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Political Mercury

Challenger says King is ‘politically impotent’


A self-described conservative pro-life Catholic, State Sen. Rick  Bertrand, R-Sioux City, says his views and political ideology on a host of defining issues largely reconcile with veteran U.S. Rep. Steve King’s.

The trouble, Bertrand says, is that King, a Kiron Republican, is now a captive creature of the Washington think-tank power structure who has lost touch with rural Iowa, and more important, has shown limited skill and will in advocating his district’s chief industry, agriculture.

That considered, Bertrand, 46, has announced a primary challenge to King in Iowa’s 4th District, a vast reach of western and central Iowa.

An advocate of terms limits, Bertrand, who was elected to the Iowa Legislature in 2010, says King and other long-tenured members have lost effectiveness.

“They’ve become institutionalized and I believe politically impotent,” Bertrand said in a phone interview shortly after his press conference in Sioux City.

Bertrand, who has was born and raised on a farm on the eastern edge of Sioux City, said King’s fierce support of presidential candidate Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican opposed to the Iowa commodities-lifting Renewable Fuel Standard, angered many in Iowa agriculture.

“I think that was the flashpoint,” Bertrand said.

Seeing King standing with Cruz amounted to an “in-your-face” snub from the duo to anyone in Iowa connected to renewable fuel sources like ethanol, Bertrand said.

Gov. Terry Branstad had urged Republican voters to reject Cruz because of what Branstad called the Texan’s hostility to ethanol. Cruz captured the GOP presidential caucuses despite a coordinated assault from renewable fuel groups.

“That was personal to me,” Bertrand said.

An advocate for Highway 20 four-laning, Bertrand, on his campaign website, says he’s known in state transportation circles as “the guy who finished Highway 20.”

In the interview, he called the four-laning of Highway 30 “the next progressive step” in developing more commerce in rural Iowa.

Bertrand said King cannot paint him as anything but a tried-and-true conservative. The Sioux City Republican takes a “no exceptions” stance in his opposition to abortion. What’s more, Bertrand said, he’s known as a staunch defender of gun rights.

“He’s never had someone like this challenge him,” Bertrand said.

There is some daylight between King and Bertrand on immigration, Bertrand said.

Bertrand supports construction of a wall on the southern border of the United States and is opposed to granting citizenship to undocumented residents. But Bertrand said American agriculture relies on guest workers and the demand should be accommodated with such status for  people from other nations.

“I’m in touch with Iowa agriculture,” Bertrand said.

For his part, King, who has filed re-election papers, sought to portray Bertrand as an establishment puppet.

“Over the last few weeks, calls came from a surprisingly large number of potential candidates who were asked to challenge me in a primary by a couple of wealthy and petulant establishment Republicans who think they should own a congressman,” King said in a statement Thursday. “In every case but one, the answer was a resounding ‘no.’ I’ve now been informed an offer was accepted. The others who received the call rejected substantial offers made to them. What was the offer my opponent accepted? He needs to answer this question to the citizens of the 4th Congressional District.”

State Rep. Brian Best, R-Glidden, said King has a decided advantage in the race.

“I think it’s going to be a real tough go for Bertrand,” said Best, who added that he is not endorsing a candidate in the contest.

That said, Best noted that King has been a strong surrogate for many Republicans in western Iowa. Best recalled King’s assistance in his 2014 bid for the Iowa House.

“He was one of the first ones there, and he was always the last one to leave,” Best said.

Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt said if Bertrand is going to mount a serious challenge, he’s going to have to move “lightning fast and strike with a brutal and unforgiving air and ground attack.”

“Steve King is a great politician who has won every election, and he has been a good fit for most of his district,” Schmidt said. “If he seeks re-election, he will again spin the magic of his friendly, folksy personality and his very hard work networking with voters and media.” 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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