SIOUX CITY -- The head of the House Republicans' campaign committee on Tuesday rebuked fellow GOP Rep. Steve King for his repeated admiration for political candidates with ties to white supremacy.
"Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate," Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, tweeted. "We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior."
After two hours after Stivers tweet, King responded with his own statement on Twitter.
"Americans, all created equal by God, with all our races, ethnicities, and national origins-legal immigrants, natural born citizens, together make up the Shining City on the Hill," King said in the statement. "These attacks are orchestrated by nasty, desperate, and dishonest fake news. Their ultimate goal is to flip the House and impeach Donald Trump. Establishment Never Trumpers are complicit."
King, for years an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, has also stirred up controversy with his pro-Western Civilization views. Most recently, he endorsed a white nationalist candidate for mayor of Toronto, and spoke to members of a far-right political party in Austria after touring historical Jewish and Holocaust sites in Poland.
The Iowa 4th District congressman defended his August meeting with members of Austria's Freedom Party, which he says rejects racist or anti-Semitic views. The conservative party, he said, shares his positions on immigration and some other issues. "If they were in America pushing the platform that they push, they would be Republicans,” he told the Washington Post.
Stivers, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, is the highest-ranking GOP House member to publicly call out King. King's Democratic opponent, J.D. Scholten of Sioux City, commended Stivers.
"Last week I issued a challenge for at least one Republican elected official to condemn @SteveKingIA's recent behavior," Scholten tweeted. "I applaud @RepSteveStivers, Chair of the NRCC. Respect."
The rebuke came as dueling polls painted a different story of how close the Iowa 4th race stands heading into the final week of the campaign.
Scholten's campaign touted an online poll posted Monday night that showed the Democratic challenger just a single point behind King, 45 percent to 44 percent.
"Game on," Scholten declared in a Twitter post that linked to a story that highlighted the online poll from Change Research, a Democratic-affiliated pollster started in 2017.
On Tuesday morning, King countered with his own internal poll, which showed him 18 points ahead of Scholten, 52 percent to 34 percent.
"Iowa voters are overwhelmingly choosing to stick with Congressman Steve King’s proven leadership and they are rejecting his opponent’s nasty, desperate, and dishonest attacks funded by San Francisco liberals," the campaign said in a statement.
Citing his controversial remarks and associations with white nationalist figure, some large businesses also have cut off financial donations to King in recent days. The latest to do so Tuesday was Twins Cities-based Land O' Lakes Foods, whose political action committee gave King's campaign $2,500 in June. The privately-owned dairy, which named Sioux City native Beth Ford as CEO and president earlier this summer, had faced growing calls for a boycott of its agricultural products over its support for King,
Also Tuesday, Cook Political Report moved the King-Scholten race from "Likely Republican" to "Leaning Republican," a further sign the non-partisan handicapper believes it's further tightening.
King, 69, has faced few serious challenges in his previous general election races in the most Republican of Iowa's four congressional districts. His closest call came in 2012 when he defeated Democrat Christie Vilsack, the wife of a former Iowa governor, 52-45 percent.
In 2016, King won by 23 points over Democrat Kim Weaver as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump carried the 39 counties in the 4th District by 27 points.
Since Trump's election, public opinion of King and Trump has soured, according to the Change Research poll, which conducted an online survey of 631 likely voters from Oct. 27-29. King's approval rating is now underwater, with 38 percent saying they viewed the Republican favorably and 48 percent saying they viewed him unfavorably. Trump's standing was somewhat better, with 51 percent of voters having favorable view of the president, while 46 percent had a unfavorable view.
King's own poll was conducted by WPA Intelligence, which surveyed 401 likely votes through live phone calls from Oct. 22-24. The poll found 52 percent of voters support King and 34 percent back Scholten, with 11 percent undecided and 3 percent saying they would support a third-party candidate. Libertarian Chuck Aldrich, of Clarion, is also on the ballot.
