Audio Shows Governor Reynolds Backed Out Of Agreement to Provide Felon Voting Rights Language

In a press release this morning, organizers alleged that Kim Reynolds "failed to keep her promise" to provide them with draft language of a constitutional amendment by Monday, releasing an audio clip in which she agrees to do so

In a Tuesday morning press release accusing Republican Governor Kim Reynolds of breaking her promise, organizers with the Des Moines branch of the Black Lives Matter movement released an audio clip to reporters of a meeting they attended Friday to press her on felon voting rights. The audio clip, embedded above, stretches for over half an hour and includes an exchange with Reynolds in which she agrees to provide draft language for an executive order to restore felon voting rights by Monday. But she did not: In a subsequent meeting yesterday, advocates of the proposal left disappointed.

“At time stamp 30:27 Des Moines BLM organizers ask Kim to create a good faith agreement to make language for the executive order available on the following Monday 6/16/20 which she then agrees to,” the press release said, referring to the audio clip. “Yesterday she failed to keep her promise. It is important for all Iowans to know the difference between Reynolds’ words and actions.”

Speaking with reporters later this morning as she toured a TestIowa COVID-19 testing site in Osage ahead of a visit by Vice President Mike Pence, Reynolds said her staff was still working on the language of the executive order. “We’re working on that right now, sitting down with various groups, listening to what they think is important that is contained in that executive order,” she said. “Then I have my legal team working on it.”

Reynolds called her discussions with Black Lives Matter organizers “a little bumpy in the beginning” but added that “the discussions are getting better.” She then reportedly suggested that not all of the demonstrators understood the political process. “That’s okay, it’s a process, and sometimes we have people that are new to the process, so they don’t — and I don’t mean this in a bad way — but just not familiar with who can do what, how it’s implemented, how important it is to get it done right.”

To the contrary, it couldn’t be clearer how to restore felons’ voting rights in Iowa, which is now the only state in the nation that permanently bars felons from voting unless they win an appeal directly with the governor — a burdensome avenue few have attempted to take, if they even know about it.

When Reynolds became lieutenant governor in 2011, her mentor and then-Governor Terry Branstad rescinded an executive order signed by former Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, that automatically restored the right to vote for felons after they served their time. Reynolds became governor in May 2017 when Branstad was appointed as President Trump’s ambassador to China. She attempted to brand herself as a criminal justice reformer, voicing support for the restoration of felon voting rights but refusing to sign an executive order that would have immediately achieved that, instead arguing that state legislators should pass a bill guaranteeing the right in the state’s constitution — a process that would take years.

Legislative efforts to that end have since repeatedly failed, and with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining popularity across the country, advocates of an executive order seized the opportunity to press the governor.

But after her meeting with them on Monday, it was clear Reynolds was still dragging her feet. “What she presented was a commitment — a guarantee — that she would be signing an executive order before the election, and then she said, by the latest, late summer into the early fall,” Matthew Bruce, a Black Lives Matter organizer, told The Des Moines Register.

In the same Register report, Des Moines state Representative Ako Abdul-Samad — who, along with Waterloo Representative Ras Smith, was a key proponent of a historic, if largely symbolic, racial justice bill signed into law last week and attended Friday’s meeting — suggested that the meeting gave lawmakers an excuse to again punt on a constitutional amendment.

“I think that Friday gave cover for the Senate to back away from a piece of legislation they had no intention of passing,” Abdul-Samad said.

In the audio clip released by Black Lives Matter Des Moines, an organizer asks Reynolds Friday, “Can we create a good faith agreement so we have something to take out here and be like, This is what we have for Monday?”

“Well, you’re going to allow me to work the process,” Reynolds says.

“How long is that?” another demonstrator asks. “She’s working it today,” adds another, to which the governor affirms, “Today.”

“And then we will come back on Monday and we’ll have some potential language to look at,” Reynolds continues.

“Potential?” an organizer asks. “Or we will have language to look at?”

“I can have language to look at Monday,” Reynolds responds.

On Tuesday, Reynolds reiterated that she plans to sign an executive order to restore felon voting rights before this year’s general election. However, on Friday, she can be heard in the audio clip continuing to push back on the idea that they should be restored without costly restitution repayment hurdles. It’s also unclear if she will end up signing the order in time for disenfranchised Iowans with felony convictions to be able to vote in the November 3 election.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.