The Washington Post – Rep. King met with far-right Austrians on trip funded by Holocaust memorial group

Rep. Steve King met with members of a far-right Austrian party with historical Nazi ties during a European trip financed by a Holocaust memorial group.

In an interview with a website associated with the party, King (R-Iowa) declared that “Western civilization is on the decline,” spoke of the replacement of white Europeans by immigrants and criticized Hungarian American financier George Soros, who has backed liberal groups around the world.

King spoke to the Unzensuriert site Aug. 24 in Vienna, a day after concluding a five-day journey to Jewish and Holocaust historical sites in Poland, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The trip, including airfare to and from Europe, was financed by From the Depths, an international nonprofit group that seeks to educate lawmakers about the Holocaust.

Unzensuriert, which translates as “Uncensored,” is a publication associated with Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by a former Nazi SS officer and is now led by Heinz-Christian Strache, who was active in neo-Nazi circles as a youth. While the party has distanced itself from those connections, it recently embraced a hard-line anti-immigration stance while seeking ties with other far-right parties and leaders abroad.

“What does this diversity bring that we don’t already have?” King said in the interview. “Mexican food, Chinese food, those things — well, that’s fine. But what does it bring that we don’t have that is worth the price? We have a lot of diversity within the U.S. already.”

[Analysis: We get it, Steve King]

Documents that King filed with the House Ethics Committee make clear that the trip to Austria, from Aug. 24 until his departure from Europe on Aug. 26, was a personally funded extension of the Holocaust trip. But King’s airfare — which represented the bulk of the expenses for the trip — was borne by From the Depths.

Jonny Daniels, president of From the Depths, acknowledged that the group had flown King to and from Europe but said he had no knowledge of King’s plans after leaving the group Aug. 23.

“We didn’t know about any other travel,” he said. “We didn’t pay for any other travel or anything of the kind.”

In an interview Thursday, King said much the same and accused his “political opposition” of “ginning this up” ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

“It wasn’t their idea, and it wasn’t anything they knew about, and they received no communication from me with regard to the Vienna meetings,” he said of From the Depths. “That was all on me and completely separate from that.”

[‘It’s the message, not the messenger’: Rep. King refuses to delete Nazi-sympathizer retweet]

King is seeking reelection to a ninth term in the House against Democrat J.D. Scholten, who has outraised King and is campaigning aggressively in Iowa’s overwhelmingly Republican 4th District.

King described his travels in Poland as a “very, very powerful experience” but also described later visiting historical sites separately from the From the Depths group to get a “Polish perspective” on the Holocaust.

“I asked them what was worse, was it the Nazis or was it the Soviets?” he said Thursday. “And they don’t know the answer to that because the Soviets occupied them longer, may have killed more of them, but it was over a longer period of time.”

King defended his meetings in Vienna with Freedom Party members, noting that its leaders are participating in the Austrian government and that they “completely reject any kind of Nazi ideology or philosophy.”

“That’s not a fringe group,” he said, adding: “I have identified them and counted them as friends and allies well before they were winning elections. But that’s a good thing to build those relationships before they come to power.”

In the earlier interview, King identified Soros as a force behind the “Great Replacement” — a notion promoted by far-right groups — and accused him of surreptitiously influencing U.S. elections and policymaking. “His money floats in in such a way you can’t see the flow,” King said, “but if you trace it back, you can connect it to his foundation.”

The “Great Replacement” theory is a view on the right that white Europeans are being replaced by minorities.

[The original source for Trump’s claim of 63,000 immigrant murders? Bad data from Steve King in 2006.]

Criticism of Soros, who is Jewish, has frequently carried anti-Semitic overtones, and he is one of several figures linked to the Democratic Party who have been targeted with mail bombs intercepted in the United States this week.

On Thursday, King denounced the bombing attempts but declined to retract his criticism of Soros or acknowledge a possible link to anti-Semitism. He went on to repeat unfounded allegations that Soros, as a young teenager in occupied Hungary, collaborated with authorities against his fellow Jews.

“Me pointing out the activities of George Soros is a matter of pointing out the facts, and there is no reason to refrain from the real truth,” he said. “I don’t think about George Soros as a Jew. I think about him as an operator, a leftist operator that’s been engaged in upsetting freedom and [being] more or less an enemy of conservatism.”

Four other House Republicans joined King and his wife on the trip to Poland, but none of the others traveled to Austria afterward.

“You sort of hope that a trip like this gives a better understanding to a parliamentarian,” Daniels said, “understanding that the connection between hate speech and hatred of any people or any nation leads directly to places like Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

From the Depths, he said, invites lawmakers from across the political spectrum, from the United States and other nations. Daniels said that he was not completely familiar with King’s views but added that his group did not condone “hate speech” from any politician.

“We’re against any kind of labeling of a group or anything of that kind,” he said. “So for us, we condemn hate speech, be it from the left or be it from the right or be it from the center. It’s all the same for us.”

[Austria turns sharply to the right in an election shaped by immigration]

King has met with Strache and another Freedom Party leader, Norbert Hofer, who narrowly lost a national election last year but now participates in the country’s governing coalition. They are among several far-right political figures that King has met with and promoted, including Dutch politician Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front.

