In 1982, Jeff Boeyink ’85 walked into a booth to cast his first vote in an election. It’s a momentous few seconds for any young person, but it turned out to be especially important for Boeyink. He voted for Terry Branstad for Iowa governor. Thirty years later, he is working as Branstad’s chief of staff.
Branstad is the longest-serving governor in the state of Iowa; his first tenure spanned from 1983 to 1999. During the late ’90s, Boeyink worked with the Republican governor as a lobbyist on taxpayer and fiscal issues. In 2009, Branstad asked Boeyink to lead his re-election campaign and then, when they won, to be his chief of staff. “I just couldn’t say no,” says Boeyink. “Terry Branstad is an icon. For someone growing up in the 80s, he was the only governor I knew for a long time.”
During that decade and the next, Boeyink worked as a lobbyist, campaign strategist and fundraiser for political action committees (PACs) in Iowa. Now Boeyink and the governor talk several times a day over the phone or in person. Boeyink calls himself the chief operating officer of the government. He manages the day-to-day workings of the entire executive branch, including a staff of more than 20.
Boeyink’s job is really a 24/7 lifestyle. He is the first line of defense when disaster—whether natural or political—strikes, like when the Missouri River flooded last May. On normal days, he arrives at the Capitol in Des Moines at 6:30 a.m. before heading off to a dozen meetings and answering more than 100 emails. “The beauty of this job is that every day is so different,” says Boeyink.
That’s because there’s always a different problem to tackle. One proud moment for Boeyink was the victory after a fierce budget battle in 2011 that lasted until the very last day of the fiscal year. Boeyink estimates that there will soon be $1 billion in budget surplus.
“I look at the state government as an oil tanker,” explains Boeyink. “It’s hard to change course. But once you start changing it, it’s hard to slow the momentum.”
Although the details of budgets and boards might bore non-politicians, Boeyink loves that state government has a real human impact. Anyone who pays state income tax, receives an Iowa Tuition Grant or holds a job is affected by the government. “This is where you want to be,” says Boeyink about state politics. “The size of government at this level is still small enough that you can make a difference.”
The urge to improve life for other people is what motivates Boeyink during his long hours in the Capitol or when the phone rings during his early Saturday morning golf sessions. He calls himself—and all politicians—idealistic. “We believe we have the ability to make positive changes. It doesn’t matter what party you’re from. We just go about it a little differently.”