Mark Chelgren's immigrant-bashing goes too far even for Iowa GOP leaders

Mark Chelgren photo photo_zpsrn7vzbkd.png

Watching Republican Party of Iowa elites proudly stand by U.S. Representative Steve King over the years, sometimes I've wondered: how far would an Iowa GOP candidate have take immigrant-bashing rhetoric to be called out by his own party leaders?

State Senator Mark Chelgren gave us the answer this week.

The only declared Republican candidate against Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa's second Congressional district gave an interview to Steve Woodhouse of the Journal-Express newspaper in Knoxville and Marion County.

Chelgren shared some of his opinions of current, nationwide topics, including ISIS. He believes that ISIS is a threat to the civilized world and that every society based on Christian values is under attack. Chelgren was disappointed when President Obama said that America is not a Christian nation and again with Obama's work to try to restrict gun rights. Chelgren believes one of the things that keeps the majority of Americans safe is the fact that we have a well-armed citizenry. Americans should be trusted to be able to defend themselves, and any politician who seeks to undermine this has no right to be in office, he added.

For border security, Chelgren believes a fence would define the border and control who enters and leaves. If one is found to have crossed into the country illegally, committed a felony while here, then been deported, he supports executing that individual if they break America's immigration laws a second time.

“There is no reason to have felons here who threaten our way of life,” Chelgren said. He has complete respect for immigrants who follow the law and come to America to assimilate and build a better life.

The Iowa Democratic Party quickly sent out a statement from state chair Andy McGuire:

“Mark Chelgren’s reported comments are vile, hateful and downright deplorable. We have heard Steve King and many Republicans running for President demean and insult immigrants and advocate for callous policies that would tear immigrant families apart. Mark Chelgren’s call for executing undocumented immigrants represents a dangerous new low for the Republican Party.

“America is a country of immigrants, unified by the hope and opportunity to give our families and our children a better life. Our diversity makes our country stronger. Iowa Democrats will continue to fight back against heinous and hateful rhetoric from Mark Chelgren, Steve King, and the Republican Party."

More interesting: Iowa GOP spokesperson Charlie Szold told the media that the state senator's comments "do not represent the values and the beliefs of Iowa Republicans." Chelgren told the Journal-Express he "is more loyal to good ideas than to a party." Turns out some ideas are bad enough to prompt the party to distance itself from a candidate with the GOP label.

Chelgren linked approvingly to the Journal-Express story on his Twitter feed, suggesting that he did not feel the story inaccurately represented his views. Speaking to other journalists yesterday, Chelgren stood by his words but indicated they were being misinterpreted. From the Associated Press report:

Reached by phone, Chelgren told The Associated Press that his comments came during a broader conversation about terrorism and border control. Chelgren stressed he was talking specifically about immigrants with felony convictions trying to re-enter the U.S. illegally with further criminal intent.

"I think capital punishment should be considered for people who are felons and re-enter this country illegally, yes," Chelgren said. "We have to make sure we are not incentivizing people whose only intent is to victimize."

William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register,

[Chelgren] confirmed the remarks made to the Journal-Express in an interview Tuesday with The Des Moines Register, but he said he was only suggesting that capital punishment be considered narrowly in situations where persons repeatedly enter the United States with the intent of committing terrorism or other felony crimes. He contended that Democratic Party officials were overreacting to his remarks and engaging in "race-baiting."

"I am looking at people who are deported and who re-enter the country illegally. Obviously, I don't want to tear apart families. We need to be sure we are protecting the people of the United States," Chelgren said.

He added, "Of course, I will be strong on crime. I want to make sure that we don't have criminals coming into the United States and victimizing our citizens."

Chelgren's comments may go viral nationally, as the Huffington Post featured them in a piece by Andy Campbell.

The title of this post refers to Iowa GOP leaders only, because I'm not convinced this story will hurt Chelgren among rank and file Republicans. Donald Trump skyrocketed in polls of Republicans in Iowa and nationally after his hateful comments about immigrants from Mexico became a national news story this summer. For all I know, advocating the death penalty for some people who attempt to enter the country illegally may be a popular stance among southeast Iowa conservatives. They would probably be more upset to hear that Chelgren doesn't "want to tear apart families," which is often code for not wanting to deport immigrants living in this country without legal authorization.

I have not seen any reaction from Loebsack but will update this post as needed. Incidentally, Iowa City-based blogger John Deeth highlighted Chelgren's remarks with the following admonition to Iowa liberals: "People kicking Dave Loebsack's teeth in over the Syrian refugee vote need to remember that the alternative to Dave is NOT Dennis Kucinich. THIS is the alternative."

I've never suggested that a Kucinich-like Democrat is a realistic alternative to Loebsack. I only wish Loebsack's Congressional voting record looked more like former Senator Tom Harkin's than former Representative Leonard Boswell's. I'm not asking for the moon, just for Loebsack to stand on principle a little more often. Some of his votes for bad Republican bills don't even seem to reflect his own views.

P.S.- Deeth recalls another low point in Chelgren's political career: his 2012 bill that would have required drug testing for women to receive child support payments. The legislation never stood a chance in the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate, but how heartless do you have to be to suggest such a terrible idea?

UPDATE: Chelgren released the following statement on December 2, emphasizing that "both parties are to blame" for failed immigration policies and that he would apply the death penalty only to the worst criminals. Like many Republicans who have been criticized for offensive comments or extreme policy positions, Chelgren contrasted his own stand with "weakness" and "political correctness."

Chelgren December 2 statement photo CVQNAcUUYAEc52O_zpss4cezndy.png

  • His comments have returned to the extreme

    I still remember some remarks he made in the Senate a couple of years ago during morning general opening comments when he compared public schooling to Nazi indoctrination. I thought he had learned to moderate expression of his opinion since that time, but the extremism apparently still lurks just beyond the surface. It makes you wonder what other opinions he holds, and, but for the "fear of political correctness" has withheld from the public. Undoubtedly, he felt there would be some support among the base for this opinion (just as his schooling comment was no doubt supported by some of his home-school supporters). He'll be interesting to watch.

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