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Steve King and the Sound of Iowa’s Silence

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Feb 14, 2011

One really has to wonder where the good people of Iowa are when it comes to U.S. Representative Steve King, who regularly spouts and touts some of the most extreme and extraordinary positions taken by anyone in Congress.  The sound of silence from King’s Fifth District, from the state’s Republican Party, from principled conservatives, and from religious leaders is stunning in the face of King’s bigotry, to say nothing of his questionable leadership on behalf of western Iowans.

Iowa’s Fifth District is rock-solid conservative, returning King to Congress five times by significant margins. His hard stances on immigration and race are infamous, and so far afield that last summer even a Colorado tea party candidate disinvited him to a campaign event.  More recently, Speaker Boehner bypassed King for his coveted role as Chair of the House subcommittee overseeing immigration—a decision that King blasted publicly, hardly the kind of response that would help secure the support of his party’s leadership for important work in the Fifth.

It appears that Iowa Republicans don’t know what to do with King. When he made some of his most repugnant racial remarks about the President last summer, the Party’s communications director “declined comment.”  Principled conservatives, a strong presence in Iowa politics, are absent on King, whose unique view on the Constitution would strip millions—including tens of thousands of African Americans—of their birthright citizenship. Religious leaders—ready and willing to speak out on health reform or same-sex marriage—are also noticeably silent when it comes to challenging King’s positions on immigration or race, both of which are dramatically contrary even to his own church’s teachings.

King’s penchant for interpreting and changing the Constitution as he sees fit ought to be of concern to all Iowans, regardless of their politics. As a self-avowed constitutionalist, King’s brand of scissor-cutting the 14th Amendment makes one wonder just what he might want to go after next. For the Congressman, nothing seems off-limits, and he is not shy about pressing his worldview by any means necessary.

It is odd that King’s worldview seems to have closeted his own heritage that includes his grandfather (J.C. King), who served as a State Organizer for the Workers Alliance of America, a progressive (dare we say socialist?) endeavor  that sought to unite unemployed workers throughout the country during the 1930s. One wonders if grandfather King met and worked with Emma Tenayuca, a Latina labor activist and leader who, likewise, organized for the Workers Alliance of America during those difficult days. For the anti-immigrant King, such a possibility must be anathema.

Like so many, Steve King has moved on, ironically snared in his own version of the American dream that earlier generations of diverse backgrounds struggled for.  And like so many, he seems to have tucked those generations away in a musty box of family photos, in exchange for an exclusive view of the inclusive country they struggled to build.

Iowans must break their silence on Steve King, and begin the long process of recapturing both the political and the moral ground he has ceded to a culture of bigotry and divisiveness.  To remain silent any longer is unacceptable—indeed, it is reprehensible.

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