King says his opponents have distorted his
words. Christie Vilsack says King “talks
a lot.” Photos by Douglas Burns
Democratic congressional candidate Christie
Vilsack, who has talked of her fondness for
hunting, came loaded for political bear Thursday
night in the first 4th District debate on WHO
Early in the hour-long session, Vilsack challenged
the character of U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.
“Frankly he’s been a bully, and he’s been an
embarrassment,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack said King has given western Iowa a black
eye by repeated animal references where illegal
immigrants are concerned.
At a May event in Pocahontas, King talked of
immigrants as being like dogs in a litter.
“You want a good bird dog? You want one that’s
going to be aggressive? Pick the one that’s
the friskiest, the one that’s engaged the most
and not the one that’s over there sleeping in
the corner,” King said in Pocahontas.
In the debate, King said his opponents have
distorted his words, that the remarks were meant
as a “compliment” to the best and brightest
immigrants who have come to the United States
from other nations — which King has referred
to as “donor civilizations” for America.
King said he sees his role as defending the
free market and the American way of life itself.
“The pillars of American exceptionalism are
under assault from the hard-core left,” King
He added that the end game of modern American
liberalism is nothing short of the “nationalization
of our economy.”
King said Iowa agriculture is far better off
today than it was 10 years ago when he was first
elected to Congress in western Iowa’s 5th District.
But he said the lion’s share of the responsibility
for that rests with innovators, the private
“I’m not here to take the credit for it,” King
The debate, King’s first one in a general election
since 2002, revealed clear differences in the
way the two candidates see the role of a member
of Congress, the job description itself.
Vilsack, who says she views the position as
“very local,” challenged King’s visibility,
charging that he’s using the elected platform
to behave as a publicity hound.
“He’s on television a lot, and he talks a lot,”
King said his responsibility isn’t just to represent
Iowans but Americans and that he seeks national
media outlets and gets involved in politics
in other states to promote an agenda he thinks
“It’s about moving the Iowa agenda in the nation,”
For example, King said he is one of the leading
opponents nationally of the Affordable Care
Act, health-care often referred to by Republicans
The reform, which includes a health-insurance
mandate, will create more waiting for services
and reduce research and development, King said.
King said it makes more sense to scrap the bill
and work toward, for example, allowing Americans
to purchase health insurance plans across state
“That will do the most to cut down on the costs,”
Vilsack said Iowans are telling her they want
civility and compromise, an end to the continuous
campaigning and talking-points politics. She
said the 4th District race is as much about
temperament as it is policy issues and party
“I don’t think Steve King is capable of getting
into a room and compromising with people,” Vilsack
King and Vilsack did agree on one major issue.
Both supported development of the Keystone XL
Pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of
Canada to the American Gulf.
President Barack Obama blocked TransCanada’s
application to cross the border based on environmental
concerns, most notably those coming from Nebraskans.
King and Vilsack have cited the job-creation
potential as a reason to move forward with the
pipeline — which has split Vilsack’s party over
labor and environmental interests. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.