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Society

As Bad as Iowa's Steve King Appears, He's Actually Worse

J.D. Scholten has done everything right. The six-foot-six Sioux City native has visited all 39 counties of Iowa’s 4th congressional district campaigning from his Winnebago dubbed “Sioux City Sue.” His beautifully directed TV ads are filmed throughout Northwest Iowa featuring big eyed baby cows, tractors, corn and Scholten—a former baseball player—stretching out from the pitcher’s mound at the actual Field of Dreams. He is young by politician standards (born in 1980), and his campaign appeals to the grassroots donor by eschewing corporate PAC money.

His opponent? GOP Rep. Steve King. Despite King’s appalling track record as both a congressman and human being, it will take a miracle for Scholten to beat him on Tuesday. As a proud Iowa native, every bit of me wants to believe that isn’t true, that the voters of the 4th district will snap out of it and vote King out.

Last week, Scholten, a litigation paralegal, filed an ethics complaint against King for using taxpayer dollars to travel to Russia in 2013 where he wined and dined with Steven Seagal—Russia’s Dennis Rodman. King traveled with Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and right-wing luminary Michele Bachmann, supposedly investigating the Boston Marathon bombers—the Tsarnaev brothers from Chechnya.

While at the Moscow Ritz, King sought to procure a Chinese “masseuse” with the assistance of a diplomatic aid. November that same year, Donald Trump would make his fateful trip to the Moscow Ritz and the Miss Universe Pageant where he, according to the infamous Steele dossier, would hire sex workers to perform golden showers on the bed where President Obama once slept.

But sex scandals beyond the consensual affairs of yore—including sexual assault, alleged assault and harassment—make little difference in today’s political climate. King could have had masseuses lined up around the block, and it wouldn’t matter. Misuse of taxpayer funding by officials used to result in real consequences, but again, ethics be damned.

I have watched King for over a decade now. From the time he was elected to national office in 2002 (he was elected to the Iowa state House in 1996), he has gone from an anomaly, an embarrassment and a joke to GOP poster boy for the mainstreaming of white-supremacy.
The people of the district know that a vote for Steve King is a vote against their farming way of life. But the alternative—voting for a Democrat—proves daunting.
But as bad as you think Steve King is—he is actually worse. During an interview this summer with a right-wing Austrian media outlet (founded by a former Nazi SS officer), King made his worldview clear:
        
“In the U.S., we have almost a million abortions a year, babies who would be raised by American parents. Then, we bring in 1.2 million legal immigrants a year and add another 600,000 or so illegal immigrants. We add to our population approximately 1.8 million of “somebody else’s babies” who are raised in another culture before they get to us. We are replacing our American culture 2 to 1 every year.”

This is the theory of "The Great Replacement," embraced by eugenicists and xenophobes worldwide. Scholten came out on Twitter challenging at least one GOP elected official to condemn King. Scholten’s challenge was accepted albeit tepidly.

Representative Steve Stivers (R-OH) tweeted: “Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate. We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.” Rep. Stivers chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee and heads the House Campaign Committee. So far, he is the highest-ranking GOP member to come out against King.

Meanwhile, back in Iowa last week, Ivanka Trump returns to campaign with Gov. Kim Reynolds. This is important because Reynolds tapped Steve King to be her campaign co-chair. Reynolds has refused to fire King from her committee despite his increasing white-supremacist rhetoric. (I wonder if Ivanka knows King made his Final Solution-esque rant in Austria while on a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial group?)

A few corporations (Intel, Land O’ Lakes, Purina) have pulled support for King but only within the last week. He already has their money in the bank. However, this is the first time I have seen backlash—no matter how small—against King.

Is not being a white-supremacist enough to beat King? What does Scholten stand for? He is a Democrat, but I would place him somewhere between moderate and Blue Dog with a bit of progressive in the mix. He is personally anti-abortion, however has no intention of abolishing Roe. A Catholic, Scholten, treads the safe “legal and rare” line that made support for a woman’s right to abortion equivocal. However, he does advocate for comprehensive sexual education in schools, contraception access and draws attention to our unnecessarily high maternal mortality rate.

Like most elections, a lot boils down to who brings in the most money. If that were the only yardstick Scholten would be a shoe in. He has out-raised King consistently. Last week, Scholten pulled in more than $600,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday alone. King has relied mostly on his incumbent status, the fact that registered Republicans outnumber Dems in the district, and a voter demographic that skews older.
From the time he was elected to national office in 2002, he has gone from an anomaly, an embarrassment and a joke to GOP poster boy for the mainstreaming of white-supremacy.
And age does matter in this race. Behind agricultural industries, the second largest categorized group of donors to Steve King’s campaigns over the years has come from retirees. There are donations from the usual right-wing suspects like the anti-gay Family Research Council, the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, and similar groups under the rubric of “Christian Conservative.”

Among King’s largest individual donors are members of the Wells family. Wells’ Blue Bunny Ice Cream is available all over the United States though based in Le Mars, Iowa. The family has donated tens of thousands of dollars to King over the years. That brings me to an Esquire article. One about the Devin Nunes dairy farm that isn’t in Nunes’ district in California but instead nestled into Iowa’s congressional 4th. Locals have known what Esquire reported last month since Nunes moved the business to Iowa in 2006.

Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial columnist Art Cullen of Iowa’s The Storm Lake Times has had King’s number for years. In October, after the Esquire piece came out Cullen wrote: "The Wells Brothers down at Blue Bunny need the milk. And the Nunes brothers can get it to them at the price they need with Latino labor, as the other dairy operators admit. Young people able to clean out dairy barns are not exactly flocking to the profession in towns where beer is frowned upon." It is the wink and the nod between Nunes, King and big-time King donors, the Wells family— cheap labor greases the wheels and the corporations, King and Nunes benefit.

The Des Moines Register ran a piece last week titled After Four Years of Catastrophic Losses, Iowa Dairies Are Closing Their Barn Doors. It was the story of a third-generation farmer—outside a town named Toledo not 30 miles from the farm where I grew up; my dad taking over from my grandpa and my brother now having taken over for my dad. With commodity rates falling and farmer suicides rising as production costs go up and up, the Toledo farmer knew it was time to get out.

Cullen writes that the people of the district know that a vote for Steve King is a vote against their farming way of life. But the alternative—voting for a Democrat—proves daunting. This year the 4th district may want to reconsider. Scholten is closing in—within one point—on King.

As I finish this article, Scholten is playing it safe, telling reporters that it isn’t his place to label King a racist, instead choosing to call King selfish (true) and that he will let the voter decide on Tuesday. I am shocked for a moment. This young man who called out King and dared GOPers to join him is now lowering the tone so easily taken on Twitter.

But then I realize Scholten knows his demographic, he has to slow his roll just a little bit toward the finish line. Because I suppose, like me, Scholten knows, it is going to take a miracle—despite everything—to beat Steve King.