Governor Kim Reynolds downplayed her association with U.S. Representative Steve King on Friday, saying "No two people are going to agree on everything" and describing the bigoted loudmouth as just "one of over 4,000 honorary chairs" of her campaign.
When it has suited her political purposes, she has spoken of King in a much more flattering way.
Ten days after attracting nationwide attention for re-tweeting a British neo-Nazi, King made national news again. During a June 22 Breitbart radio broadcast, he said he doesn't want Muslims from Somalia processing pork at meatpacking plants.
Even for a guy who has long fanned racist paranoia about immigrants undermining American culture, the latest remarks were wacky. Constituents who owned meatpacking plants told King they wanted to hire Somalis. His mind jumped to a fantasy where Muslims choose to handle pork out of some theological desire to "make Allah happy" by condemning "infidels." ("I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.")
We are supposed to believe Somalis would do physically demanding work for low wages out of some drive to harm non-Muslim strangers? For decades, immigrants from many countries and ethnic backgrounds have taken meatpacking jobs for the same reason: to support their families.
King's twisted inner world is a topic for another day. For now, let's examine how the governor spoke about her statewide campaign co-chair on Iowa Public Television's June 22 edition of "Iowa Press." You can watch the video here. I transcribed all the sections quoted below; the transcript on the IPTV website at this writing contains many inaccuracies.
THEN: "STRONG DEFENDER OF FREEDOM AND OUR CONSERVATIVE VALUES"
From the Reynolds campaign's November 1, 2017 press release announcing King as a statewide campaign co-chair.
Governor Reynolds was humbled by the endorsement saying, “Congressman Steve King is a strong defender of freedom and our conservative values. He’s independent, principled, and is fighting the good fight in Washington, D.C. You never have to question where he stands. I look forward to him joining us in our effort to build a better Iowa.”
"You never have to question where he stands" echoes past attempts by the Iowa Republican establishment to reframe King's in-your-face style as a positive quality. From a 2012 radio ad Governor Terry Branstad recorded for King: "Outspoken? You bet, and I like that. We know where Steve King stands."
NOW: "NO TWO PEOPLE ARE GOING TO AGREE ON EVERYTHING"
From Reynolds' latest "Iowa Press" appearance.
Des Moines Register chief politics reporter Brianne Pfannenstiel: Iowa Congressman Steve King has made several inflammatory comments regarding immigration, and this is kind of continuing on a trend. A lot of people have called on you to remove him as a campaign co-chair. Would you do that?
Kim Reynolds: Well, first of all I don't agree with the comments that he's made. I've made that very clear in the past. No two people are going to agree on everything. I don't think some of the comments he made are absolutely reflective of Iowans and who we are as a people. He is one of over 4,000 honorary chairs. In my campaign I have all of the Republican Congressional delegation that have signed on to be an honorary chair in my campaign.
To be clear: The Reynolds campaign has some 4,000 co-chairs at the county level. At the time they proudly announced King's involvement, only four other politicians were state co-chairs: Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Joni Ernst, Representative Rod Blum (IA-01), and then Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.
THEN: "EFFECTIVE ADVOCATE" FOR IOWANS
When King faced a Republican primary challenge from State Senator Rick Bertrand in 2016, Reynolds endorsed the incumbent, telling the Sioux City Journal King "has been an effective advocate for his district and for Iowans."
Reynolds was returning a favor; King had nominated her for lieutenant governor at the GOP state convention in 2010. At that time, few Republican activists were familiar with the first-term state senator Branstad had picked as his running mate. King had a lot of clout with conservative delegates who might have supported efforts to put Bob Vander Plaats on the ticket instead.
NOW: "NOT INVOLVED IN POLICY OR ISSUES THAT WE'RE WORKING ON"
Responding to Pfannenstiel's question about whether she would remove King as co-chair:
He is not involved in policy or issues that we're working on. And the fact of the matter is, he does represent over a fourth of this state, so people that live in his district. So, we're not going to agree on everything, I make it clear when asked where I stand on specific issues and I'll continue to do that.
Democrat Dave Loebsack represents a fourth of Iowans as the member of Congress from the second district. Reynolds doesn't have to give someone a role in her campaign just because he has been elected to the U.S. House.
THEN: A "REPRESENTATIVE THE FOURTH DISTRICT CAN TRUST"
On the day Reynolds endorsed King for the 2016 Congressional primary, a press release quoted the then lieutenant governor as saying,
Steve King was my Congressman for ten years when Clarke County was in the old Fifth Congressional District, and I’m supporting him this year as I have for the last 14. Steve is a good friend and a great Congressman. Most importantly, he’s a hardworking, accessible Representative the Fourth District can trust. I’m looking forward to his continued service to northwest Iowa for years to come.”
NOW: "SOMEBODY NEEDS TO ASK HIM ABOUT THAT"
From "Iowa Press":
Radio Iowa's O.Kay Henderson: He's raised concerns about having Somali refugees working in meatpacking plants, do you have the same concern?
Reynolds: I don't, I don't agree with it. This would be one of the comments that he's made that I absolutely don't agree with. And so, we just--somebody needs to ask him about that.
King's habit of denigrating minority groups was no secret. Anyone could have predicted Congressman Cantaloupe Calves would periodically spark nationwide outrage. The riff about Somali meatpackers wasn't even the only racist thing King said on June 22. He also seized on a picture of young boys separated from their parents to insinuate they might join a criminal gang. As Philip Bump wrote in the Washington Post, "That’s King’s consistently demonstrated default assumption about migrants from south of the border, a group that he worries poses a threat to 'our civilization' and 'culture.'"
The governor could have signaled that such comments are not "reflective of Iowans and who we are as a people" by choosing not to associate her campaign with King. Unfortunately, she cared more about lining up support from prominent conservatives in preparation for an expected GOP primary contest against Ron Corbett. Even now, she lacks the political courage to cut ties. After all, she will need strong GOP base turnout for what should be a highly competitive governor's race.
Reynolds is good at mouthing inclusive words in a big speech (“I won’t stop working until every Iowan, no matter where they live, has the same opportunity to succeed, have a satisfying career, raise a family and have a great quality of life”) or a television commercial ("This is for all the moms and dads who tuck in their kids and then leave for work. For all the waitresses and grocery checkers. And for every small town girl with big world dreams").
But as long as King has a prominent honorary title in her campaign, the governor is sending a very different message: white Christians are the hardworking Iowans who matter most.
Top image: Screen shot of Governor Kim Reynolds on the June 22 edition of "Iowa Press."