Earlier this month, King endorsed a far-right candidate for Toronto mayor, Faith Goldy, who has promoted the idea that there is a “white genocide” underway. In June, King retweeted a message by Mark Collett, a self-described “Nazi sympathizer,” and refused to apologize after an uproar.

Full article:

Letter to the Editor: ‘We need someone who will truly work for us’

As a fourth generation livestock and grain farmer working the land my great-grandfather bought in 1921, I am greatly worried about the state of our farm economy. I’ve had the same inefficient representative in Steve King for 16 years. So far as I know, he’s done nothing for farmers.

We have fewer seed companies and buyers for our livestock because of mega mergers. My input costs are going up while corn and soybean prices are going down thanks to the Trump Administration’s failure to enforce the RFS and their boneheaded trade war with China. Meanwhile, many farms, factories and grain elevators can’t secure the workforce they need thanks to our outdated approach to immigration.

What has Steve King done to help us with any of this? Nothing! He isn’t on the Farm Bill conference committee anymore, and we remember his endorsement of Ted Cruz for president, the man who wants to destroy the ethanol industry to please his Big Oil backers.

King’s extreme racist views have divided our state. Worst of all, he refuses to be held accountable because he can’t be bothered to do public events or town halls or debates where questions could be asked of his record. He definitely does not represent me!

I believe J.D. Scholten is the breath of fresh air we need. Like Senator Grassley, he’s committed to being accessible to all and doing town hall tours in every county. He is someone who will listen to everyone, who will put the interests of farmers and the people of Iowa first ahead of his own political agenda. I usually vote for the person, and J.D. Scholten is an informed and decent person. We need someone who will truly work for us in the U.S. Congress.

Full letter:

Iowans deserve better than King

To the editor:

FACT: White supremacists include KKK and neo-Nazis. Our federal congressman, Steve King, has promoted a well-known neo-Nazi, Mark Collett, on Twitter. My three uncles: Donald, Marion and Loren, fought Nazis in WWII.

Donald received a Silver Star for saving two men caught in a crossfire, and Marion received a Purple Heart when he and his fellow machine-gunners were bombed from a second-story position into the basement. They were both on Omaha Beach on D-Day and also in the Battle of the Bulge. Loren fought in a string of islands in the Pacific.

If you guess that I am outraged when my congressman ENDORSES a neo-Nazi, you would be CORRECT!

Iowans deserve better than King. Please elect J.D. Scholten to Congress. He understands Iowans and will WORK for ALL of us!

Marjorie Franks

Fort Dodge

Full letter:

Sen. Bernie Sanders Rallies In Sioux City To Flip Iowa’s 4th Congressional District

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been traveling the country to rally for candidates he says could make a difference. One of those candidates he believes in is J.D. Scholten, the Democrat running to represent Iowa’s 4th Congressional District.

Sanders told a crowd at Morningside College in Sioux City that a mere one or two districts could determine whether Democrats or Republicans take control of the House.

“That is a possibility. And one of those votes could be the 4th District of Iowa,” he said to loud applause and cheers.

Voter turnout, he said, will make a big difference.

During the rally, Sanders took aim at President Trump, calling him a “pathological liar”, who Sanders said hasn’t delivered on promises like universal health care. He also criticized Congressman Steve King, R-Iowa, for his support for tax cuts Sanders says will hurt social security and Medicaid.

“But this election is not just about Congressman King and it is not about Donald Trump,” Sanders said. “It is about the kind of future that we want for ourselves and our children and future generations.”

Sanders spoke about issues like student debt, wages and health care. He called the country’s health care system “dysfunctional” and praised the momentum that expanded Medicare is picking up.

“I want you to think about what it will mean to this country, what it will mean that you don’t have to worry about whether you can afford to go to the doctor or not,” Sanders said. “What it will mean is you don’t have to worry about going bankrupt if you end up in the hospital, if your child ends up in the hospital.”

During his three 39 county tours across the 4th District, Scholten has made health care a key issue in his campaign, with his long term vison being Medicare for all. He talked on Saturday about going to gas stations to fill up his RV, the “Sioux City Sue”, and noticing donation boxes for people who are sick.

“We live in the wealthiest country in the world, and that’s unacceptable,” Scholten said.

Scholten fired up the crowd talking about campaigning in Iowa’s most rural, conservative district, going to every county and meeting with voters from all parties, face-to-face.

“It’s about proving you’re trustworthy, it’s about proving that you’re gonna fight for the people of your district and that you’re gonna earn votes regardless of voter history,” Scholten said. “And we’re building a coalition to not only compete with Steve King, but to beat Steve King.”

After the rally, Scholten said Sanders coming to support him is one vision he had when he first launched his campaign two years ago. “It just shows the amount of hard work that we’ve been able to put in,” he said. He acknowledged the energy from the crowd of about 300 people who came out to show support.

“This will be something that I remember for a very long time,” Scholten said.

Full article:

Why conservatives should vote for J.D. Scholten

I often agree with conservative values but find that conservative policies don’t reflect those values as well as I’d like. In many cases J.D. Scholten, candidate for U.S. Congress, supports conservative values better than incumbent Steve King.

