Steve King interviews J.D. Scholten about Iowa and running for Congress against Steve King in IA-04 | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Steve King interviews J.D. Scholten about Iowa and running for Congress against Steve King in IA-04

Come for the meta, vainglorious, self-deprecating play on words, stay to learn a little something about a good man!

Sep 18, 2019 J.D. Scholten
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Okay, so let’s acknowledge how surreal this is. Haha. This is written by a guy named Steve King and it’s about the guy running against Congressman Steve King. Isn’t that an internet novelty? You’re welcome. People used to say “Oh, Steve King, huh? I love your movies.” Yeah, he wrote books, you guys. Then something kinda funny happened.

A silly man in Iowa with my name got elected to Congress, and he turned out to be a goddamn white supremacist. And then I joined the only social network I’ve ever been on (like an idiot), and I have a public account…and being Extremely Online (like an even bigger idiot), wouldn’t you know it, people started calling me a Nazi.

I might not always know what King has said at any given moment, but I sure as hell know when. Like the cantaloupe calves comments, or the rape and incest ones, or other racist things he says. God… He’s a congressional troll. At least until he gets a Cabinet position in the Trump Administration…

I take the Office Space approach to it. Why should I care about presenting myself as anyone else when he’s the one who sucks? But! I’ve read and learned a lot about Iowa as a result. Iowa is a wonderful place. It’s better than he is. But crazy congressmen don’t come out of nowhere; there are enough people in their districts who, for some reason, think they’re the best choice of representative. Stripped of his committee assignments and abandoned by much of the party he so perfectly represents, King’s campaign is broke, he’s got primary opponents, and even the president was pissed at him. And since no one can really determine what he does all day, King has become what he has always railed against: a walking welfare case. He has negative value in his necronomicon, human-skin-sheathed, pocket-sized bible of evil tenets.

Anyway, we’re here to talk about bringing the Steve King Whitemare to an end. That’s where J.D. Scholten comes in. As a first time candidate, he came within a few points of knocking Steve King out of office in 2018. Over the last decade or so, I’ve taken a passionate interest in IA-04, watched and supported every democratic King challenger, from Campbell to Vilsack; I’ve been here for all of it. But J.D. Scholten came closer than anyone, and he’s a genuinely cool dude. Scholten is a 5th generation Iowan, his family has worked in farming and education for generations, and for the last couple years he’s made his own contribution by running against Steve King.

Mark Hamill once called him a “Jedi.” I mean, that’s all you really need. What greater word can I give? Luke Skywalker called him a Jedi. I’m not really necessary after that. Shit, man…I mean, goodness gracious, did it hurt? When he fell from Heaven? Anyway, he’s an American ironman story. This guy is for real. Scholten has done lots of pro-bono paralegal work, and that’s after traveling to seven countries in order to play minor league baseball. He protested the Iraq War. And he’s 38! He’s one of our people: a millennial. I’ve watched a few come and go but Scholten is it, people. He has a really good chance this time. We’re in the Endgame now. Civilized Americans can either define themselves as something better than our baser instincts, or we’ll have to find another definition of civilized.

It’s one thing to not like King; it’s another to actually want a decent person to win. There is great value in old school, retail campaigning in Iowa, and progressive values are still just as American as baseball.

Steve King (Under the Radar): You’ve talked about hitting the 39 counties in your district and how minds have changed over time from lukewarm, encouraging, then to outright happiness. What are you seeing this time on the campaign trail?

J.D. Scholten: It’s night and day compared to where we were two years ago. We did a town hall in all 39 counties in the last cycle, and I just remember going around the first time trying to get noticed, and people were like, “God bless you. Somebody should run against him.” And the second time they were like, “You’re not Steve King. You’re actually standing for something.” And then the third time is when we saw the hope, and even though we lost, we moved the needle 24 points. We just ran out of time, and now that we’ve started pretty much exactly where we left off, there’s a level of excitement. He’s vulnerable in the sense that he has a primary and I don’t, really. It’s a very unique position to be in right now, and we’re just really going to make the most of it. I said last time [that] we hoped to beat him, but this time we expect to beat him.

In 2018 you closed a 20-point vote difference, compared to how Clinton performed in 2016. You only lost by 10,000 votes (or about 3 points). Republicans outnumber Democrats by almost 70,000 in the district. Republican voters will be more motivated in 2020 than they were in 2018. What things are you seeing on the ground that make it seem inevitable this time? What makes it different?

Well, you saw last time in Sioux City or Woodbury County (that’s my hometown), they’ve never voted against King, and we got 54%. What we see is that the more times I show up in a place and they get to know me, not a character, like the actual me…. It’s going to be different this time with Trump, but we’re the second most agriculture producing district in America, and Trump has given no favors to farmers.

