King holds rare town hall in Jefferson
By ANDREW MCGINN
Jim Sankot, of Jefferson, informed Congressman Steve King last Thursday that “90 percent of the time I’m on your side.”
Sankot then went on to relay an anecdote from his son in the construction industry, saying his son would rather take a whole crew of “illegal Mexicans” over white guys any day.
King, whose own son now runs the construction business he started, said he didn’t disagree.
The Crawford County Republican was full of surprises last Thursday during his first town hall in recent memory in Greene County, drawing what appeared to be more Democrats than Republicans to the Jefferson Community Golf Course, along with one man with a cellphone video camera trained squarely on King for the duration.
The man was presumably wishing and hoping for the next Steve King viral moment, a sign of the 4th District congressman’s growing infamy nationally and his penchant for saying things (about immigration, in particular) off the cuff — things that are simultaneously condemned by critics as bigoted and praised by supporters as unflinching honesty.
“I’m glad you come out here to talk to real people,” Lois Higgins, of Rippey, said afterward to King. “We thank God for you.”
On the flip side, Blake Gibbins, a 2010 graduate of Jefferson-Scranton High School, made national news in March for throwing a glass of water on King as he ate lunch in Fort Dodge.
Gibbins was arrested.
It was clear on arrival last Thursday that King, 69, isn’t just any regular ol’ congressman anymore, as the presence of two Jefferson police officers attested.
Police Chief Mark Clouse, who was one of them, said their presence had been requested by U.S. Capitol Police.
About two dozen people were in attendance.
Like a carnival barker egging on the curious, a King staffer on multiple occasions declared that no question asked of his boss on this day would be off limits. No topic would be too difficult, too sensitive, for the Wild Man of Kiron, so step right up!
A staunch local Democrat, Jane Alexander, went first, asking about ag prices. But before asking, she called attention to King’s decision to hold a rare town hall meeting in the first place.
“You don’t often get to Greene County for a town hall,” Alexander said. “I appreciate the opportunity to ask you a question.”
Having recently been stripped of all committee assignments by House Republicans — his punishment for a quote in January about white supremacy in The New York Times — King is arguably fighting for his political life.
The fallout quickly attracted primary challengers, most notably Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra, of Hull, who recently announced that he managed to raise more than $260,000 in the first-quarter of 2019.
King was remarkably restrained in his comments last Thursday, sounding more like a U.S. representative than at previous, private local appearances, when it seemed like he might be destined for a future drive-time slot on Fox News Radio.
There were no comments this time about vegans or Western civilization and other people’s babies.
He opened by speaking at length about trade, saying he was unwilling to call the U.S. showdown with China a trade war. He thinks history might judge it as “intense trade negotiations” between the two powers.
The negotiations need to be tough, he said.
“At the center of it has always been the Chinese piracy of intellectual property,” King said, adding that China pilfers between $300 billion and $600 billion annually in American patents and copyrights.
King also said he wouldn’t have opened NAFTA for renegotiation, as President Trump did, calling it good for agriculture and manufacturing in Iowa — but that he supports the president.
He said he was optimistic about potential new trade agreements with the European Union and the United Kingdom once it finally exits the E.U.
The E.U., he said, wants U.S. soybeans, liquefied natural gas and beef.
“It’s an opening I’ve been interested in for a long time,” he said.
King also voiced concern about the number of waivers being issued by the EPA to small refineries to get out of renewable fuel production requirements, citing a loss of 1.7 billion to 2 billion gallons a year of Midwestern-grown ethanol.
Churdan farmer George Naylor, who is against U.S. intervention in foreign countries, questioned King’s support of NAFTA, accusing him of being the same as Hillary Clinton on foreign policy.
“Do you understand that NAFTA was actually bad for farmers all over the world?” Naylor asked, pointing to Mexico in particular. “You created the policy that created the refugees.”
“I am for America,” King answered. “I’m not responsible for economies outside the United States.”
King called the situation on the Southern border “the worst mess that it’s ever been,” seemingly agreeing with Democrats that there’s a humanitarian crisis happening, but disagreeing on the cause.
“There’s a lot of human tragedy south of the border because we’ve got the doors open to our border now,” King said. “As long as our doors are open, the tragedy is going to keep happening.”
As long as the U.S. border remains open, King explained, migrants are going to keep trekking from Central America to Texas, enduring rape and the threat of death on the journey.
King’s frequent comments about immigration have made him Public-Sector Enemy No. 1 with critics, but as he explained, he only wants to restore respect for the rule of law.
If something isn’t done about illegal immigration, he said, “America changes dramatically as we know it.”
“I hate to see the central pillar of American exceptionalism, the rule of law, being destroyed,” he said.
When asked by Sankot why it takes so long to get a green card — while noting the excellent work ethic of many Hispanics — King answered that 5 million people are already waiting outside the U.S. for the opportunity to enter the country legally.
Immigration was also reflected in a question about the denial of federal aid to individuals affected last summer in Marshalltown by an EF-3 tornado. Around the same time, President Trump reportedly gave more money to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“He’s in a trap,” King said of the president. “The voters elected him to office in a big way because he proposed to build a wall on the Southern border.”
While noting that “I’d like to have resources come up here,” King said Gov. Kim Reynolds never once contacted him for assistance in appealing the denial of individual assistance funds for Marshalltown tornado victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
And on the Mueller report, King had this to say: “No obstruction, no collusion. I relied upon others to read those 400 pages. If there had been any evidence for a charge to be filed ... we would’ve heard about it.”