For example, most conservatives consider themselves “pro-life”. A pro-life stance should make people in favor of universal health care, since lack of health insurance caused about 45,000 deaths a year according to a Harvard University study. Steve King is for increasing deaths by repealing the Affordable Care Act, which gave health insurance to millions. He wants to put health care in the hands of for-profit insurance companies who make money by NOT paying claims on time (or at all) and by denying coverage to people who need it most. J.D. Scholten is for universal health care with an eventual (but not immediate) shift to Medicare for all. A pro-life person should support sensible gun regulations that make us safer. Scholten is for them, King is not. A pro-life person should be for taking action against the climate change that is threatening the planet. Scholten is, King is not. Scholten is not in favor of abortion, but is against government prohibiting it. Even if you disagree with Scholten on abortion, if you agree on those other issues, vote for him.

Steve King talks a lot about obeying the Constitution. We all agree. King’s website says “Our Constitution is timeless and is just as legitimate today as when it was first written.” When it was written, people couldn’t vote for president or senator, women couldn’t vote for anything, black people counted as only 3/5 of a person, and it was unconstitutional to pass laws against the slave trade. King has argued that some people born in the USA should not be US citizens, in direct violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. He introduced a bill to override the Constitution, which can’t be done by law—only by amendment. This bill, like all but one of the bills King has introduced in 16 years, is sure to fail. King argued that the US should default on part of its debt to avoid raising the debt ceiling. This is also expressly prohibited by the 14th Amendment. Perhaps King doesn’t believe in enforcing amendments ratified after 1800? If you like obeying the Constitution—as amended—vote for Scholten, who is not in favor of either of King’s unconstitutional views.

“E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “Of Many, One,” appears on the Great Seal of the USA and on all U.S. coins. Nearly uniquely of the major countries of the world, the USA is defined by ideals and institutions, not by ethnicity, religion, or birthplace. If you want to make America great again, use the formula that has always made us great — acceptance and assimilation of immigrants. King tweeted last year: “Wilders [a Dutch racist-JE] understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Many Iowa businesses rely on immigrant labor and would be bankrupted by the immigration policies advocated by King. Undocumented immigrants who get jobs with fake Social Security cards are penalized because they pay into Social Security like the rest of us but can never collect any for themselves. Scholten is for strong borders, but for immigration reform that will allow the immigrants that our economy needs.

Most conservatives tout their “family values.” Separating toddlers from their mothers at the border is hardly a way to strengthen families. King said this was no worse than summer camp. Except kids who go to summer camp do so voluntarily, they know they will soon reunite with their families, and they don’t spend 20+ hours a day indoors in large cages. Many kids who sought asylum are still in detention, their parents were deported without them, and the kids may never see their family again. Scholten is against such draconian measures.

Conservatives like to reward hard work. So does J.D. That’s why we need to raise the minimum wage and strengthen the rights of unions so those who do hard work can get their share of the value they produce. Scholten agrees; King does not. In the last 35 years worker productivity has risen greatly but wages have not. The money generated by this increased productivity has gone to executives and shareholders, not to the working class. Scholten wants workers to get their fair share; King doesn’t. Some years ago, I asked King the following at a town hall: Is it fair that a stock trader who makes a $70,000 profit from stock transactions pays less tax than a person who makes a $70,000 salary? He said it was fair. I think that a person who works for a year creates far more value for society than a stock trader. The salary should NOT be taxed more; if anything it should be taxed less.

Conservatives like freedom. We all do. But freedom isn’t just absence of legal restrictions; it’s also the presence of resources needed to make choices. You aren’t free to go to college if you have no money, have to work full time and also need to take care of younger siblings. You aren’t free to run a business if none of your customers can afford to buy what you’re selling. Conservatives frequently point to people who rose from poverty to great things. Sure, the immensely talented can often overcome adversity. But the modestly talented should be able to achieve modest success. These days if you are poor that’s a doomed dream. The USA has less economic upward mobility than most other developed countries. We need investment in people: better education, and social services that give people the time and resources to pursue their dreams. Saving tax money by denying these services wastes vast amounts of human talent and denies our economy much of value. Scholten is for that investment; King prefers tax cuts for the already rich.

I’d recommend that you ask Steve King about these issues, but he has hardly any public appearances and has refused to debate.

Many Republicans think that government works for the taxpayers. This leads to a possibly unconscious ethos that those who pay more taxes — big corporations and the rich — deserve more from government than those who pay less. J.D. thinks that government works for the citizens, not the taxpayers. Everyone should have an equal voice. One person one vote, not one dollar one vote. Don’t give up your right to help determine who runs the government. Exercise your power and vote for J.D. Scholten.


Storm Lake

Full letter:

Letter: Scholten is the clear pick for the 4th

As an independent voter, I am usually forced to choose between the lesser of two evils when voting for my representatives. That being said, I am grateful that I get to vote for J. D. Scholten this year in the 4th District race for Congress.

His platform of economic reform to benefit the middle class, getting “big money” out of politics, and affordable health care perfectly reflects my values as an Iowan.

