By Douglas Burns
King, Latham, Vilsack and the future of the new 4th
The proposed new political lines for Statehouse and federal representation
in Iowa unveiled last week would toss two long-term Republican congressmen,
Steve King of Kiron and Tom Latham of Ames, into a new sweeping Fourth Congressional
The Legislative Services Agency map slices off the bottom three-county tier of King’s current Fifth Congressional District in extending a planned Fourth District from the Missouri River east to include all of Story, Grundy, Butler and Chickasaw counties.
As expected, the proposal knocks Iowa’s congressional district count down from five to four, creating a host of scenarios — should the map be embraced by state legislators, which is far from a sure thing.
In an interview, veteran Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt said the fascinating question for western and central Iowans is what will happen if King and Latham both remain in the same district, which as of the LSA’s planning, would have 761,571 people.
Latham, who had represented a more northwest district, moved to Ames in 2001 and avoided the district King has represented since 2003.
Schmidt thinks Latham, an insider who has proven he can deliver for communities with transportation and other funding and with close ties to U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, should remain in the district, setting up an intriguing primary with King, a darling of the GOP right with national profile and fund-raising potential.
“ If I were Latham I would say, ‘Let the best man win,’ ” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said a primary could bolster GOP turnout in 2012 in the district, which could have up-ticket and down-ticket benefits.
“ Why should Latham just quit?” Schmidt said. “He’s been very successful. Why should he not challenge Steve King in a primary?”
Here’s another factor to consider: King has inspired Democratic ire like no other Iowa Republican I’ve covered in 20 years. The potential for cross-over voting is huge here as many independents and Democrats would enthusiastically change registration to vote in the primary for the sole reason of knocking King out and replacing him with Latham.
The strategy for Latham would be to call in his chips with Republicans he used to represent in northwest Iowa to demonstrate his party bona fides. He could blend that with political capital earned from delivering for Iowa State University and in places like Greene County where he was instrumental in obtaining federal funding for a Highway 4 overpass in Jefferson. Then mix in the crossovers.
What’s more, it is no great secret around these parts the King is a U.S. Highway 20 man through and through. Latham could do well on the U.S. 30 corridor (which would be extended in the new district) by pledging to use his considerable clout to push for four-laning of that federal route across Iowa — rather than paying that crucial issue lip service, a la King.
On the Democratic side, the new Fourth District would open the potential for a campaign by former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack who has made no secret of her ambitions to seek federal office. She could conceivably establish residency in Ames (which wouldn’t be a bad base for future endeavors should 2012 not work for her).
“ Sometimes, other contenders move into the districts,” Schmidt said.
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in a conference call with Cityview and other media, also speculated that proposed new congressional district lines in Iowa would stand — and that Christie Vilsack may be a Democratic candidate in the planned district.
Harkin said he has not spoken to former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack recently about her political future. But Harkin said she is a potential player in the 2012 congressional races in Iowa.
“ There’s even some possibility that she may run in that Fourth District,” Harkin said. “How about that one.”
Since she has statewide name recognition from her days as First Lady, Vilsack could establish residency in any number of places in western or central Iowa, Harkin said.
“ A lot of people moved in the past,” Harkin said, noting that Latham moved to Ames, protecting the congressman’s political future after the last Census.
Bigger picture, Harkin said the loss of one of Iowa’s five members of the U.S. House will mean less power for rural America and farm interests on the Hill — making the seniority Iowa’s senators have even more vital.
“ It’s never good to lose another member of Congress,” Harkin said. “We keep losing them and losing them. About every 20 years we seem to lose another member. It’s not good. It does, I think, point to the fact the Sen. Grassley and I have to do our utmost to represent rural Iowa and make sure our seniority out-balances the loss of a member of the House.” CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.