In round after round, Bertrand pounds King back on heels6/8/2016
(Note: Douglas Burns wrote this column prior to Tuesday’s primary. It remains relevant for three reasons: First, Rick Bertrand could have pulled off an upset. Second, if Bertrand’s numbers are strong enough for financial supporters, he could mount an independent candidacy in the 4th District general election. And third, no other politician or journalist has so effectively challenged Steve King so the lines of attack are worth reviewing.)
Rick Bertrand, in a furious challenge to incumbency’s isolating and ego-inflating effects, landed bruising rhetorical punches on veteran U.S. Rep. Steve King during a GOP Congressional primary debate in Sioux City on June 3.
Boxing from the same corner of the ideological ring as cultural and economic conservatives, Bertrand and King agreed on foundational issues for western Iowa Republicans.
“He’s good on life; he’s good on guns,” Bertrand said of King on abortion and the Second Amendment. Both men oppose abortion in virtually all circumstances and tout voting records in line with leading gun-rights groups. They also both defend construction of a wall on the Mexican border.
The defining question, Bertrand contended in Eppley Auditorium on Morningside College’s campus, boils down to a bread-aisle or bakery choice: fresh or stale?
“This congressman has run his course,” Bertrand said. “That’s why he runs to microphones.”
King, 67, a firebrand of the right with a national talk-radio and cable-TV profile and a catalog of incendiary remarks, is seeking an eighth, two-year term in Congress. Bertrand, 46, says all those years in Washington have made King tone deaf to the basics of representing one of the nation’s leading agricultural districts.
“Why do we think if we send the same people back, we’re going to get a different result?” Bertrand said.
A state legislator from Sioux City, Bertrand has limited himself to two terms in the Iowa Senate. Members of Congress should serve no longer than five, two-year terms, he says, pledging to go to Washington and come home after a decade or less.
“Politically, I ran on term limits,” Bertrand said. “I believe in term limits.”
Here’s one of thickest strands in Bertrand’s case against King: Why is the congressman not the chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee? That job is now held by Texas Republican Mike Conaway, who came to Congress after King.
King explained that the Texan leapfrogged him to the influential post because King lost favor with former House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. Those “disagreements” with Boehner, King says, prevented an ascent that would have been a boon for Iowa’s small towns and farms.
Only minutes before criticizing Boehner, a fellow Republican, King bragged of being buddies with a well-known liberal gadfly in Congress.
“Dennis Kucinich was my best Democratic friend,” King said of the former Ohio liberal congressman.
Being friendly with which one of those Ohioans would have been better for Iowa?
Bertrand said conservatives can stick to their principles while still fighting for their districts. He says he’ll vote like King on key issues, but spend more time on jobs and business issues, and in developing personal and professional connections that lead to the chairmanship or ranking positions on the agriculture committee.
“Be nice, be personable, go out there and hang out with people,” Bertrand said.
Making the case for his effectiveness, King highlighted an earmark (specifically directed federal funding) he says he obtained for regulatory and planning work that led to the four-laning of part of Highway 20 in western Iowa.
“My name is on the earmark,” King said.
King’s support of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz led to one of the better closing arguments you’ll hear in a debate.
On the night of the Iowa caucuses, King falsely told his social-media followers Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson — a popular figure who had advertised heavily in slices of western Iowa — was dropping out of the race.
“I’ve learned from the Ben Carson people … If anyone on Tuesday gets a text or a tweet from the congressman that says I’m dropping out on Tuesday, please disregard it,” Bertrand said. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.