I won’t even discuss “he who must not be named” and his platform of fear and ignorance.

J.D. even managed to get a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream named after him.

The answer is clear: Vote J.D. this November!

Full letter:


Iowa’s largest and most influential newspaper, The Des Moines Register, slammed Representative Steve King (Republican – Iowa) in a scathing editorial that went also after the GOP as a whole.

The Register’s editorial board on Saturday endorsed voting for Democrats down the line, arguing that Republicans had failed to get anything good done despite controlling the both chambers of Congress and the White House.

But the strongest language in the piece was reserved for the race involving King, who has routinely made national headlines for accusations of racism and his penchant for running in the same circles as neo-Nazis.

King has regularly churned up controversy with his courting of the far-right. This summer, for instance, he re-tweeted an anti-immigrant message from British neo-Nazi Mark Collett. He refused to apologize.

“It’s unjust to simply put a politically correct bridle on someone and say, ‘You’ve got to do a background check on everybody that ever tweets something out before you can ever agree with a single sentence that they might put out,'” he told CNN in June. “And by the way, I didn’t even know it was his message.”

King has also regularly made comments widely thought as racist. In support of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, he once tweeted, for instance: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

Polls last month showed King had a pretty strong lead over Scholten. A survey from Emerson colleged showed the GOP candidate had a 10-point advantage.

Full article:


SPENCER, Iowa — “The step’s broken, so watch yourself on the way up,” says J.D. Scholten, as he hops into the Winnebago that’s been his mode of transportation and overnight hotel for the past few months. I’m not as rangy as Scholten, a 6-foot-6 former Minor League pitcher, but I manage to tumble into the vehicle, nicknamed “Sioux City Sue.” Scholten is behind the wheel for the 45-minute trip to Estherville, which winds through Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, long the domain of white nationalist Rep. Steve King.

We lope across tiny roads framed by corn and soybean fields, and when a semi comes in the other direction, it seems like we’ll have no choice but to veer into the stalks. Somehow the road supports both wide-bodies, and we rumble on.

Prior to “Sioux City Sue,” which was manufactured in the district and is powered by Iowa-made corn ethanol, Scholten says he “had never been in a Winnie before.” But by early October, he’s logged 45,000 miles in it, sleeping most nights in Walmart parking lots, on a bed tucked above the driver’s seat.

Scholten, 38, is on his third tour of the 4th District, a sprawling expanse of northern Iowa that covers 39 counties and around two-fifths of the state’s landmass. His vision for upsetting King, an eight-term congressman in a bright-red district, mostly involves relentless engagement. He’s held multiple town halls and impromptu meet-ups in every county, turning out unusually large crowds, at least for a Democratic political event, in overwhelmingly Republican areas.

National leaders are finally taking notice. Sen. Cory Booker held an event with Scholten on farm issues on Monday, and Sen. Bernie Sanders will spend a weekend on the trail with him soon. Sanders’s fellow Vermonter Ben Cohen just named a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor after the candidate, though it was an odd choice for a pitcher: “Joltin’ Scholten’s Grand Slam Home Run.”

National Democrats have mostly focused on suburban, well-educated districts that have grown disenchanted with Donald Trump’s GOP. But flippable voters also exist in farm country — including in Amish country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania — which Democrats have ignored for decades. In fact, rural America presents unique opportunities for populists. Rampant consolidation of seed and livestock producers threatened independent farmers even before Trump led the country into dubious trade wars. As good jobs and entrepreneurs scatter to the coasts, rural Iowa has been left a depopulated shell. Scholten focuses on this issue, and it’s turned heads among restless independents and Republicans.

“I think he has a puncher’s chance,” said Doug Burns of the Carroll Daily Times Herald, a small newspaper in the district. “Howard Dean had his 50-state strategy and it worked. Scholten has a 39-county strategy.”

SCHOLTEN IS A native son, born in Ames and raised in Sioux City. His family has agricultural roots – one grandfather sold seeds, and the other farmed a plot near Lake Mills that remains in the family. But as the son of a baseball coach, sports became J.D.’s early passion.

He pitched in the College World Series at the University of Nebraska and then bumped around independent leagues in seven countries, from his hometown Sioux City Explorers to teams in Germany, Belgium, and France. On a barnstorming tour in Cuba, he gave up a ground single to Yasmany Tomas, who would later star for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I loved the strategy side of baseball,” Scholten said. “I’m new to a lot of things when it comes to politics, but strategically I think I have an advantage.” Plus, the grind of the minor leagues prepared him well for life in a Winnebago.

After baseball, Scholten worked as a paralegal in Minneapolis and Seattle. He tells a story at town halls about spending the aftermath of the 2016 election at the retirement home of his Grandma Fern, who urged him to come back to Iowa. She died a month later, and Scholten made up his mind to heed her call. But he couldn’t find any job in the local paper that paid more than $15 an hour with no benefits. “I had my 20th high school reunion, and the kids I grew up with were all doing amazing things but not doing them here,” he said. “I want to work on creating a new rural economy.”