In a series of tweets Tuesday, Dave Waserman, U.S. House editor for Cook Political Report, said King faces his "first serious challenge" since 2012, "except this time he's almost broke & not running a real campaign."
"This is a *very* different situation than '12 or '14, when King ran was less of a pariah, ran a robust TV campaign & won #IA04 convincingly," Wasserman said in a subsequent Tweet. "He's now completely dark on TV & his campaign's YouTube channel hasn't been updated in 4 years."
Scholten has spent over $1.4 million on his campaign and has been running TV commercials "unanswered" by King for two weeks, Wasserman noted. A Political Action Committee backed by former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin has also spent $300,000 on ads that describe King as "Klan & Neo-Nazi approved."
Wasserman noted King's campaign has spent $782,000 on his campaign, but it's gone mostly for fundraising and salaries for his son, Jeff, and Jeff's wife, Lindsay.
Scholten on Monday released three new ads: two 30-second spots for TV and a 90-second digital ad.
MARCUS, Iowa -- Two Halloween extremes play out 45 miles from one another today, at Schaller and Marcus, Iowa.
Volunteer fire fighters Tom Kolpin and Derek Wall spend this time of year building walls, doors and tunnels. They rev chainsaws and collect $10 per head, working to scare the wits out of thousands of fun-seekers who flock to the locally famous Schaller Haunted House. Together, these two head an effort this year that screams (literally) community service as they'll donate at least $10,000 to help build a new Schaller Fire Department dwelling downtown.
Up in Marcus, meantime, Alan and Geralyn Hoefling charge nary a nickel to tour their enterprise, Hoefling's Pumpkin Patch, a 6-acre pumpkin patch and corn maze that celebrates the tamer points of a holiday featuring sweets and spice and all things nice. Children learn how to separate corn seeds while picking a gourd to decorate like a little ghost or goblin. Hoefling's Pumpkin Patch has become a treat for more than 100 families per weekend in the time leading to All Saints Day.
"We have a free gate as we're a family of seven," says Alan Hoefling, a commodity broker who farms south of Marcus. "We figured that if you didn't charge admission, that would leave people with something to spend in pumpkins."
The couple's five children, now grown, come back to help Mom and Dad at this sprawling concern, one that for the last five years has operated from a charming 40-by-38-foot structure at the intersection of Cherokee County Roads C-38 and L-36 four miles south of Marcus. Geralyn, who taught preschool for 32 years, laughs and says how she began selling pumpkins from the back of their van more than two decades ago. "Our children were 0, 2, 4, 6 and 10 at the time," she says. "I think I must have been crazy!"
All five children mark a weekend or two on their calendar and come home on the five weekends leading up to Halloween. Daughter Amanda Hoefling has the longest trek. She travels 25 hours one way to move from her home in Hamburg, Germany, where she works with an architectural firm, to Marcus.
"I got home on Oct. 18 and I'm here through Nov. 12," she says. "Yes, this (pumpkin patch) is the reason I came home now. This is a tradition for our family, and it's been great to see how big it's gotten. It's wonderful to seek families come back year after year with their kids."
Beyond the patch featuring 40-plus varieties of pumpkins and 70-plus varieties of gourds, there are educational and play stations for corn, maize, broom corn and more. Inside, the retail space still has a nook for children to immerse themselves in while adults examine the shelves for Halloween decorations as well as Geralyn's fresh baked goods that range from pumpkin bread to buttermilk brownies to caramel apples, popcorn balls and fresh honey.
"Our bees have boosted our pumpkin production by 25 to 35 percent," Alan says.
"We've had visitors here from at least six different countries this season," Geralyn says, while Alan adds that he's seen regular guests from the Siouxland communities of Hornick, Spencer, Storm Lake and up to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The business wraps up another season today (Halloween) as Hoefling's Pumpkin Patch is open from 3-7 p.m.
