speaking of historical landmarks, the governor thought, where better to hold the event than at the Iowa State Fair?
We knew we wanted a dinner, and we wanted to keep ticket prices low to ensure it was an approachable event. Plus, unpredictable weather on a holiday weeknight in Iowa could adversely affect attendance. Boeyink, and immediate past chief of staff Matt Hinch, agreed to co-chair the event and help us reach our ticket sale and fundraising goals. In case people had holiday concerts or other obligations that evening, the governor’s official office held a 6-hour Capitol reception for the general public.
But we still needed to determine what the event would entail, knowing this would quite likely be the only one of its kind in U.S. history.
We wanted the program to be special, unlike other overtly political events, where speaker after speaker takes the stage to give another speech.
Having seen the governor in countless interview settings, I knew he had a wealth of stories that couldn’t be properly articulated with just another speech. We wanted this to be a nice opportunity for everyone — even those who knew him best — to learn something new about the governor.
Hopefully I won’t need to check my Republican credentials at the door by stating this, but the idea for “A Conversation with Governor Branstad” came from video I’d seen for the Clinton Global Initiative, where Bill and Hillary had relaxed, sit-down interviews with a moderator.
With an eye on history, we bantered around ideas for authors, historians and others who might make a proper special guest. One person we discussed seemed to fit the event perfectly: “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson. His “Whistle Stop” podcast focuses on political history, and we thought he might be interested in participating in an event like this. We made the ask, and he graciously agreed to serve as moderator for the discussion.
Tickets sold swiftly, and we surpassed our ticket sales goal in just a week. In fact, ticket requests kept coming, and coming and coming. My colleague at Redwave, Jenae Stokesbary, did a masterful job of coordinating all 1,300 attendees into 138 tables and standing-room only sections. Over $330,000 was raised.
The end result was a lively conversation. A special thanks to everyone who assisted with and attended the event. Some of the coverage is below:
But in a relaxed Q&A on stage with John Dickerson of CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Branstad sprang forth with uncanny wit and comic timing.
“How did that work out?” Dickerson asked, referring to the governor’s Norwegian Lutheran dad and Jewish mom.
“That’s why I’m Catholic,” Branstad deadpanned…
Even ethanol and agribusiness mogul Bruce Rastetter, current head of Iowa Board of Regents and assumed to be joined at the hip with Branstad, said at the end of Monday that “some of the Ronald Reagan stories I had not heard.” If an insider like Rastetter learned a thing or two about the governor, that’s a good sign. — The Des Moines Register
Branstad was interviewed on stage during the event by John Dickerson, the host of “Face the Nation” on CBS and Branstad brought down the house with a reference to his wedding day at that church.
“You know what happened on June 17 of ’72? That’s the date of the Watergate break-in. That’s the date of our wedding at Christ the King church, so I had witnesses,” Branstad quipped. “I had a great alibi.”
Dickerson laughed, along with the crowd, and replied: “That’s the most extravagant alibi I’ve ever heard of.” — Radio Iowa
CBS “Face the Nation” anchor John Dickerson moderated the featured segment of the two-hour program, an on-stage interview with Branstad that weaved through his early days on a farm south of Leland near the Winnebago River to election as governor in 1982.
Branstad spoke in haunting terms about the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, recalling poignant stories of suicides and foreclosures and the fight he and other Iowans took to Washington, D.C., for agricultural-debt restructuring.
“I really personally felt what Iowans were going through,” Branstad said. — Carroll Daily Times Herald
Here I was thinking I’d already heard all the stories Gov. Terry Branstad had to tell about his famous mustache.
Not so. Branstad, who on Monday became the longest-serving governor in U.S. history, came up with a (relatively) new ‘stache story for the occasion. It was one of many yarns he spun during a celebration dinner for 1,300 people at the Iowa State Fairgrounds…
CBS Political Director John Dickerson, who interviewed Branstad on stage during Monday night’s event, had apparently heard the tale and asked if it was true — or just a good story.
Branstad was running his first re-election campaign for the Iowa House in 1974, when somebody robbed the bank in Thompson, Iowa. “They asked the witnesses to describe the bank robbers. I had my (campaign) signs all over the district, including Thompson, and with dark hair and a black mustache,” Branstad said.
The police artist’s drawing of the bank robber “looked like they copied it right off my signs,” Branstad said. — Kathie Obradovich, The Des Moines Register.