With two opponents in the June primary, the neophyte politician had to devise a game plan. He looked to his two political heroes: retired Senator Tom Harkin, and Berkley Bedell, a Class of ‘74 House member who represented northwest Iowa for six terms until 1986. He was the last Democrat to hold a seat in this region. “Berkley Bedell would win Sioux County, which since then has never voted for a Democrat for president with more than 22 percent,” Scholten said. Bedell, now 97, offered to campaign with Scholten in the district before his medical minders thought better of it.

Bedell was a populist who asked “does the 1% now own your government” in campaign flyers decades before Sanders. But the key to Bedell’s success was consistent engagement in small towns. He would have constituents vote at town halls on what issues he should take up in Congress. It was true representative democracy, and it appealed to Scholten as a model. “When you show up and have these conversations, you let people know you’re not that caricature that the other side will portray you as,” he said.

Scholten decided to get in his car and reach as many voters as possible through extreme retail campaigning. Later, the campaign made a deal for Sioux City Sue, so named after the Gene Autry song. They painted his logo on the Winnebago and used it as a mobile billboard. If Scholten had no town hall scheduled, he would drive slowly through the main drag and announce through a megaphone attached to the roof that he’d meet up with anyone at the local Casey’s General Store, an Iowa chain known for its coffee, donuts and pizza.

It paid off with 51 percent of the vote in the primary. “Democrats have to get back to that model of showing up and listening and letting people know you care,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, the first member of Congress to endorse Scholten. “Most people vote for someone because they feel they can trust them.”

The town hall tour has picked up earned media district-wide, and Scholten advertises the events through local outlets as well. With dozens of rural newspapers and radio stations across Iowa, getting coverage can really boost name recognition. Scholten considers local news some of the last trusted sources remaining; his ad strategy includes print, TV, but also radio, which farmers listen to in the fields. (He added that The Intercept was the first national publication to take his campaign seriously.)

“He’s using rural newspapers in a way I haven’t seen from a congressional candidate in my career,” said the Carroll Daily Times Herald’s Doug Burns. “The only person who did anything similar is Senator Sanders, he was highly visible in local papers.” Sanders battled to a tie in the 2016 Iowa caucuses.

“We’re running the Moneyball version of a campaign,” Scholten said, referring to the Michael Lewis book about how the Oakland A’s strategized to maximize their talent despite being outgunned by big-market rivals with deep pockets to sign players. Using the Winnebago as an advertisement is one example. So is seeking out local residents as field organizers who understand how to move votes in their towns.

Scholten has also focused on yard signs. In small towns where everyone knows one another – the “farmer’s wave,” which consists of raising an index finger off the steering wheel as a car passes, separates locals from outsiders – a yard sign in front of the house can act as an invitation from a neighbor that it’s OK to support a Democrat. “It’s like old-fashioned social media,” said Rob Sand, the Democratic candidate for Iowa state Treasurer. Scholten claims that his campaign is running even with King on yard signs in the rural areas, and if you add in Sioux City and Ames, two more relatively liberal cities, they’re crushing him. This bore out on my travels across the district; I didn’t see a single King sign.

Unlike the A’s against the Yankees, Scholten has more money than King. While his $776,000 in receipts through June ranks lower than the million-dollar fundraisers among 2018 Democratic House candidates, it’s over $250,000 more than King, and unlike King, Scholten doesn’t take corporate PAC money. Among individual donors, Scholten’s outraised King 2:1, and he expects to double his total haul to $1.5 million by the end of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Scholten’s crowds have grown larger. There were 65 in Sheldon, in O’Brien County (pop. 14,398, Trump won in 2016 by 77-18); 35 on a weekday in Ida Grove, Ida County (pop. 7,089, Trump 74-22); and a whopping 182 in Bedell’s birthplace, Spirit Lake, Dickinson County (pop. 16,667, Trump 65-30). The event with Senator Booker, in Boone, brought in an estimated 150.

Dickinson County Democratic chair Harold Prior highlighted a moment at the Spirit Lake town hall that sums up Scholten’s approach. A Republican constituent active in local politics asked about immigration, and after Scholten answered, kept pressing with follow-ups. He referenced Mollie Tibbetts, the University of Iowa student killed by an undocumented farm worker. Some in the crowd started grumbling about the soliloquy, but Scholten hushed them.

“He said, ‘Wait a minute, I invited everyone here to hear their concerns, and we’re going to respect that,’” Prior recalled. “It was a terrific moment for J.D., exactly what we want our representatives to do. Even if you don’t agree with someone, they have a right to make their opinions known.”

SPENCER, IOWA, THE seat of Clay County, has a three-block-long business district, which in this part of the state makes it almost a metropolis. But there were moments as I walked through downtown on a rainy Thursday afternoon when I was the only one on the street, with almost nobody in the stores.

In the one-story county administration building, Scholten addressed a crowd of about 30, leaning into many progressive positions Democratic candidates are employing across the country. He supports Medicare for All, but thinks as a bridge to getting there, Congress should enact a public option and a Medicare buy-in at age 55. He endorses raising the minimum wage and expanding Social Security. He talks about the epidemics of high drug prices and medical bankruptcies, about donation buckets seen at every gas station in Iowa, asking for money to help someone with their doctor bills. He highlights fighting special interests and reforming campaign finance, and checks Democratic boxes on preventing climate change, building infrastructure, and improving mental health services.

