Branstad served as the 39th Governor of Iowa from 1983 to 1999. After his retirement from politics, he served as president of Des Moines University from 2003 to 2009. In 2010, he returned to politics to run for governor again, defeating incumbent Governor Chet Culver to become the state's 42nd governor. He was re-elected to a sixth overall term in 2014. In December 2015, he surpassed New York's George Clinton as the longest-tenured governor in American history.
In December 2016, Branstad accepted President Donald Trump's nomination as United States Ambassador to China, a position he was confirmed and sworn into in May 2017. Upon his resignation as governor, he was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who became Iowa's first female Governor.
Branstad was born in Leland, Iowa, the son of Rita L. (née Garland) and Edward Arnold Branstad, a farmer. His mother was Jewish, and his father was from a Norwegian American Lutheran family; Branstad himself was raised Lutheran, and later converted to Catholicism. Through his mother, Branstad is a second cousin of DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland.
Branstad received a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Iowa in 1969 and a juris doctorate from Drake University Law School in 1974. After getting his undergraduate degree, he was drafted and served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1971, serving as a military policeman in the 503rd Military Police Battalion at Fort Bragg, and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for meritorious service; he once recalled that he arrested actress Jane Fonda for coming onto post at Arlington National Cemetery, where she was planning to attend an anti-war protest.
Branstad served three terms in the Iowa House of Representatives from 1973 to 1979 and served as the Lieutenant Governor of Iowa from 1979 to 1983, the year he was elected Governor of Iowa.
When elected governor at age 36, Branstad was the youngest chief executive in Iowa’s history and when he left office, he was Iowa’s longest-serving governor. He served as Chairman of the National Governors Association during 1989–1990, and also was Chair of the Midwestern Governors Association. In 1997, he chaired the Education Commission of the States, the Republican Governors Association, and the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition.
In 1983, he vetoed a bill that would allow a state lottery.
Iowa’s unemployment rate went from 8.5% when he took office to a record low 2.5% by the time he left office in 1999. In his first year as governor, the state budget had a $90 million deficit. It took several years until the budget was balanced. He said that he did not have enough support in the legislature to approve budget reforms until 1992. By 1999, Iowa had an unprecedented $900 million budget surplus.
Branstad focused most of his efforts on endeavors outside of politics when he left office in early 1999. He founded Branstad and Associates, LLC and was also a partner in the firm of Kaufman, Pattee, Branstad & Miller, and a financial advisor for Robert W. Baird and Co.
In August 2003, Branstad accepted an offer from Des Moines University to become its president. On October 16, 2009, he announced his retirement from Des Moines University in order to run again for governor.
Branstad was appointed by President George W. Bush to chair the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education. The commission was charged with developing a plan to improve the educational performance of students with disabilities. After completing his work with the commission in 2003, he was asked to serve as a member of the National Advisory Council for Positive Action for Teen Health, or PATH. The advisory council encourages action toward detecting adolescent mental illness. In April 2003, he was named to serve as a public member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which comprises both professional and public members who address a variety of issues related to the profession.
Branstad serves on the boards of, among others, Conmed Health Management Inc, American Future Fund, the Iowa Health System, Liberty Bank, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and Living History Farms.
On August 2, 2009, The Des Moines Register reported that Branstad was actively considering seeking the Republican nomination for governor. On October 7, 2009, Branstad filed papers to run for governor in the 2010 election. According to a poll conducted in September 2009 by The Des Moines Register, he maintained a 70% favorability rating from Iowans as compared to Governor Chet Culver’s rating of 50%.
On June 8, 2010, Branstad won the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but when opposing candidate Bob Vander Plaats conceded, he did not endorse Branstad.
The Des Moines Tea Party gave Branstad a "no" on their report card regarding "criteria for acceptance" and said Branstad had "a history of raising taxes, [was] not a true conservative, and increased the size of government every year he held office, [and] built a state-owned phone company." Branstad was accused by former Iowa State Auditor Richard Johnson of keeping "two sets of books" on the state budget when he was governor. Johnson said Branstad needed to be "transparent" to Iowa voters about the reporting of Iowa’s finances during his tenure as governor.
Branstad ran for reelection in 2014. He was opposed in the Republican primary by Tom Hoefling, a political activist and nominee for President in 2012 for both of America’s Party and American Independent Party. Branstad won the primary with 83% of the vote.
For the general election, Branstad faced Democratic nominee State Senator Jack Hatch and won the election with 59% of the vote.
