# Tea Party Movement

Steve King unsure how best to exploit USDA scandal

Representative Steve King rarely misses a chance to accuse the Obama administration of racism, but this week he seems uncertain about the best way to exploit the fiasco over USDA official Shirley Sherrod’s dismissal. King told Politico yesterday that he sympathized with Sherrod, having been misquoted himself.

King suggested Sherrod has changed her views over the past quarter-century and should get her job back.

“Also, I think it’s interesting that we don’t have it clear whether [U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom] Vilsack fired her or the White House fired her,” King added. “The president was going to be the first post-racial president but his whole presidency is becoming about race.”

But in a talk radio appearance, King took a different tack, saying Sherrod’s hiring by the USDA should be investigated. He noted Sherrod was a claimant in the Pigford case (a discrimination lawsuit black farmers brought against the USDA). Apparently King wants Americans to believe the Pigford case settlement resulted in too much money going to too many black farmers.

In other recent King news, to no one’s surprise he joined the new Tea Party Caucus that Michele Bachmann founded in the U.S. House of Representatives. Bachmann and King are ideological soulmates who share a press secretary. To see who else became a founding Tea Party caucus member, check this list on the Mother Jones blog. You’ll find some famous loudmouths (Joe “You Lie!” Wilson) and “big idea” folks like Paul Broun, who wants to repeal the constitutional amendments that permit the federal income tax and the direct election of U.S. senators.

The Tea Party caucus isn’t just a haven for fringe-y House wingnuts, though. Bachmann’s group attracted GOP leaders including National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence. Whether they’ll manage to harness tea party energy for the bulk of GOP establishment candidates remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, heavy rain continues to batter Iowa this week. I see King joined Iowa’s other U.S. House members in asking President Obama to “quickly approve Gov. Chet Culver’s request for a disaster declaration for Iowa counties” affected by flooding. However, I can’t find any press release from King’s office explaining his vote last week against extending the federal flood insurance program.

UPDATE: King tweeted around 1:30 on Thursday afternoon, “Shirley Sharrod was involved in a collective farm in Georgia. Nation’s largest ($13 million) recipient in Pigford Farms($2 billion) fraud.” He got that information from talk radio host Ben Shapiro.

SECOND UPDATE: King notes in a press release that he has signed on to a “friend of the court” brief defending the state of Arizona’s new immigration law. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit against that law. On Fox News yesterday, King gave a theological justification for his position on immigration:

God gave us rights. Our founding fathers recognized that. It’s in our Declaration [of Independence]. It’s the foundational document of America, and God made all nations on earth and He decided when and where each nation would be. And that’s out of the Book of Acts and it’s in other places [in the Bible]. So we can’t be a nation if we don’t have a border, and if we grant amnesty, we can’t define it as a border any longer or ourselves as a nation as a border any longer.

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Tea Party movement can't grasp meaning of "socialism"

So the North Iowa Tea Party covered up their Mason City billboard that juxtaposed pictures of Adolf Hitler (“National Socialism”), Barack Obama (“Democrat Socialism”) and Vladimir Lenin (“Marxist Socialism”) over the slogan, “Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naive.” (Here’s a photo.) Activists in statewide tea party circles repudiated the billboard. Ryan Rhodes, chairman of the Iowa Tea Party movement, wants fellow travelers to educate the public about freedom and U.S. history. Rhodes’ problem was the Hitler imagery, not the underlying message that we’re headed toward socialism.

I know I’m supposed to be outraged that right-wingers would compare Obama to Hitler, but I’m too stunned that anyone paying attention to the news could view Obama as “socialist.” I got a window onto the tea party mindset from Bob Johnson, one of the Mason City billboard’s creators. For your weekly dose of unintentional comedy, I recommend Jennifer Jacobs’ interview with Johnson on the Des Moines Register blog. Among his insights:

“It was absolutely not the aim to just create controversy. Nobody’s more surprised about the thing than I am,” Johnson said. “This billboard was misunderstood. I’m not going to say it was a mistake.” […]

“We had some hesitations about it,” Johnson said, “but for those that understand it, it’s just such a powerful billboard, so we said screw it and go ahead with it.” […]

“When we put that Hitler up there, it just totally overwhelmed everything on the billboard,” Johnson said. “That’s the one thing that just destroyed the whole concept we did not realize the power Hitler still has, the emotion.” […]

“When you want to compare the present administration to Hitler, Hitler took over the banks. Gee, what’s this administration doing? Hitler took over the health care. Gee. Hitler took over the transportation and what’s this administration doing? If that wasn’t a direct comparison to socialism, I don’t know what is.”

