“It's a federal crime to watch animals fight, but it's not a federal crime to watch people fighting? There's something wrong with the priorities of people that think like that—that raise animals above people. I will not raise animals above people!”
Meet Iowa congressman Steve King, defending the classic American sport of dog fighting back in 2012.
King harkens from Denison, a small town in Western Iowa best known for producing “It’s a Wonderful Life,” actress Donna Reed. I grew up in a small town just two hours from Denison. Unlike the rest of Iowa, where population decline has reduced the state’s representation in Washington, DC, from eight congressional seats in 1960 to four today, over the same time period Denison has nearly doubled in size, from a population of 4,930 to 8,390. But here’s the big difference: Back in the old days, Denison was almost all white.
Today, whites make up only 48.6 percent of the population and Latinos, now 46.9 percent, are on a trajectory to become the majority soon. In fact, 59 percent of students enrolled in Denison's K-12 public school system are of Latino descent.
The demographic changes in King's home town apparently drove him to run for the Iowa state Senate in 1996, where he focused on such pressing issues as English-only bills. He also—unsuccessfully—tried to pass a bill he called the "God and Country Bill,” which Des Moines Register columnist Chuck Offenburger described as an "attempt to end the requirement that Iowa’s school children receive a multicultural, non-sexist and global education."
While running for Congress in 2002, King bragged that he was “labeled by the Des Moines Register as Iowa’s most politically incorrect state legislator, and I’m very proud of that.” In early 2004, he made national news by shrugging-off the atrocities of Abu Ghraib as "hazing."
King brags that he's been labeled Iowa’s most politically incorrect state legislator, and “I’m very proud of that.”
That was just the beginning. On nearly every issue, King displays an impressive knack for both bigotry and ignorance.
Here are some beauties:
- On his obsession with immigration, King said: “There are four million illegals that come across our borders in a year's time. That’s roughly the population of Sioux City, Iowa, coming into America every week that are illegal!” (Politifact notes that net migration to the United States from Mexico has dropped to zero, and rated Jeff Sessions exaggerated claim that 350,000 illegally cross U.S. borders each year as false.)
- On Dreamers, King opined: “For everyone who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds—and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
- On racial profiling, there’s this: “If you can’t profile someone, you can’t use those common sense indicators that are before your very eyes.”
- About Obama’s run for the presidency, he said, “When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected President of the United States—I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? I will tell you that, if he is elected President, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaeda the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11.”
Last July, King defended the Confederate flag he keeps on his desk in his congressional office—an odd racist homage in any circumstance, but especially strange for a Congressman representing a northern Union state that lost more troops, per capita, than any other state during the Civil War. King refused to take the flag down, using the old racist saw that the Civil War was just about states’ rights and only a "small part of if was about slavery."
A few weeks before that, King tried to have the House vote on an amendment to prevent civil rights hero Harriet Tubman from appearing on the $20 bill—calling the removal of white male Andrew Jackson both “sexist” and “racist.” In reality, Andrew Jackson was never slated to leave the $20 bill—he still will have one side of the bill to himself, with Tubman replacing the image of the White House.
All this was a fitting build-up for his recent racist coup de grace, when he tweeted:
He later added that his goal was "an America that's just so homogenous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective."
This meshes with King's previous comments, including his statement that whites have done their share to "contribute to civilization" and asked, "Where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people?"
In the 2012 election, Iowa Democrats believed they had a great shot to finally get rid of King. Iowa lost a congressional seat and the new district King would be in was an area President Obama won 53 percent to 45 percent in 2008. The popular former First Lady of Iowa, Christie Vilsack, was convinced to run—the table was set for King's final dinner.
But there was no Obama bump the second time around: Romney won the district and King emerged victorious with 53 percent of the vote.
In 2014, Democrats got a decorated Iraq war veteran to face-off against King (a hawk on recent wars, although he sought four deferments to get out of going to Vietnam). But 2014 was another wave year for Republicans and King won in a landslide.
In 2016, Kim Weaver ran a spirited campaign against King, but Donald Trump won the district by a breathtaking 61 percent to 34 percent margin on his way to carrying all four of Iowa's districts and winning the state for the GOP for only the second time since 1984.
In other words, King owes his electoral success to a combination of ten years as the incumbent in a deep-red district and three recent elections in which national political headwinds blew away his Democratic opponents.
King owes his electoral success to a combination of ten years as the incumbent in a deep-red district and three recent elections in which national political headwinds blew away his Democratic opponents.
A 2015 poll showed that only 41 percent of registered voters in his district held a favorable view him and 41 percent had an unfavorable view. Not a glowing endorsement even from an electorate far and away the most conservative in the state.
Like many politicians, if King faces the right candidate in the right year, he will be gone. The rather progressive Berkley Bedell, who had to leave office because of Lyme Disease, held onto this same congressional district when it was smaller and more conservative back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Perhaps 2018 will finally be the year when the combination of King’s lunacy and voters’ feelings about the leader of the Republican party add up to defeat.