In June 2013, Branstad signed into law a sweeping tax reform bill that garnered widespread bipartisan support, passing the Iowa Senate by 44 votes to 6 and the Iowa House by 84 votes to 13. The bill, entitled Senate File 295, provided for the state's largest tax cut in state history, including significant property tax reforms - estimated at $4.4 billion at the time of signing - as well as an estimated $90 million of annual income tax relief, in part in the form of an increase in the earned income tax credit. The bill also included significant reforms to education and healthcare.
In a June 2013 analysis by The Business Journals looking at 45 of the country’s 50 governors by their job creation record, Branstad was ranked number 28. The five governors omitted from the analysis all assumed office in 2013. The ranking was based on a comparison of the annual private sector growth rate in all 50 states using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
On April 13, 2017, with large Republican majorities in the Iowa legislature, Branstad signed a bill into law expanding gun rights in Iowa, enacting a stand-your-ground law, expanding the right of citizens to sue if they believe their Second Amendment rights are being infringed, and expanding the gun rights of minors, among several other provisions.
In December 2016, Branstad was chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to serve as US Ambassador to China, succeeding Max Baucus. Branstad accepted the offer within one day after meeting with President Trump in New York. Trump cited Branstad's decades of experience with China in his role as Governor of Iowa in choosing him for the role. Xi Jinping, China's paramount leader considers Branstad an “old friend”.
Branstad's hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee was held on May 2, 2017.
Branstad was confirmed by the Senate on May 22, 2017 in an 82-13 vote. He resigned as governor on May 24, 2017 in a ceremony at the Iowa State House, and was immediately sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to China.
His appointment marked the third consecutive time that a politician resigned a statewide office to become the Ambassador to China; Jon Huntsman Jr. resigned as Governor of Utah in 2009, and Max Baucus resigned as U.S. Senator from Montana in 2014.
Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds succeeded him as governor.
Terry Branstad married Christine Johnson on June 17, 1972. The couple have three children – Eric, Allison and Marcus – and seven grandchildren. Christine has worked as a medical assistant and as a volunteer at schools and hospitals.
Branstad is a member of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. He received the honor of "Knight Commander of the Court of Honor" in 2015.1972 election for Iowa House of Representatives District 8:
Terry Branstad (R), 59.0%
Elmer Selbrand (D), 41.0%
1974 election for Iowa House of Representatives District 8:
Terry Branstad (R), 68.7%
Jean Haugland (D), 31.3%
1976 election for Iowa House of Representatives District 8:
Terry Branstad (R), 70.4%
Franklin Banwart (D), 29.6%
1978 Republican primary election for Lieutenant Governor of Iowa:
Terry Branstad, 42.1%
1978 election for Lieutenant Governor of Iowa:
Terry Branstad (R), 57.7%
William Palmer (D), 42.3%
1982 election for Governor of Iowa:
1982 General Election:
Terry Branstad (R), 52.8%
Roxanne Conlin (D), 46.6%
Marcia Farrington (L), 0.3%
Jim Bittner (S), 0.3%
1986 election for Governor of Iowa:
1986 General Election:
Terry Branstad (R), 51.9%
Lowell Junkins (D), 48.0%
1990 election for Governor of Iowa:
1990 General Election:
Terry Branstad (R), 60.6%
Donald Avenson (D), 38.8%
Bailey/Nelson (SW), 0.4%
1994 election for Governor of Iowa:
Terry Branstad (R), 51.8%
Fred Grandy (R), 48.1%
1994 General Election:
Terry Branstad (R), 56.8%
Bonnie Campbell (D), 41.6%
Hughes/Davis (Petition), 0.6%
Butler/Stone (NL), 0.4%
Olsen/Carey (L), 0.3%
Galati/Pena (SW), 0.1%
2010 election for Governor of Iowa:
Terry Branstad (R), 114,290 votes, 50.4%
Bob Vander Plaats (R), 92,759, 40.9%
Rod Roberts (R), 19,916, 8.8%
2010 General Election:
Terry Branstad (R), 52.9%
Chet Culver (D), 43.1%
Jonathan Narcisse (I), 1.3%
Eric Cooper (L), 1.3%
James Hughes (I), 0.3%
David Rosenfeld (SW), 0.2%
2014 election for Governor of Iowa:
Terry Branstad (R), 129,752 votes, 79.8%
Tom Hoefling (R), 16.2%
2014 General Election:
Terry Branstad (R), 59.1%
Jack Hatch (D), 37.3%
Lee Deakins Hieb (L), 1.8%
Jim Hennager (I), 0.9%
Jonathan Narcisse (I), 0.9%