Let’s consider the so-called government takeover of health care, a major area of concern for the tea partiers. Under socialized medicine (as exists in real socialist countries), the government employs all the doctors and runs all the clinics and hospitals. Under single-payer health care (as exists in Canada), the government pays for medical care, but most doctors and medical institutions are privately operated.

In contrast, Obama had his top aides cut deals with health industry interests, working closely with the most corporate-friendly Congressional  committee drafting a health reform bill. The key staffer charged with writing that committee’s bill, Liz Fowler, came straight from one of the largest health insurance companies. Obama broke many significant campaign promises on health care so as not to tread on corporate interests. As a result, key industries got virtually everything they wanted from the bill that passed. Private health insurance companies are now guaranteed millions of new customers in the coming years, with no new competition from government-run entities. Completing the circle, Fowler is now working for the Obama administration to help implement the health reform law.

Rest assured, no corporate CEO in America is lying awake at night worried about “socialist” health care the way Johnson says he worried people might bomb his house because they didn’t like his billboard.

Most of the Obama administration’s economic team came straight from the Wall Street culture, and the president hasn’t tried to “take over” or even break up major financial institutions.

I have no idea what Johnson is talking about when he suggests the Obama administration has been taking over the transportation sector.

Anyone who has such a skewed view of this corporate-friendly administration could gain perspective from spending a few weeks in a socialist country.

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Sorry, Republicans, Iowans don't think state government is too big

Republicans have complained for years about Democrats allegedly spending too much on “big government,” but a majority of Iowans think state government is about the right size, according to the latest poll by Selzer and Co. for the Des Moines Register. The poll surveyed 805 Iowa adults between January 31 and February 3 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. Respondents were asked, “In general, do you think the size of state government is too big, about right, or too small?” 52 percent said “about right” and only 39 percent said “too small.”

The Des Moines Register poll also indicates that Iowans would rather tap into the state’s tax reserves, raise fees and perhaps even raise taxes than impose massive service cuts or lay off hundreds of state workers.

The poll tested eleven options for balancing the budget and asked whether that option should be considered, strongly considered or taken off the table. The largest majority (76 percent) said consolidating some state government services should be considered or strongly considered. The Iowa legislature will pass a government reorganization bill this session, but the savings won’t be large enough to avoid other painful budget decisions.

The next largest majority (61 percent) supported considering taking up to $200 million from the state’s cash reserves. But even that probably wouldn’t be enough to balance the 2011 budget.

The other three options that at least half of respondents said should be considered were “increase fines, license fees and other user fees” (53 percent), expand gambling by allowing casinos to host large poker tournaments (51 percent) and raise the sales tax by 1 percent (51 percent).

The Register reported that several political observers found the sales tax numbers most surprising. I was more surprised to see the public evenly divided on raising the income tax. Some 48 percent of respondents said “lawmakers should consider raising state income taxes by a half percentage point; 50 percent said that idea should come off the table.”

The Register’s poll found much less support for “cutting services to thousands of Iowans” (just 33 percent favored considering that option, while 60 percent said it should be taken off the table). Only 42 percent favored considering laying off hundreds of state employees or consolidating school districts. Only 43 percent said legislators should consider eliminating all business tax credits. Just 45 percent said reducing the number of Iowa counties should be on the table.

My point is not that politicians should put blind faith in the wisdom of crowds. I don’t agree with every finding in this poll. I’d rather reduce the number of counties and scrap many business tax credits than raise the sales tax, and I find Iowans’ support for the film tax credit baffling.

The larger message from this poll is that Iowa Democrats should not cower in fear when Republicans bash “big government.” Offered a range of choices for balancing the state budget, most Iowans would prefer not to see services slashed. The Register’s November 2009 poll pointed to the same conclusion, finding broad support for spending increases Democrats have adopted in recent years.

Republicans will be cheered by the portion of Selzer’s latest poll that found one-third of Iowans called themselves supporters of the “tea party” movement, and a majority believe state government is spending too much money. To me that suggests the framing of the budget issue will be critical for this November’s elections. Democrats need to convince voters that they did all they could to find efficiencies in state government without cutting priority areas. If Republicans object, for instance, that the state could have saved tens of millions of dollars by ending the preschool initiative started in 2007, Democrats must point out that doing so would have cut off early childhood education for about 13,000 Iowa kids.

Competitive GOP primary coming in the first district

Two-term incumbent Bruce Braley has drawn another Republican opponent in Iowa’s first Congressional district, Ed Tibbetts reported for the Quad-City Times last week. Brian Cook of Manchester used to work as a newspaper editor before becoming an insurance salesman. Speaking to Tibbetts, he advocated fairly generic Republican stands on the issues (against the stimulus and climate change bills, for tort reform and selling health insurance across state lines). He also said that “he would limit his time in office, probably to two terms.” I have not yet found a campaign website for Cook.