But Scholten leads with something more novel – a detailed critique of the farm economy. It doesn’t hinge on the Trump tariffs that are typically all you hear about from Democratic candidates. “We’ve had four consecutive years of low commodity prices,” Scholten told me in the Winnebago on the way from Spencer to another town hall in Estherville. “The average owner of a farm is a 72 year-old woman, and the average operator is over 58 years old. When kids are moving off the farm because it’s harder to farm, what’s going to happen?”

Scholten’s top issue in agriculture is corporate consolidation that has threatened the existence of any farm that’s not industrial in scale. A few companies own most major livestock producers, and Monsanto’s merger with Bayer capped off a run that saw the top seed producers shrink to just three, a circumstance that has tripled seed prices over the last 20 years. Concentrated animal feeding operations and factory farms dot the Iowa landscape. “Any time you take the market option away, you add pressure and costs on farmers,” Scholten said.

Even farm credit companies have merged, narrowing choices for financing every farmer needs. Community bank closures have severed generations-long personal relationships between farmers and local bankers, reducing access to loans. And big banks, mindful of their bottom line more than the struggles of their neighbors, are less likely to cut farmers slack for having a bad year in the fields. So one bad year — and there is always one bad year — can mean the farm has to be sold, perpetuating the cycle of consolidation.

On our drive, Scholten pointed out fields that used to be filled with seed corn, to generate crops for the following year. That practice has become illegal, as companies like Monsanto sell seeds but retain the ownership, forcing farmers to re-purchase every year. “It’s like buying a Chevy pickup,” said Chris Peterson, a hog farmer in Clear Lake, Iowa, “but Chevy still owns it. If you want to change a tire, you have to ask them. You don’t own the pickup even though you paid for it.”

This has made traditional farming virtually obsolete, and put many into penury. Half of all Iowa farmland is rented out by landlords. Over 70 percent of chicken farmers live below the poverty line. Farmers and ranchers make less than 15 cents out of every dollar consumers spend on food, an all-time low. Farmer suicides have risen to record highs, more than double that of veterans.

Many who can’t survive leave; Iowa’s 4th is so massive because its borders had to be stretched to find enough people to make a full congressional district, as a struggling farm economy can no longer support all the ancillary businesses that cater to farmers. Food quality suffers with monoculture crops bred for yield instead of quality, and fragility in the system increases; a blight on one of the handful of seeds used a year can wipe out millions of acres.

While ethanol mandates have propped up some farms, EPA waivers exempting blending for well-connected refineries have dipped prices by up to 40 cents a bushel and left two ethanol plants in the district temporarily shuttered. On Tuesday, Trump visited Council Bluffs and announced the launch of a process to make E15 ethanol available year-round, an obvious political play for a state where Republicans are lagging in midterm polls. But for many farmers this comes years too late.

Though trade disruptions have certainly hurt, it’s these issues that animate Iowa farmers, and Scholten has put their struggle front and center. He’s endorsed Sen. Cory Booker’s bill to put a moratorium on agriculture and food mergers. “Addressing antitrust abuses and restoring free enterprise to our ag sector is an Iowa issue, not a partisan issue,” he wrote in a letter to the Des Moines Register. He pitches advanced farming technology to kickstart rural economic growth, and a program in Cherokee County that pays community college tuition for students willing to work locally for three years after graduation, to prevent brain drain.

By contrast, despite having the 4th-most farm operators and second-most agricultural products sold of any congressional district in the nation, agriculture plays a surprisingly minor role for the current occupant of the House seat, Steve King.

KING IS RUNNING almost the polar opposite campaign strategy as Scholten, if he can be said to be running at all. He does no town halls; local events are usually quiet affairs with area Chambers of Commerce. He has refused a challenge from Scholten for three debates (or a free-throw shooting contest), claiming “there’s not a clear division on issues.” He’s coasting on his eight terms of service, name ID, and a strong conservative lean to rubber-stamp his way back to Washington.

Instead of relating to local constituents, King perpetually plays to the cheap seats with far-right, divisive rhetoric, demonizing liberal opponents and retweeting white supremacists. “He focuses on extreme conservative, cable talk show-driven issues,” said local journalist Doug Burns. “His appeal is cultural, it’s identity politics for the right.”

For King’s entire career, this has worked; he posted over 59 percent of the vote in 7 of his 8 general elections, and defeated Christie Vilsack, wife of the former governor, by 8 points in the other race in 2012. But there’s potentially something different in the air in 2018, and in letters to the editor throughout northwest Iowa: ex-Republicans declaring their opposition to the conservative firebrand.

“I have been a life-long Republican but I am unable to vote for Steve King who is well known for his racist views and truly is an embarrassment to our state,” wrote Raymond Beebe in the Forest City Summit. The Lakes News Shopper published John Adams Sr. of Arnold Park, father of the newspaper’s owner, another ex-Republican accusing King of having a “dark heart” for siding with the NRA after a string of school shootings.

