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Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Kim Bacon of Evolve Yoga & Wellness leads a mindful meditation session in a conference room at Sioux City's Aalfs Downtown Library Tuesday.


Govt-and-politics
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Steve King blames 'unhinged left' for ‘white supremacy’ uproar; defends Trump, immigration views

SIOUX CITY -- This isn't the 2019 in the U.S. House that Steve King had in mind when he won a ninth term in November.

King, a full-throated social conservative, was looking to fending off Democratic initiatives and support fellow Republican President Donald Trump against possible impeachment proceedings. Instead, the Iowa 4th district congressman is now fighting for his own political life, and vowing not to resign, after recent remarks on white supremacy elicited calls for his censure within the very first week of the 116th Congress.

It has been a contentious last 10 days for King.

House Republican leaders voted Monday to take away all of his committee assignments for the next two years in the wake of a New York Times story in which he was quoted as saying, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" The next day, the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution of disapproval intended to rebuke King and denounced “hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Mitt Romney, a former GOP presidential candidate, and Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking GOP House member and daughter of a former vice president, were among the elected officials who suggested King resign his seat. The Journal and three other daily newspapers that circulate in the 4th District -- The Ames Tribune, Des Moines Register and Fort Dodge Messenger -- also published editorials calling for King to step down. 

Despite the uproar, a defiant King refuses to leave. 

"No, no chance at all. I'll go out of this place dead before that happens and the Lord will have to make that decision," King told WHO Radio on Tuesday.

To the contrary, King quickly sent out an email urging supporters to donate to his re-election campaign, casting himself as a victim of a cabal of the "unhinged left" and "NeverTrumpers" who are out to "destroy" him because of his unwavering opposition to illegal immigration.

In the email, King tied himself to President Donald Trump, noting the Times "relentlessly and dishonestly attacks" the Republican president and now is "coming after me by shamelessly twisting my words, quoting me out of context, and using their Leftist comrades in the media to parrot their false talking points."

“We have seen this playbook before … like when the media tried to defeat President Trump by calling him a racist,” he continued. "We know how that worked out, don't we?"

Before the latest controversy, King was in line for seats on the Agriculture, Small Business and Judiciary committees. As one of the president's "strongest allies," King claimed, in his fundraising letter this week, he was targeted because his Judiciary seat put him in "perfect position to defend Donald Trump against the impeachment charges that are so likely to be brought."

In a Dec. 18 interview with The Journal, King promised to vigorously defend Trump if Democrats attempted to impeach him over charges related to special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

King dismissed accusations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. He called for a deadline for Mueller to finish the investigation.

He said Americans are divided on whether Trump was involved in issues being investigated by Mueller, "based on who they want to believe," since the president has supporters and detractors, depending on how they view his policies and personal life.

MINORITY PARTY

In the December interview, King also said he would support Trump's quest to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Democrats have refused Trump's demand for at least $5 billion for the wall, leading to the shutdown of non-essential parts of the federal government since Dec. 22, the longest in U.S. history.

King described the wall as the "most pivotal" and "contentious" piece of legislation this year. King, who had been in line to be the ranking member of the Judiciary's subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice after serving as chairman of the panel, argues the wall would stem the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico and Central and South American nations.

In his latest email to donors, King insisted he also was targeted by his political opponents because " (they)know full well I've been pushing for tougher immigration law for years" and "they universally understand that, were it not for me in Congress, amnesty would be the law of the land for tens of millions of illegal aliens."

Even before the latest setbacks, King was adjusting to life in the minority party after Democrats won 40 seats in the mid-term elections. 

"(House Majority Leader) Nancy Pelosi will take that big gavel and kill off anything I want," King said in December.

With Democrats in charge, King in the interview said he would be forced to resort to more House floor speeches and media interviews to counteract the bad public policy pieces he assumes will be introduced.

PRIMARY CHALLENGE

The uproar over King's white supremacist comments came just days after Randy Feenstra, a prominent Republican state senator from Northwest Iowa, announced he would challenge King in the 2020 GOP primary. 

