GOP Rep. Steve King's Constituents Are Rethinking His Political Future

Originally published on January 17, 2019 6:28 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This is the week members of Congress voted almost unanimously to condemn their colleague, Steve King. The move was in response to the Iowa Republican's defense of the terms white nationalist and white supremacist in a New York Times interview. Now, as Iowa Public Radio's Katie Peikes reports, King's constituents in western Iowa are pondering his political future.

KATIE PEIKES, BYLINE: It's breakfast time at the J&J Cafe in the northwest Iowa city of Le Mars. At a table, there's a group of friends who meet daily to settle the world's problems. Today, they're talking about Steve King. Dennis Asche and Dennis Toel have both voted for him in the past and say he's been treated unfairly.

DENNIS TOEL: You know, there's no freedom of speech anymore. DENNIS ASCHE: That's why there's - that's why they started this country, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and all that stuff. And now you can't talk anymore.

PEIKES: Two big Iowa newspapers have called on King to step down, but Asche says King should keep his seat.

DENNIS ASCHE: Why? Because the voters, they put him in there, that's why. We voted him in there.

PEIKES: But their friend, Walt Kleinhesselink, is not so sure.

WALT KLEINHESSELINK: I think he's been in there plenty long.

PEIKES: King has represented this corner of Iowa since 2003, easily winning re-election every time until last November. That's when his history of making racist remarks caught up with him, and he eked out a narrow win. About 20 miles away is Sioux County, where King got some of his strongest support last fall.

At the Town Square Coffee House and Kitchen in Orange City, co-owner Steve Mahr says he voted for King in 2004, but now he wants King to go away.

STEVE MAHR: He's made comments about my immigrant neighbors. He's made comments about the freedom of black people. He's made comments about the superiority of Western civilization over other cultures and civilizations.

PEIKES: A couple of tables away, Bre Ellis says she agrees with King's strong anti-abortion positions and support for gun rights, but she doesn't like the terms King defended like white supremacist, white nationalist and Western civilization.

BRE ELLIS: I think that, at one time, Western civilization was an OK term to use. But I think that now, times have changed. And when times change, you also need to change the way that you say things and do things and support things.

PEIKES: After the New York Times interview ran, King said he condemned white nationalism and supremacy, although he insists he's still a defender of Western civilization. But in a sign that his support here may be ebbing, a prominent local Republican has announced plans to challenge King in the GOP primary next year. For NPR News, I'm Katie Peikes in Sioux City, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.