Nicole Baart, an author and pastor’s wife who once ran Northwest Iowa Right to Life, wrote to her paper, “I’m grateful to have found a candidate… that allows me to vote my values without feeling like I have to turn a blind eye to questionable morality, angry and offensive rhetoric, or racism.” David Johnson, a state Senator who left the Republican Party to protest Trump and now serves as an independent, has also gotten behind Scholten. “We can’t make the 4th district an island of white men,” he told me in Spencer.

The Scholten campaign has reached out to these disaffected former King supporters, most of whom say they don’t agree with everything Scholten believes, but like his approach and willingness to engage. “I listened to him for an hour in Mason City,” said Beebe, a recently retired businessman who supported Trump in 2016, something he told me he looks upon with regret. “I was very impressed with him, he has strong Iowa values.”

Adams, a self-described Republican for “78 of my 79 years,” was a co-chair of the Dickinson County Republican party; this year he joined up with county Democrats. His goal is to get Scholten even with King in the county. “It’s been a bedrock of Republicanism,” he said. “But J.D. will stand up for northwest Iowa and not be absent like King.”

Much of this nascent opposition references how King’s high-profile, sensationalized rhetoric makes Iowa look bad and makes it harder to recruit young people to live in the district. It’s also out of touch with Iowa’s modern melting pot. Baart has adopted three children from Africa, Adams has an African-American granddaughter, and Beebe takes pride in his county taking in Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria and helping them find housing.

King has played the role of the party’s crazy uncle for decades, but some have finally reached their breaking point. “His main calling in life seems to be to offend people,” said John Adams Sr. But far from the MSNBC headlines, what you hear more loudly in the district about King is that he’s just an ineffective politician.

“If you look at his voting record, he’s co-sponsored one bill that’s become law in 16 years, to name a post office in Council Bluffs,” said Dickinson County Democratic chair Harold Prior. King is a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee who is not on the conference committee for the pending 2018 farm bill. His main amendment to the farm bill would nullify measures in the states to reduce confinement of animals in cages. “The Humane Society has called King public enemy number 1 and there is no number 2,” Scholten said. (A Facebook site called Dogs For Scholten features dozens of local pets in campaign T-shirts standing next to yard signs, in a nod to King’s nearly pathological crusade against animal welfare.)

Though the Iowa Farm Bureau, criticized as a cutout for Big Ag and insurance interests, endorsed King, one local chapter in Winnebago County did not, highlighting his failure to fight for farmers. King points to a recent deal between Iowa and Taiwan to increase soybean sales as reflective of his attentiveness to the district. But others are skeptical.

“I’m on three economic development boards,” said Doug Burns. “I’ve been involved in a lot of projects and I can’t think of any in which Congressman King played a leading role. I can name 100 things [Senator] Chuck Grassley and [Republican Congressman] David Young have done, I can’t identify one for King.” Some put the two complaints together, arguing that King spends so much time developing memes, taking trips to Austria to huddle with far-right nationalists, and stirring up outrage that he doesn’t have anything left to attend to local needs.

KING’S REAL BLIND spot can be seen in his strident anti-immigrant positions. He’s known nationally for saying that immigrants are habitual drug smugglers with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from hauling marijuana through the desert, and echoing white nationalist Europeans with sentiments like “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

One local activist, Allison Engel, borrowed these lines for a one-act play she wrote about King’s ancestors from Germany, informed by genealogical records. In the play, King’s forbears recoil while witnessing the Congressman’s xenophobic rhetoric, accusing him of forgetting where he came from. For example, though King is a leader of the English-only movement, his own statements reveal that his grandparents likely spoke German for decades while living in Iowa. “Meet Steve King’s Ancestors” has been performed with local actors at three fundraisers for Scholten.

“We’re celebrating his ancestors,” Engel told me. “They endured hard times and thrived. It’s everyone’s story.”

But even more hypocritical than King’s criticism of immigrants, when he is a typical American child of immigrants, is the fact that his district increasingly relies on immigrant, and often undocumented, labor.

Visit any small town in the 4th district, and the shiniest new building on the main drag is a Mexican restaurant. In Spencer there was a Taqueria Tapatio; in Estherville it was Don Jose’s. While officially, Iowa is still 91 percent white and 6 percent Hispanic, that number is growing as industrial agricultural operations seek out immigrants for jobs. A recent Esquire article found that the family of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has a dairy farm in Sibley that uses undocumented labor, the norm across the region. At town halls, Scholten refers to numerous agriculture producers who cannot find American citizens to harvest fields or work in livestock and dairy plants. It’s the biggest open secret in the district: its economy runs on immigrants.

While King sows divisions online, Scholten says immigration comes up in virtually every town hall. He supports a modernized visa program, a path to citizenship and legalization for DREAMers. But while one would think that would be an impediment in the home of Steve King, he says that Republicans thank him for his positions afterwards.

Scholten has done outreach to Latino communities, hiring a Spanish-speaking field organizer. “People are coming here for the American dream,” he said. “Representative King is so far removed from reality. I use a quote from Ronald Reagan, our doors are open to all who have the will and heart to be here.”

