DES MOINES, Iowa — The husband of Iowa’s first female governor broke the mold Wednesday when he unveiled a doll of himself at the state Capitol, adding a twist to a popular — and some would say quirky— tradition honoring the state’s first ladies.

Kevin Reynolds, husband of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, was on hand as a doll with his likeness became the newest addition to a permanent display case at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. The porcelain doll, dressed in a tuxedo, required a new mold rather than the one available for more than 40 years.

“Initially I just said, ‘Just get a G.I. Joe doll,” Kevin Reynolds, referencing a popular children’s action figure, said about the attention.

Joan “Joni” Arnett, a longtime tour guide at the Capitol, said she was there in 1976 when the case, which holds a doll of most Iowa first ladies in history, dating back to territorial governors — was revealed to the public. Clad in tiny inaugural gowns, the 18-inch dolls are from a mold based on former first lady Billie Ray, who started the tradition and was married to then Gov. Robert Ray.

Arnett said she could never have imagined it would take this long to have a female governor, thus requiring a male doll. She’s answered endless questions about the dolls over the years. Both adults and schoolchildren make a stop at the display case as part of the official tour of the state Capitol.

Arnett said people always asked about what would happen with a female governor.

“The question was always if we have a woman governor, not when we have a woman governor,” she added.

There are several dolls in storage of the Billie Ray mold, just ready to be outfitted with whatever a first lady wears to the typical inaugural ball after a new governor is sworn into office. The inaugural clothing is what the case is technically known for, and there are actually dolls of two daughters in the case because they attended the inaugural balls of the time period.

State officials are figuring out whether a “first spouse” display is a more fitting recognition.

Just a handful of dolls have been added since 1976, mostly because Iowa has no term limits and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was in office for more than two decades. He stepped down earlier this year to become U.S. ambassador to China. Kim Reynolds, his lieutenant governor, is finishing his term as governor. She’s also seeking a four-year term in next year’s gubernatorial race.

Kim Reynolds was not at Wednesday’s unveiling, though she later saw the display case; it’s located near her office.

“The governor is excited for Kevin and is pleased to see this longstanding Iowa tradition continue — for the first time in a tux,” said Kim Reynolds’ press secretary, Brenna Smith, in a statement.

Officials say Kevin Reynolds’ doll, which is slightly taller than the others, was made in Colorado. Like the mold of Billie Ray, a mold of Kevin Reynolds will be ready for future dolls.

Author photo
BARBARA RODRIGUEZ
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