Feenstra, an assistant Senate majority leader who also chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has argued King's long history of racially-charged comments has embarrassed the district and the state and reduced his influence in the House. King's recent removal from all House committees has compounded that problem, Feenstra said.

"Today, Northwest Iowa doesn't have a voice in Congress because Steve King's caustic nature has left us without a seat at the table," Feenstra said in a tweet. "It's time to #RetireSteveKing."

King's weak showing in last fall's election led Feenstra to enter the race. After winning re-election by 23 points in 2016, King squeaked by Democrat J.D. Scholten by just 3 percent in November in a district where there are 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. 

A poll released late last week suggested King's political standing in the district has fallen even more following the wave of negative publicity over the last week. 

The poll, published by a PAC created by Jim Mowrer, a Democrat who previously ran for the 4th District seat, showed 42 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of King, while 54 percent have an unfavorable opinion. That's a far worst split than for Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds (61/31), Sen. Joni Ernst (59/30), and Trump (57/42).

When asked whether voters would choose King or a generic Democratic candidate for Congress right now, King lost to the generic Democrat, 45 percent to 37 percent, with 18 percent saying they were unsure. Poll respondents also chose Scholten over King, 44 percent to 39 percent. The poll did not test King against Feenstra or other challenges in a hypothetical primary.

20-20 Insight LLC, an Atlanta-based firm founded by Democrats, surveyed 472 likely voters in the 4th District on Jan. 16 and 17.

MIXED CONSTITUENT REVIEWS

Hannah O'Callaghan, of Sioux City, said she doesn't support King, contending reports of his support for white supremacists constitute "baggage" that makes him less effective as a congressman. In a Jan. 7 interview with the Journal, prior to publication of the Times story, she referred to King having to defend his remarks on race and support for political candidates and parties with ties to white supremacy in the final weeks of last fall's campaign.

"I don't think he should be (serving), with all the things he had going on," O'Callaghan said.

In a separate interview, also on Jan. 7, Gordon Thompson, of Sioux City, said King has been responsive to voters needs of the 4th District.

While Thompson likes King's stance on policies and has repeatedly voted for him, he said he's glad King announced two weeks ago he would break with his recent practice and hold public town hall meetings in all 39 counties of the district.

The first forum is scheduled for Thursday, but King's office has not yet announced where it will be held.

"He does care. I'm just glad someone shook him up, because now he is paying attention," Thompson said.

In the email appeal last week, King also claimed the "rabid leftist media" because they were " unable to defeat my campaign in the 2018 midterm elections" are now "blasting the airwaves in a pathetic attempt to paint me as a 'racist.' "

King has repeatedly insisted the Times "completely mischaracterized" his comments during a nearly hour-long interview. The congressman said he rejects the ideology of white supremacy, adding that he comes from a family of abolitionists who "paid a price with their lives to make sure that all men and now all women are created equal."

"Like the Founding Fathers, I am indeed a champion of Western Civilization and American culture -- I'm an American Nationalist -- not a 'White Nationalist' or 'White Supremacist,'' as the Times imply in their biased coverage," he wrote in the fundraising email.


Local
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Sioux City wastewater treatment plant takes steps to reduce violations

SIOUX CITY -- As the court case against one former Sioux City wastewater treatment plant worker begins, plant supervisors continue with new oversights and improvements aimed at preventing a repeat of the activities that resulted in numerous violations and potential state action against the city.

"I think we've got a lot of safeguards in place to keep people on their toes," city utilities director Mark Simms said.

Patrick Schwarte, a former shift supervisor, is expected to plead guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Sioux City to criminal charges connected to his role in an alleged conspiracy to manipulate water sample test results and use fraudulent testing procedures to ensure the plant's discharges into the Missouri River met federal guidelines.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which administers the plant's federal permit, was tipped off to the activity, believed to have happened from 2012 to June 2015.