SCHOLTEN STARTED THE fall campaign down to King by 22 points. Since then, public polls have shrunk that margin to 10, and an internal poll for the Scholten campaign in September narrowed it even more to 6, with King’s re-elect at only 43 percent and with Scholten having plenty of room to raise name recognition. A new TV ad, filmed on a baseball field surrounded by corn stalks like the Field of Dreams and produced by the team that made the Iron Stache viral ad for Wisconsin House candidate Randy Bryce, could provide an assist.

A change to voting laws in Iowa may further hinder King’s re-election hopes. In 2017 the state legislature banned straight-ticket voting, forcing voters to check off each candidate instead of just flipping a switch for all members of one party. This was done to prevent Democrats from voting in all their members in one shot, but now it means Republicans in Iowa’s 4th must affirmatively pull the lever for King. “For people who held their nose and voted for King in past, this is three times that,” said Doug Burns.

Still, the R+11 district is a longshot. 538 gives King a 90 percent chance of victory.

Nevertheless, at Woodbury County’s Harry Hopkins dinner in Sioux City, held in a Carpenter’s Union hall, the mood was upbeat. “I can honestly say that [Scholten] is the best candidate we’ve had in a long time,” said the county party chair, Jeremy Dumkrieger, to attendees. “He’s a reason to vote for something, not just a name to throw out Steve King.” Rep. Ryan added another selling point: as a former pitcher, he’d be a real ringer in the congressional baseball game.

“It’s good to be home,” Scholten said as he took the stage.

Any Iowa Democrat running for Congress before a presidential year would attract support from would-be presidential candidates; Scholten has events with Julian Castro and Sanders lined up along with the Booker event Monday, and others have offered staff support. But they may be feeling the energy in the district, and the chance to unseat one of the country’s more notorious conservative bomb-throwers. To Scholten, it’s all about showing up in Sioux City Sue, one county and one voter at a time.

“I got introduced to a guy at the Sioux County fair,” he explains as he drives down a rural road in his Winnebago. “The guy was obviously not a Democrat. He started talking about Trump and went straight into his hole. He said the worst things you can say about a human being about Hillary Clinton, started using slurs. I lost it on him. I might have cursed a few times. I said, ‘Listen, you may never vote for me, that’s fine. But I’m going to beat Steve King. And when I do, I’m going to come back to the Sioux County fair, and I’ll look you straight in the eye when I talk about issues and what I voted on. Can you say that about your representative now? No.”

Scholten made a left into Estherville. “When I got done, he was thrown back a bit. And then he said, ‘I’ll have to check out your website.’”

Full article:

Why one county Farm Bureau endorsed Scholten

Iowa Farm Bureau granted Steve King their endorsement. Here’s why my county, the Winnebago Farm Bureau, did not.

Ethanol is under attack. The EPA gave out “hardship waivers” to “small” refineries. This undermined the RFS without doing so legislatively. Ethanol margins have reached disastrous levels with two plants in King’s district dialing back or temporarily shutting down. King has a curious track record when it comes to ethanol for a guy who has so many ethanol plants in his district. When the EPA was attacking ethanol, their champion was Ted Cruz. King hosted Ted Cruz in Iowa for a pheasant hunt, and endorsed him in the 2016 Iowa Caucus. There’s a wolf at the Iowa Farmer’s door…and King invited it in.

Trade Wars initiated by President Trump have hit District 4. Farm incomes have declined four years in a row, and as I write soybean prices are $0.94 lower than they were this time last year. Local basis has been destroyed from lack of demand from traditional customers, like China. Ethanol and Ethanol biproducts export numbers have dropped, worsening margins. President Trump campaigned on a trade war and King has supported him.

Iowa Senators have made headlines working to fix RFS waivers, mandate E15 year round, and fighting for the Iowa Farmer. Steve King is often in the news, for the wrong reasons. Recently, retweeting a white supremacist for the second time. Does this polarizing behavior benefit the IA04 farmer?

Has King campaigned for, endorsed, and supported candidates that are supporting farmers, free trade, and the ethanol industry? No. And that’s why Winnebago County Farm Bureau did not endorse him as a friend of agriculture. J.D. Scholten will be a true “Friend of Agriculture” by advocating for free trade, protecting ethanol and serving the office with the dignity it deserves.


Director, Winnebago County Farm Bureau board, Buffalo Center

Full letter:

Scholten is the change needed in 4th District

To all of my friends who live in the 4th District, I encourage you to vote for J.D. Scholten for Congress. Setting aside all of the usual issues most people bring up about Rep. Steve King, there’s one thing that it comes down to: Who is going to actually put in the work to represent you well?

King seems to believe he owns this district by virtue of the fact that party registration favors him. He doesn’t debate, doesn’t make public appearances, doesn’t pass bills, doesn’t chair committees; he does nothing.

Contrast that to what Scholten’s aims are: Inclusiveness, respect and hard work. He has been talking to and taking input from people from all over the district.

He listens not only to people from his own party, but independents and Republicans too. If Scholten is elected, he will have to work hard every day to continually earn the support of the people in this district.

Early voting started on Oct. 8, so please give serious consideration to a change in leadership for Northwest Iowa by voting for Scholten for Congress.

Full letter: