King always talked like a racist, and that was okay for GOP

BUT THEN SCHOLTEN CAME TOO CLOSE

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

You can’t just walk away from Rep. Steve King after 18 years of harmful nonsense and act as if you have cleansed yourself in his defeat.

Some would have us believe that State Sen. Randy Feenstra of Hull beat King by nine percentage points in the June 2 Republican primary because it was some sort of moral catharsis going on in the 39 counties of Northwest Iowa as Minneapolis burned in rage. That King was just too much with his white supremacist talk.

He has always talked that way, going back to his days as a state senator suing Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, over gay rights. As a congressman, King reported his epiphany that he will not see gays in heaven. He went on to beat JD Scholten, a Sioux City Democrat, in November 2018.

But Scholten got close — way too close, within three percentage points — in a district that went for Trump like no other.

That was King’s mortal sin: to let a bachelor former semi-pro pitcher and progressive in the mold of Tom Harkin get within a country mile.

Few Republicans ever piped up when King made any number of his infamous remarks — certainly not Randy Feenstra. It was just Steve being Steve. Joni Ernst and Kim Reynolds hugged him and kissed him and campaigned for him. But when Scholten nearly beat him, well, that was too much.

After the election a story by Trip Gabriel in The New York Times had King musing whatever happened to the good old days when white nationalism was a thing. The Republican brass who would prefer a less-candid racist spotted their opportunity and made their move. Hanging out with Austrian or Dutch neo-fascists all the sudden became verboten. House GOP caucus leader Kevin McCarthy, who just suffered a humiliating defeat by now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, needed to find somebody to burn. It was King.

Gabriel had a good story. Glad he did it. Glad that anyone else finally noticed what Brent Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal, Doug Burns of the Carroll Times Herald and The Storm Lake Times have been dutifully reporting for King’s entire career — in his own words. People just kept voting for him because he was a straight talker who was not afraid to take on The Establishment. He was Trump without the money or the porn stars. He was ignorant but a philosopher, a racist for the common man, who could cut through the PC baloney until voters woke up one day and realized that we fought fascists in Italy and Germany, and we were starting to look like the people our fathers defeated.

That’s why JD Scholten got so close to Steve King. Scholten was honest and friendly, tired of the division and fear, and alarmed at how rural communities appear to be fading faster and faster the more all that manure trickles down on us.

Randy Feenstra is Steve King without the candor.

He campaigned not against King’s oppression of immigrants but the fact that McCarthy stripped him of his committee assignments. It’s about bringing home the bacon, especially for the ones who own you, and it’s not at all about who is slicing the bacon.

And, a kinder, gentler Feenstra who backs Trump four-square has a much better chance of sweeping Scholten and his little-people-don’t-forget-about-us agenda aside.

What they fail to realize is that Scholten beat King, not Feenstra. He demonstrated what an empty vessel Trump’s Republican Party has become for the real frustrations that rural folks experience. Feenstra is presented as more palatable, and therefore you can move on to some other race, because this is Farm Bureau country after all. Not so fast.

“They’re the same people who wrote us off the last time,” said Scholten, who has a chip on his shoulder for the DC power establishment himself. “I know there’s a lot of pissed-off rural people who know what this administration has done to these folks.”

He says this election will be a referendum on Trump, who congratulated Feenstra and forgot he ever knew King. Feenstra had former Gov. Terry Branstad and the rest in his camp. Scholten said Feenstra is a kept man for the corporate crowd that squeezes out independent businesses and farmers, and kills rural communities. Scholten wants to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act, Feenstra’s man Trump gutted it. Scholten wants more renewable fuels, Trump snuffed out the industry before the current oil slump.

“There’s definitely going to be a change,” Scholten said.

He was 10,000 votes short last time. He thinks there are 15,000 more votes out there this time. He has 100 volunteers, he is going after the Latino community like no candidate has before, and he has $1 million. Scholten promises to start touring the district in his Winnebago camper Sioux City Sue after July 4.

His message boils down to this: “The money doesn’t get down to people with dirt under their fingernails.”

That’s what people thought they were hearing when Steve King railed against the Establishment that he argued was persecuting the working man like him. Scholten is shining the opposite side of the same coin — that the Establishment is persecuting the immigrant along with the farmer and the small-town grocer. Scholten said he was inspired to run the first time when, after moving home to Sioux City from Seattle, he realized the best job in the help-wanted ads paid $12 per hour. We finance health care with a tin cup at the Casey’s store. He thinks people are fed up.

Feenstra, Scholten says, is an establishment puppet financed by “coastal billionaires and corporate PACs.”

The atmosphere has changed, all right. There were George Floyd protests in Sioux City, Storm Lake and even Spencer. People are not looking for the same thing in a more expensive suit, Scholten believes.

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