You can just see that the rural way of life is declining here in this district. Folks are struggling, and we’re the only ones out there talking about it, talking about their struggles, rather than about some ideology and going off to Austria and going down to the border. King has been to the border probably more times than he’s been to Sioux City. We just relate with the people here. It’s difficult with the numbers, but we’re going out, not writing anybody off, and we’re trying to earn votes, and I think people appreciate that. We are a healthy alternative for a lot of people who have traditionally voted Republican.

You’ve campaigned on common sense immigration reform and kind of combined it with jobs in the district, and talked about hog farms and grain elevators, and how seasonal foreign workers are needed for these harvest jobs because Americans simply haven’t applied for them, and how farmers are getting rocked by production costs because of the president’s tariffs. Is there anything you can point to where you have agreed with the president on any of these issues?

I don’t blame him for wanting to get tough on China because I think it needed to get done, so the actual tarifs themselves I don’t think are wrong, but how he went about it was completely wrong. You need to go in with your allies and you need to have leverage, and we’ve gotten nowhere. He didn’t start the fire (and the declining markets), but he has really escalated the fire. I have a very hard time seeing how his policies benefited the 4th District. Because you look at the tax policy, and how that focused on the 1% and corporations, and it’s leaving working people behind in an area where rural folks are already being left behind. We’re just seeing things escalate, and that’s where I see an opportunity for someone like myself. Or a Democratic presidential candidate, if they have the right message and show up, there’s a lot of opportunities to earn votes in rural areas.

While Steve King has been drinking concentration camp toilet water (literally), you’ve been talking about health care, a fairer economy, and money in politics. We hear a lot about “Iowa Nice,” but King, with the one exception of the president, has said some of the worst things in recent political history and the district that keeps electing him. What if kitchen table issues don’t really motivate voters anymore, and it’s all just negative partisanship?

There is part of that. There is more commonality than division in this country, but the thing that gets talked about is the division. Part of the reason I think King has been re-elected is because of “Iowa Nice,” in the sense that people don’t want to believe that he actually said whatever he said.

But in the last cycle, and now, people are realizing that “Oh, that’s just crazy.” More and more people are open to other alternatives. I think he’s going to win the primary, if I was a betting man, but I’m not. There are going to be a lot of folks who are either going to skip this race when it comes to voting, or they’re going to vote for us. And you saw that in 2018, in that 4% of the people who voted skipped this race at a time when you could just vote straight-ticket down. We saw a lot of those folks cross over. We got 25,000 more votes than there are registered Democrats in the district, so we’re just looking to expand on that. You earn those votes when you show up and talk about your commonality. You’re not there to say “Hey, it’s my way or the highway.” It’s more like “We are all in this together.”

We take our RV, that was made in this district, and we go around and talk to folks. I don’t expect to win with 100%, but we’re seeing movement, and the seeds we sowed in the last cycle are going to come to harvest this cycle. I’m very confident that we can pull this off.

You’ve modeled your campaigns around populist Midwest politicians like Bedell, you’ve quoted Wellstone when you said that you’re “from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” You know Wellstone has a special place in all of our hearts. I’m wondering how you can reconcile these progressive values and stances in a very conservative district. How is this going to work?

I’ll say that what I’ve learned over the last couple years is that it’s not as linear as people think. It’s not like Independents are right in the middle, between Republicans and Democrats. First of all, I hate labels. I think I’m a unique character in the party because I do have a lot of people-focused policies like Bedell and Harkin and Paul Wellstone, but there’s not a whole lot of rural Democrats anymore. That’s one of the biggest problems of what’s happening in rural America and agriculture. Ever since Harkin retired and we’ve lost a few seats, we’ve missed that voice. I’m trying to really pick up from where they left off and just run with it. So much of what I’m trying to do is what Wellstone talked about: improving people’s lives. That’s it.

Do you ever think the rural voters who carried Trump into office are now experiencing the end of The Scorpion and the Frog, or the president’s favorite story about The Snake? They made a deal with the devil and the price is suffering. Have you been able to get that across to voters?

I don’t talk about Trump a ton just because I’m not running against him. I’m running against Steve King. They’re very similar. I just try to do what I can in this small neck of the woods. What we’ve been seeing is maybe not buyer’s remorse, but something similar in the sense that this wasn’t what they voted for. They voted for something different and it wasn’t this. 2020 is a great opportunity to win back a lot of elections on a lot of levels as a result.

Steve King used to be this semi-harmless gadfly, but he was pretty ahead of the curve when it came to where the party was headed. What if Steve King isn’t an aberration? What if we’re wrong? What if he’s what voters in Iowa want?

I have a very difficult time accepting that. I think the more people who understand who he is, the more people say “No, that’s not us.” And even though he’s won pretty easily in the past, I think things are catching up to him. That’s not us. More and more people are waking up to it. But if that’s the Republican party right now, he wouldn’t have a primary. Even though there’s a lot of folks who will live and die with him, I don’t think that’s going to be the case long term.

