What is it about Congressman Steve King?
What is it about him that makes him despised by so many people from coast to coast and yet he wins re-election time after time (nine times so far) from his district in North and northwest Iowa?
The answer to why he is despised is easy – he’s the guy who has compared immigrants to animals, has described non-white people as sub-cultures, has displayed a Confederate flag on his desk in Washington and rarely passes an opportunity to be obnoxious in public statements.
A couple of years ago, an organization called InsideGov rated all 535 members of Congress – 100 senators and 435 House members – and rated King the worst of all of them. It reported that King had sponsored 94 bills – and none of them made it out of committee.
So, what is his secret to staying in office?
I recently went back in my files and discovered that I had either covered King on the campaign trail or interviewed him 19 times dating back 2011 when redistricting him placed him in the newly-created 4th Congressional District which included North Iowa. That is also the area that fellow Republican Tom Latham represented for many years. Rather than take on King in a primary, Latham moved out of the district.
I have read several social media posts recently in which North Iowans said they have met King and found him to be charming and accommodating. In some instances, they have blamed the media for giving King a bad name.
I can only tell you that from my experience in dealing with King, his comments were all voluntary and not forced out of him by a militant press.
In an interview I had with him on July 5, 2014, he said, “We need to build a wall to seal the border. About 83 percent of those coming in are 15, 16, and 17 years old, prime candidates for gang membership.” It was at about this time that he said immigrants were drug smugglers who had thighs the size of cantaloupes.
In March of 2015, I asked him if he agreed with former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani who had been quoted as saying President Obama didn’t love America. King said, “It would be hard to dispute based on his actions and policies.”
The more I look at King and his amazing political career, the more I see similarities between him and President Trump. Both of them have never seen a television camera they didn’t like – and both realize outlandish statements give them free publicity. It doesn’t matter whether the publicity is good or bad because, well, publicity is publicity.
Another comparison to Trump emerges in an interview I had with him in October 2015 when he gave his assessment of Trump. King said, “Humility is not one of his strengths but he has a great political instinct. A lot of people don’t realize that.” Trump could say the same thing about King.
In October 2016, in yet another conversation I had with him, we talked about his penchant for saying things that put him in the headlines. He said he thinks sometimes the press as well as his critics have tried to bait him with the questions they ask. “But you never know,” he said with a laugh. “I might be baiting them, too.” Good point.
You get the idea that both Trump and King probably agree with P.T. Barnum, the old circus entrepreneur, who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
And there you have it, one man’s analysis from almost a decade of covering King, the purposeful political maverick. He, like Trump, knows exactly what he’s doing. And it works.
John Skipper retired from the Globe Gazette in February 2018 after 52 years in newspapers, most of that in Mason City covering North Iowa government and politics.