The 2019 Judge Joseph Story Dinner, hosted by Story County Republicans, was held in the Cambridge City Center on Tuesday evening (20 August). Apart from a pie-sale fundraiser expertly auctioneered by Joe Bair of Elkhart, the highlight of the evening was a series of interviews of candidates for the 4th-District Congressional nomination conducted by Jeff Angelo, a former state senator now working as a talk-show host for WHO Radio.
The format did not allow for any real fireworks, since the questioner was not hostile, nor particularly adversarial, and the candidates were not on stage (so to speak) at the same time and so could not engage with each other.
The challengers to Rep. Steve King are Bret Richards, a former businessman and mayor now teaching at Creighton University; Randy Feenstra, a former sales manager who has served as a city administrator and county treasurer, and has now been a state senator for 11 years in addition to working as a professor of business at Dordt College; and Jeremy Taylor, a former state representative who is currently serving as a county supervisor.
On the issues, the challengers differed very little from each other and from the incumbent. On the subject of mass shootings, for example, all the candidates indicated skepticism about or a rejection of “red-flag” laws; on trade, all the candidates supported the use of tariffs against China and agreed that the President is right to seek to rebalance trade with China and to hold it accountable for its abuses; on spending, all bemoaned the size of the national debt or emphasized the need for a balanced budget.
The subject of term limits was the only one on which there was a marked difference of opinion, the three challengers being for them and the incumbent, who is seeking his 10thterm, being against. Congressman King sought to dispose of the question by asking, “Who believes in term limits for Chuck Grassley?” If he ever says that in a debate against a fellow Republican, it would be an opening for a Bentsenesque response: “Congressman, I know Chuck Grassley; I’ve worked with Chuck Grassley; Chuck Grassley is a friend of mine. Congressman, you are no Chuck Grassley.” Congressman King also sought to portray his opponents as hypocrites by claiming that they only supported the principle of term limits, but had not pledged to limit their own service, whether or not such limits were imposed, but that is false; Feenstra and Taylor did not go so far into detail, but Richards stated explicitly that he not only favors a constitutional amendment, but also would limit himself to 5 terms.
The popularity of the President with the base in the 4thDistrict was evident in the fact that the candidates ran toward him rather than away from him. Richards, for example, credited the President with trying to do in office what he said he would do when campaigning, and Feenstra affirmed that he supports the President “wholeheartedly.” The closest thing to criticism of the President came from King, who said that “it looks like the petroleum lobby has taken control of the Executive Branch” (a reference to the EPA granting small refineries waivers from using more biofuels), but he did not name the President directly in that connection. The next closest would be Taylor wishing that the President would articulate his goals in the area of trade (he has done so: the goal is reciprocal trade, and Congressman Sean Duffy has already introduced corresponding legislation).
The elephant in the room was the weakness of King as a candidate. Of the challengers, only Taylor raised the issue, but he did so very obliquely, referring to “the closeness of the last election in the 4thDistrict.” King came prepared with a ready-made reply: no one is saying that David Young can’t run again because he lost, so no one should say that he can’t run again, since he won. The two districts are not comparable, however: David Young lost narrowly in a purple district, and King won narrowly in a deep red district. The challengers should be stating plainly that it is imperative for Republicans to retake the House, and that re-nominating Congressman King endangers that undertaking, especially since the Democrats seem likely to re-nominate the same candidate who ran so well on their side last time, J. D. Scholten. None of the challengers should be reluctant to state, politely but firmly, if they so believe (as this writer does), that Steve King is the only Republican nominee who would be at risk of losing the seat in 2020, and is therefore the last person whom the Republicans should nominate.
Although the remarks of the candidates were somewhat constrained by the questions which were put to them, it was certainly a missed opportunity that no single one of them pointed out that Congressman King was not assigned to any committees in the current Congress by the Republican leadership; this fact is known to pretty much everybody, but the challengers should be pointing out that legislation typically moves through committees, and that the 4thDistrict therefore will essentially be shut out of the legislative process as long as King represents it; specifically, they should be making the case to farmers and farm-related businesses that they will seek appointment to the Agriculture Committee if elected, so that agribusiness in the 4thDistrict will have a seat at the table. This might seem obvious, and it might seem unpleasant to bring up Congressman King’s troubles, but unless the challengers are making the case that committee membership matters, it would be legitimate for the voters to conclude that it really does not.
Richards in his public remarks stated that he had already attended 28 county fairs, as well as the state fair, and Feenstra remarked privately that he does that sort of event every night. It is a very time-consuming endeavor, and no one can hope to succeed who is not a driven person; fortunately for the residents of the 4thDistrict, the Republican party, and the country, good people are stepping up to the plate.