Cook will face at least one other Republican in the IA-01 primary. Ben Lange, an attorney in Independence, announced his candidacy last month. His campaign website is here. I assume that Cook will try to depict Lange as a Washington insider, since Lange used to be a staffer for a member of Congress from Minnesota.

I learned from the CQ Politics blog that a third Republican has filed Federal Election Commission paperwork to run in this district. James Budde, who lives near Bellevue, describes himself as “very active” in the Tea Party movement. You can read many of his political writings at his campaign website.

Tibbetts reported that Dubuque businessman Rod Blum is now “leaning against” running for Congress. He had announced plans to challenge Braley in October.

Iowa’s first district has a partisan voting index of D+5, meaning that in the last two presidential elections it voted about 5 points more Democratic than the national average. That metric understates Braley’s strength; in 2008 he was re-elected with about 64.5 percent of the vote while Barack Obama carried IA-01 with about 58 percent. Even though election forecasters rank IA-01 as a safe Democratic district, it makes sense for the GOP not to leave Braley unchallenged. He is considered likely to run for statewide office someday when Tom Harkin retires from the U.S. Senate.

Third district primary will test "tea party" phenomenon

I view last year’s “tea party” activism primarily as a corporate-funded “astroturf” movement hyped by Fox News and conservative talk radio, but some Republicans insist the tea partiers are a real grassroots force to be reckoned with. This year’s Republican primary in Iowa’s third Congressional district will give some indication of who’s right.

Five GOP candidates are competing for the chance to run against seven-term incumbent Leonard Boswell. Two of them have significant backing in the Republican establishment: various elected officials are supporting State Senator Brad Zaun, while a bunch of major donors are supporting Jim Gibbons.

Long-shot candidate Dave Funk was the first Republican to enter this race, and he announced yesterday that “Iowa Tea Party Chairman Ryan Rhodes has joined the campaign team as Political Director”:

“We are happy to have Ryan on board and feel that he is a strong addition to the campaign,” says Funk. Rhodes has led the efforts of the Tea Party in Iowa as well as well as coordinating with the National Tea Party Patriots. “Dave is the right man at the right time to bring solid leadership to Iowa’s Third District, something we have been lacking for a long time.”

As Iowa Tea Party Chairman Rhodes has coordinated many grassroots efforts across the state and helped other states fight against unchecked growth and the stranglehold of big government. “Dave isn’t just a late comer to the Tea Party for political purposes. He has been there from the beginning and I believe he is someone we can trust to be a true voice of the people for limited government in Washington.”

Funk says, “Having known and worked closely with Ryan for much of the past year, he has proven himself capable and insightful beyond his years. We are excited to have him on board as our Political Director as we go through the primary process to challenge and ultimately defeat Leonard Boswell next November restoring loyalty to our Constitution, our Liberty and the People of Iowa.”

I’m guessing that the forces funding and publicizing the national “tea party” movement won’t weigh in against two establishment candidates in this Republican primary, and Funk will therefore not be able to compete with the front-runners. On the other hand, a surprisingly strong showing for Funk in June might indicate that there is more popular support behind the “tea parties” than I imagine.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers?

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Another day, another lie from Steve King

Conservative activists gathered in Washington yesterday to protest Democratic-backed health care reform proposals. As usual, right-wingers are completely wrong about the substance of the bills, crying “socialism” when the real problem is not enough government-backed competition for private insurers. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a key figure in the “tea party” movement, claims to believe that “The largest empirical problem we have in health care today is too many people are too overinsured.”

Anyway, when ill-informed right-wingers are causing a spectacle inside the beltway, you can count on finding Representative Steve King (IA-05) nearby. Hey, it’s been almost three weeks since national media last paid attention to his unfounded allegations.

So King gets on MSNBC yesterday and falsely claims that the House Democrats’ bill would cancel every private insurance contract in America. You can watch the clip on the Iowa Democratic Party’s site.

Not only do the Democratic bills not void private insurance contracts, they prevent Americans covered by private insurance from choosing a public health insurance option.

Politifact should add this gem to their fact-checking page on King. I noticed that Representative Michele Bachmann (MN-06) is way ahead of him in terms of the number of “false” and “pants on fire” claims subjected to Politifact’s Truth-o-meter, but it shouldn’t take long for King to catch up.

By the way, I recommend watching the video of Mike Stark’s brief interview with King outside the Capitol, recorded a few days ago. King doesn’t know how many uninsured people live in his district (approximately 83,000), and he doesn’t know how many bankruptcies in his district are related to medical costs (about 700 last year), but he does know that “my people want freedom” from health care reform.