With Election Safely Over, Kim Reynolds Criticizes Steve King

"I think that Steve King needs to make a decision if he wants to represent the people and the values of the 4th District or do something else, and I think he needs to take a look at that," the governor said Tuesday, a week after her re-election with the congressman as a campaign co-chair.

Steve King with Kim Reynolds and Dave Ehler, a former district director for the congressman, in October. Photo: @SteveKingIA/Twitter

Ever since Kim Reynolds announced Steve King as one of her honorary campaign co-chairs in November 2017, she faced pressure to disavow his open and repeated embrace of white nationalists and supremacists. But throughout her campaign for election to a full term as governor, Reynolds repeatedly declined to distance herself from the congressman in any meaningful way.

Now that she’s won re-election, that’s apparently a different story. “Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds bluntly tells Steve King to decide future amid racism allegations,” read a headline yesterday evening on the Des Moines Register’s website to an article that reported Reynolds had “lost her patience” with King.

In truth, her criticism was pretty timid. “I think that Steve King needs to make a decision if he wants to represent the people and the values of the 4th District or do something else, and I think he needs to take a look at that,” she told reporters, reading from prepared notes, after saying that she hadn’t spoken to him since the election.

But Reynolds praised King’s values when she named him as a campaign co-chair last year, calling him “independent, principled,” and a “strong defender of freedom and our conservative values.”

The next month, after King echoed the same anti-diversity rhetoric as leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, Reynolds claimed she “strongly, strongly disagree[d]” with what he said but also dismissed the ensuing controversy as part of “the Twitter war” and said he would remain a campaign co-chair.

Before the election, Reynolds continued to waffle. “I’ve made it very clear I disagree with the comments that he’s made,” she told CBS2 News political reporter Caroline Cummings. “We are a country of immigrants and we celebrate that. I disagree with what he’s said, I’ve said that before.” But she added that King was just “one of thousands of chairs and co-chairs on my campaign” and said: “I can’t be held responsible for everyone’s comments. I can be held responsible for myself.”

The governor’s support for King continued up to the eve of the election last week, when she warmly welcomed him at a closing campaign rally in Sioux Center the week after he defended the Nazi roots of a far-right Austrian political party he strongly supports and on the same day that he spent on the campaign trail bashing gays and lesbians partially in response to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recent refusal to support him.

Meanwhile in Story County, the local GOP remains silent on King — something the Informer sharply criticized it for in an editorial half a year before the election.

However, late last week, we happened to run into Rick Sanders, who is now the only Republican on the county Board of Supervisors. He said that he agreed King was a problem, adding that the best time to challenge him would be during the GOP primary in 2020. (Previously, then-state Sen. Rick Bertrand, a Sioux City Republican, primaried King in 2016, receiving just over a third of the vote. This year, Cyndi Hanson, a community college administrator also from Sioux City who was supported by former Story County GOP Chairman Dane Nealson, challenged King with less success.)

But Sanders suggested that he would have endangered his re-election chances if he’d criticized King during the election. He ended up coming in second in the four-way race for two seats on the county board, ahead of incumbent Martin Chitty, a Nevada Republican, who finished about 700 votes shy of Sanders and will be replaced on the board by Gilbert Democrat Linda Murken, who received 4,250 more votes than Sanders.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.