We often drive through eastern Iowa on our way from central Illinois to Minnesota. The landscape is peaceful and prosperous. The farmhouses are well kept, and the roads smooth and wide. When we stop, Iowans are friendly and helpful.
Iowa is doing very well. The Census Bureau ranks Iowa #4 in lowest housing costs relative to income, and that cheap housing is near to the workplace: average commuting time is 19 minutes. Iowa is one of the safest states. The cultural scene is thriving: Forest City’s country music festival is ranked second in the country by Country Living magazine, and Broadway shows go straight to Des Moines. CNBC ranked Iowa 9th among the 50 states in its annual survey “Best States for Business”, with a similar ranking for quality of life.
So why does Iowa send a racist to Congress? Even before he was first elected to Congress in 2002, Steve King was clear about his disdain for immigrants of all kinds. As a state legislator, he proposed a law requiring Iowa students to be taught that the United States is the undisputed greatest nation on Earth. He sued his own Governor for providing ballots in languages other than English, despite the federal law that requires such ballots.
After election, King became known for his nasty characterizations of immigrants. In 2013, he generalized about undocumented immigrants: “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.”
Do immigrants pose a particular problem in Iowa? Iowa has one of the lowest proportions of foreign-born residents, less than 5%, compared to 13% for the US, and only 7% speak a language other than English at home, compared to 21% in the whole country. Iowa is one of the whitest states, with 85% non-Hispanic whites, more than all but 5 other states. King’s district is even whiter: 96% white.
Here is what King has done in this current Congress since January. He proposed to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which created the federal income tax. He found one co-sponsor. He proposed a bill to terminate the EB-5 program, part of the Immigration Act of 1990 signed by President George H.W. Bush. That program offers green cards for permanent residence to entrepreneurs and their families, if they invest in a commercial enterprise in the United States and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified American workers. He found one co-sponsor. He proposed a bill to use federal funds to support private schools, and to repeal federal nutritional standards for school lunch and breakfast programs that increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk, and reduce sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat. He managed 3 co-sponsors for that. King proposed to end our national policy of giving citizenship to anyone born in the US, even if their parents are not citizens, as he has done in previous years.
Is King perhaps just very conservative? No, some recent comments show that he is a white supremacist. In July, he said about non-whites on a cable news show, “I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you're talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?” Just before the Dutch election, he tweeted about the far-right candidate Geert Wilders, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The former KKK leader David Duke understood what King meant, and responded “GOD BLESS STEVE KING!” On CNN, King reaffirmed his idea of a white America: “I meant exactly what I said. I’d like to see an America that's just so homogeneous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective.”
Why do the people of northwestern Iowa keep electing King to Congress? It’s not because he does anything useful there. Since he was elected to Congress in 2003, he has sponsored over 100 bills and not one of them even got out of committee, even though Republicans controlled the House for most of those years. He was named the least effective member of Congress in 2015 by non-partisan InsideGov.
Are most people in Iowa’s 4th district racists? Not necessarily: in 2008, they voted for Obama over McCain for President.
Steve King, along with other politicians who have made openly racist statements, exemplifies an unhappy characteristic of many white American voters. Electing a conservative is more important than not electing a racist. As long as their choice is between a Democrat and Steve King, northwestern Iowans will keep voting for King, no matter how ineffective or prejudiced he is.
That’s how we end up with racists in Congress.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 11, 2017