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Political Mercury

Is King secretly telecommuting as Texas congressman?


Somewhere between the western Iowa town of Kiron and Washington, D.C., Steve King lost his way.

And he apparently woke in Texas, with barbeque sauce smeared on his cheeks, the twang of two-steppin’ tunes ringing in his ears, and oil, black gold, Texas tea, rushing through his veins to the heart he handed to Ted Cruz.

Let’s not wait for the Census. We can count right now. Iowa lost a congressman with King’s early Valentine to Cruz. We’re down to three. King, an Iowa Republican, is now the first congressman in U.S. history to telecommute. High-speed Internet from Iowa to Texas has a loyal surfer.

How else are rural Iowans to read King’s endorsement of presidential candidate Ted Cruz, a Texan several Iowa ag-business leaders have told me is the most hostile White House aspirant to the grain-and-rural-Iowa-boosting Renewable Fuel Standard?

“I just don’t understand how King can support that (Cruz campaign) with renewables being so important to Iowa,” said Dave Leiting, general manager of FAC Farmers Cooperative in Arcadia.

Neither do a lot of other people who have spoken to me on and off the record about Congressman King and the challenge his Cruz choice presents rural Iowans: How do we reconcile his simultaneous support of the RFS and Cruz?

“The RFS is the only tool that provides market access so that ethanol and other renewable fuels are sold in competition with petroleum,” King said in a news release May 29.

If Obama’s EPA looks to adjust the standard (not a good thing for Iowa), King (properly) joins the chorus of White House bashing. But Cruz doesn’t want to merely clip some feathers around ethanol’s wings. He’s looking to blast the RFS from the sky and stomp the blood and guts from its fallen corpse.

“If Ted Cruz is against ethanol, how does he win in Iowa? That’s very anti-Iowa,” Donald Trump said Dec. 11 in Des Moines.

Trump never went after King, though.

And other Republicans are reluctant to do so as well. Some say they pray King will, as an insider, persuade Cruz of the errors of his ethanol ways.

But Cruz’s appeal is a stone-cold ideological rigidity, an unbudging conservatism and refusal to break from his own established boundaries of where the government should and shouldn’t go.

For Cruz to moderate on ethanol would be to surrender the rationale for his very political being.

So the shortcut here: It’s dreamy to think Cruz will move on ethanol. He won’t even tour renewable plants or meet with industry leaders.

Now we have King advancing the notion that America’s Renewable Future, the Iowa-based RFS-supporting political organization, is somehow a Democratic front? With Eric Branstad, the son of our history-making Republican governor as its face?

For years, King has been something of a luxury for rural Iowans. With Senators Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley doing the inside work, the heavy lifting of legislation, the twisting of arms in subcommittees, and Tom Vilsack heading the USDA, Iowa agriculture could survive with King’s approach to public service. King says he’s in the nation’s capitol not to drive legislation but to block government from doing anything. Had his thinking prevailed years ago, the RFS would have been stillborn.

Much of rural Iowa, in fact just about all of it west of Interstate 35, cheers King’s act, gives him curtain call after curtain call. But deep, deep down, Iowans interested in ag policy, and more markets for grain and livestock, always knew backing King is something akin to a kid from a stable family threatening to run away from home.

The kid could cry and scream and muster all sorts of indignation at alleged slights and suffering. But he knew Mom and Dad had a warm bed and three squares — and always would.

Those days for Iowa are gone.

The Cruz ethanol talk is not the saber rattling of the past. The Texan, who clearly will support his oil friends through tax-writing maneuvers, is intent on burying the RFS in Iowa soil that will lose value the moment the ink is dry on the ethanol mandate’s obituary. Steve King is carrying the shovels to the graveyard for his pal.

Somebody ought to hand Steve King a fiddle the next time he’s in Iowa and ask him to play. The likely fumble-fingered, off-key result will be revealing for the future of Iowa grain.

And Texas oil. 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.

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