On June 2, voters in Northwest Iowa finally purged themselves of the scourge of Steve King — the Republican congressman known for his greatest hits such as, where would Western society be without rape? And how did White nationalism become offensive?
Steven Arnold King did not just suddenly turn racist in 2018. He has a history of racist comments. In 2002, he tried to make English the official language of Iowa. In 2005, he tried to sue the Iowa Secretary of State for posting voting information on an official website in multiple languages including, Laotian, Bosnian, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Despite this, it was only in 2018 that King received censure from the Republican Party after he nearly lost his reelection campaign to Democratic challenger JD Scholten. In 2018, Jewish groups and the Anti-Defamation League called for King’s removal from his committee assignments after he met with a far-right Austrian group with neo-Nazi ties. Yet, it was only in November, threat Gov. Reynolds passive aggressively warned King, who served on her reelection committee, “I think that Steve King needs to make a decision if he wants to represent the people and the values of the 4th District or do something else, and I think he needs to take a look at that.”
Ousting the nine-term incumbent was no easy task. It took a lot of conservative PAC money and the full weight of the Republican establishment to shoehorn him from Iowa’s congressional delegation. And in response, Republicans have been lauding the move as an act of ridding the party of racism. In a tweet on June 2, GOP Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel stated, “Steve King’s white supremacist rhetoric is totally inconsistent with the Republican Party, and I’m glad Iowa Republicans rejected him at the ballot box.”
But while King may be gone, the reality is that racism is endemic among elected leaders in Iowa, it just hides behind a nicer veneer. In December of 2019, Republican candidate for congress in Iowa’s 2nd District, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, appeared alongside neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes at an anti-immigration event in Bettendorft. Miller Meeks later condemned Fuentes, but not his ideas.
As anti-racist protests have spread throughout Iowa, the party of anti-abortion and family values has done it’s best to let us know how they feel about the issue of race. On June 7, State house Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a real hero for brick walls everywhere, broke his silence on the protests to call out via Tweet the fact that Kinnick Stadium got spray painted. Kauffman, who authored the “Suck it up, Buttercup” bill which was designed to cut mental health services to schools and universities and increase fines for protesters who block highways, was outraged, not on behalf of the lives lost to racism in this country, but for a building which gets routinely puked on by drunken college students during the football season.
Just in case you thought this was a one-sided issue, Kauffman’s Democratic challenger, Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabeck, who initially condemned the muder of Floyd, but has spoken out more about the the vandalisim than the loss of Black lives.
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Rep. Jeff Shipley from Fairfield has been doing his best to act like if Alex Jones and Ben Shapiro had a dumb baby. He has falsely argued that no one has died from COVID-19. And in a Twitter thread he argued it was weak for men to cry at George Floyd’s memorial service, tweeting, “Did MLK Jr cry publicly after the assasination [sic] of Medgar Evers?”
When one person wrote to Shipley to complain about comments, Shipley replied, “Are you black?” Eager to fill the vacuous hole of inanity left in the wake of King, Shipley, in a now deleted Facebook post, praised the Congressman and expressed his desire to follow in his footsteps. But it’s not just racism, these issues are intersectional. Shipley has also creepily tweeted, “Funny thing ... I can really appreciate a woman in a cloth face covering when worn with elegance and sophistication. Can’t be giving away smiles for free, make ‘em work for it!”
Warren Wethington, the Cedar County Sheriff who was accused of sexism, wrote, in a now deleted Facebook post advising people on how to shoot and kill home invaders. Posted at any other time, it would have been an aggressive call to violence. But during the protests where black people are exercising their constitutional right to advocate for more just forms of policing, the call is a dog whistle to racists who see Black people as criminals
Randy Feenstra, King’s replacement, supports President Donald Trump’s border policies and was backed by Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, which argued in 2011 black children were better off under slavery because “sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”
It’s good that Iowans rejected the loud and vocal racism of Steve King, but what remains underneath is the quieter violence of sexism and racism endemic in our system. We knocked down one Steve King to find that others are rushing to fill his place. And like the mythical Hydra, we cannot just keep knocking down racist heads when we see them, we have to attack the problem at its base.