Fright night in Schaller
In Schaller, the season also closes today for the Schaller Haunted House, a dark and spooky 3-story site that once housed a popcorn production operation in the "Popcorn Capital of the World." When some of the energy surrounding this Schaller Jaycees production waned in recent years, local fire fighters Derek Wall and Tom Kolpin stepped up and purchased the site for $1. They formed a limited liability corporation and recruited fellow members of the Schaller Volunteer Fire Department to pitch in, shoring up the structure while adding dimensions to its fright-night capabilities.
"We get around 20 guys per night to help out," says Wall, who owns an electric company in nearby Alta, Iowa.
While the pair intended to change a couple of rooms this fall, they ended up doing 14 rooms.
The place isn't for the faint of heart. Koplin, a truck driver, recommends that women who are pregnant stay outside, as well as those persons with heart issues and children under 10 years old. Visitors, they say, show up at their haunted house because they want to be scared. These men around Schaller who run the joint seem up to the task.
"The scariest room is the chainsaw room," Wall says.
Chainsaw room? "Yup," adds Kolpin with a devious grin. "We've got two 300-pound clowns in that room."
Almost nightly, a guest or two has run from the Schaller Haunted House. Others gasp as they emerge, catching their breath before exclaiming what a thrill ride it's been.
"We worked all September getting ready for this," says Kolpin, who turns off his radio as he trucks as a way to clear his head and come up with additional scary ideas. "The chief complaint is the wait it takes for people to get in."
If there is a complaint, that's best kind, perhaps. It means people are turning out, sometimes up to 500 an evening.
The site opens at 7 o'clock tonight (Wednesday) and will remain open until the last guests wind their way through the creaky corners, ones featuring mummies, monsters and machetes. When the doors close for good, Koplin, Wall and their fellow fire fighters will turn their attention to making it bigger and better, all in the hopes that their new fire station, with their Haunted House assistance, will match that description: Bigger and better.
SIOUX CITY -- Rabbi Guy Greene was in the middle of Shabbat services Saturday morning when a member of Congregation Beth Shalom approached him and whispered in his ear the horrific news that worshipers had been fatally wounded or injured when a gunman opened fire at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue.
"I was just shocked," Greene recalled Tuesday of his reaction to the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history.
Eleven people, ages 54 to 97, were killed and six more were injured.
Robert Gregory Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, was arrested in connection with the slayings. He faces hate-crimes charges that could bring the death penalty.
Greene said none of the members of Congregation Beth Shalom have direct ties to the victims, but he is planning an interfaith service at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the synagogue, 815 38th St., in response to the shootings. During the service, representatives of various faiths will offer up memorial prayers. Traditional Jewish prayers of mourning will also be said during the hour-long service. Those in attendance will have the opportunity to sign a book of condolences for the victims' family members and also donate money for burial expenses.
"It's important to mark not just joyous events, but it's also important to mark tragic events, so we can learn from them and talk about them," Greene said.
The Rev. Andy Nelson said he will attend the service at Congregation Beth Shalom Synagogue and then hold an interfaith service of mourning and remembrance at 7:30 p.m. at Morningside College's Buhler Outdoor Performance Center. Nelson, Morningside College's chaplain, said the service was initially planned to coincide with All Saints Day, a Christian holiday of remembrance. After the shooting in Pittsburgh, he said he decided to expand the scope of the service.
Greene said many members of Congregation Beth Shalom have been approached by Christians living in Siouxland who have offered their condolences and words of support. Unfortunately, Greene said Congregation Beth Shalom staff have noted an increase in calls over the past two to three months from people making anti-Semitic remarks. He said the synagogue is beefing up security in the wake of the shooting.
"We're much more on the alert now. I've been here 13 years and we've never had this before. It makes you feel unsafe. It makes you feel that you could be targeted," he said.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose 57 percent in 2017 – the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number of incidents since the ADL started tracking such data in 1979. Greene couldn't say for certain whether the political environment is the cause. He said friends living across the country have expressed a "generalized anxiety."
"My advice is to make certain that they intensify their prayer and meditation daily and actively get involved in the political realm to make a difference in the community," he said.