Since the manipulation was discovered in June 2015, the DNR has issued the wastewater treatment plant 15 citations, none of them rising to the seriousness that led to the criminal charges, said Tom Roos, environmental specialist senior at the DNR's Spencer office.

"Looking at this list, it's not a recurring thing. Ninety-nine percent of the time they do a great job," Roos said, adding that he has no concerns with the plant's operation.

The DNR has not increased scrutiny of the Sioux City plant, Roos said. Like any wastewater treatment plant operator, Sioux City is required to sample wastewater once a day to test the levels of chlorine, ammonia, suspended solids, grease and numerous other chemicals and compounds and submit a monthly report to the DNR.

Simms was hired as utilities director in September 2015 and was not with the city when the violations at the center of the legal actions took place. For the first two months after his hiring, he said, samples were taken two or three times during each of the three shifts at the plant. Testing has since been reduced to once per shift, meaning the city is still testing three times a day, above the DNR's requirement of one daily sample.

Samples are tested by different workers rather than a single person, and once results are entered into a computer, a second worker reviews and verifies them, Simms said.

The city also has provided workers with additional training, and five or six plant workers have reached the DNR's highest licensing level. A recent engineering study has led to plans for upgrades to the plant's disinfection system, Simms said.

Treating wastewater is a complex process, Simms said, given the amount of industrial waste from food processors that Sioux City's plant receives. Built in 1961, the plant, located at 3100 S. Lewis Blvd., each day receives industrial, commercial and residential wastewater from Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff, South Sioux City, North Sioux City and Dakota Dunes. Cleaned and treated water is discharged into the Missouri River in accordance with state and federal regulations.

With a number of food processors and other industries in the metro area, Simms said the challenge is to maintain a consistent wastewater flow into the plant. If it's too high or too low, it can disrupt the naturally occurring bacteria that break down the waste, making it harder to treat and disinfect.

If one of the plant's larger wastewater contributors discharges a higher-than-normal amount of waste into the system, it can throw off the balance, making it hard for the bacteria to adjust and defeating workers' efforts to treat the waste to meet acceptable limits.

"With the volume of waste this facility receives and the number of industrial contributors and commercial contributors and the complexity of the system, it's a difficult job," Simms said.

The city's 15 violations in the past three and a half years include seven instances of high levels of chlorine, three of ammonia nitrogen, two of suspended solids and three for oil and grease.

Seven of the violations occurred in 2018, and Simms said the city identified the source leading to most of those violations. The city ultimately fined Big Ox, a South Sioux City industry that converts organic waste from local industries into methane gas, for numerous violations of its wastewater treatment agreement with the city.

Roos said other Iowa municipalities have violations occasionally, and he's not concerned with the number Sioux City's plant has been issued.

"Sioux City is pretty unique with the industries they have. They have to adjust for that, and wastewater doesn't adjust very fast," he said. "We always strive for zero violations, but things happen."

Simms said the city's additional steps have prevented a repeat of the actions of Schwarte, former plant superintendent Jay Niday and potentially others.

No other individuals have been charged, though court documents and a 2015 DNR investigation show that Niday and four other unnamed plant workers were involved. Simms said he did not know if those four workers were still at the plant, and he did not want to speculate on the actions that occurred before he was hired.

The DNR found that Schwarte and others were raising chlorine levels on days that samples were taken so that the city would meet permit guidelines and then lowered the chlorine to minimal levels on other days. Schwarte and Niday were fired, and both surrendered their state wastewater treatment licenses.

In June 2016, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission referred the DNR's case against the city to the Iowa Attorney General's office for consideration of civil penalties higher than the DNR, whose penalties are capped by state law at $10,000.

The city's attorney has maintained that Schwarte's intent to plead guilty is not proof of wrongdoing by other city employees or officials, and it doesn't mean that the city could be subject to civil penalties handed down by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Because of the ongoing partial federal government shutdown, the EPA and U.S. Attorney's Office have suspended media communications as nonessential functions and those offices could not comment on whether fines or criminal charges against other plant workers are anticipated.


Simms