I feel like the rich keep the middle and lower classes divided by using cultural issues to ensure they stay in conflict. It’s set up that way in order to splinter their opposition. It’s seems to exist in all facets of American life in one way or another. What form does this kind of struggle take in Iowa? How have you seen that in day-to-day life?

I kind of view it a little bit different in the sense that D.C. hasn’t figured out that the working class is part of globalization, and until we do we’re going to continue to have income inequality. People like Steve King will never talk about that. What he’ll talk about is “If you’re not doing well, these are the people to blame,” and that’s what he continues to regurgitate with his ideology. It’s so funny. He talks about sanctuary cities all the time, yet the reason they exist is because of people like him, who have not come to a common sense plan to solve hard immigration problems.

It’s cyclical in the sense that he creates the problem, and then he calls out the problem. People are starting to catch on to that. I struggle with the model that the DCCC and these national organizations have where their model is: you make phone calls and you ask people for money every day. My way of campaigning is get out to the people, and then you prove that you’re trustworthy, and from there you’re going to earn votes. If you prove that you’re going to fight for these people regardless of their voter history, they’re going to vote for you. I think that’s where you can really bring people together rather than dividing folks.

King has a couple decent primary challengers this time around; he’s lost a lot of support within the party in terms of infrastructure. If, by chance, he’s not the nominee, how does your calculus change? What if it’s Randy Feenstra? Without King as a foil is there a you, politically speaking?

For the last two-and-a-half years now I haven’t really just run against King. I’m running on what we are for. We get a lot more attention because of who King is. There’s no doubt about it. But if it’s not King, our campaign stays the same. We still go out there and talk to folks and earn votes. If it’s not him, we have pretty good name recognition in the district at this point.

I think it would be a little bit different. We’ll do things a little differently, but our campaign is still about getting out there. The way I see this is the same way I played league baseball in my pitching days. I didn’t care if the batter was right-handed, left-handed, or a home run hitter. I was going to pitch to my strengths and not try to pitch according to the batter. I think successful pitchers do that. We are going to run on what we are for, and not just against the other person.

You’ve got farming in your blood; you’re the grandson of farmers. Your Grandma Fern, on her deathbed, told you to “take care of the farm.” What’s the most effective thing you can do as a congressman that will take care of all farmers?

Right now, the biggest thing is antitrust. We’ve got to enforce our antitrust laws. It’s in every industry, not just grain, but livestock as well, and what we’re seeing because of market consolidation…farmers are getting squeezed, and the products are getting squeezed on the other end, so of the consumer dollar, less than 15 cents makes it back to the farmer. That’s the lowest of all time.

If the trade wars end immediately, or soon, which, it doesn’t look like they will, farmers are still struggling. They need solutions, and one of the things that this administration has done is dismantle JIPSA; that’s the entity that’s supposed to protect farmers from monopolies. It’s been weak for years but now it’s been dismantled, and so in order for farmers to have a chance, they need to have antitrust. There’s a big thing in Iowa called ANF. Iowa football has it on their helmets. I think the Farm Bureau uses the slogan too. It’s “America Needs Farmers.” Well, I’m adding ANF and FNA. America needs farmers and farmers need antitrust.

What’s the first thing you want to do if elected?

Celebrate… I feel like there isn’t a voice in DC for working class and working-class rural, whether that’s on the farm or off the farm, that’s my big thing. I really, really want to bring Midwest issues to a national front, and just be a voice for folks who feel America has really left them behind. I see that all throughout this district and all throughout the Midwest, and I think there’s a huge opportunity for someone to stand up and fight for them.

Is there anything we didn’t cover? Any question I didn’t ask where there was something that you would like to get across to readers?

The one thing that I continually try to emphasize the most is about people. It’s not about ideology. We are just so people-focused. One example of that is that we’re not taking any corporate PAC money. That goes for everything: agriculture, trade, taxes that benefit corporations and wealthy people.

This district is not the wealthiest in America. We’re not poor by most standards, but it’s pretty cheap to live here. The opportunities are just starting to shrink. When I moved home after my grandma passed away, the best job I could find was $15 an hour, no benefits, after a month of looking in my hometown paper. That’s not enticing the kids I grew up with to stay. That’s not enticing people to move here.

As rural Midwesterners, we need to take a look in the mirror and see the decline. Are we just going to accept the decline, or are we going to fight against it and fight for the places we grew up in? I’m a fifth generation farmer here. My ancestors are here. I come from a long line of educators and farmers, but at the end of the day why I’m running is not because I’m getting my name in the paper or any crap like that; it’s about these people.

They may not all agree with me, but when people can see that passion and that understanding, that it’s a service, and running for office is a service; that’s what people captured about our campaign last time. Some crossed political lines. When you run on who you are rather than just anti-whatever the other person is or something like that, that’s the thing that’s missing in a lot of politics. That’s what we’re trying to be.

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September 20th 2019

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