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J.D. Scholten Edit Board

J.D. Scholten, Democratic candidate for Iowa 4th District, speaks with The Journal editorial board on Thursday.

SIOUX CITY -- J.D. Scholten isn't interested in trade wars with China, especially if Iowa farmers are caught in the middle. And if the president wants tariffs, they should first be approved by Congress.

The Democratic challenger to Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King told the Journal's editorial board Thursday that he's met many farmers and representatives of agricultural groups during his campaign who feel the same way.

"I oppose it," Scholten said of the escalating trade war with China and the series of retaliatory tariffs the two trading partners have placed on each others' goods. Among the casualties in the trade war are prices of soybeans and pork, two of Iowa's main exports to China.

"I don't see New York building owners getting hurt. I don't see Texas oil men getting hurt. I don't see Silicon Valley getting hurt. We're bearing the brunt of it (in the Midwest)," Scholten said.

Scholten, 38, of Sioux City, said King's give-it-time approach on the tariffs won't work for farmers of Iowa's 4th District that he represents. After eight terms in the U.S. House, the Republican should be a leading voice for agriculture, but he's not. Iowa farmers deserve better representation, Scholten said.

"If you look at Twitter, he's not talking about any of these things. He's talking about his agenda. At some point you need to become a team player and step up for your district. He's not doing that," Scholten said.

During his continuous swing through the 4th District's 39 counties in his Winnebago RV, dubbed Sioux City Sue, Scholten said he's heard similar frustrations from farmers and ag trade groups willing to back a challenger's campaign, voters said an incumbent should have sewn up long ago. Few congressional districts depend on a strong agricultural economy as much as Iowa's 4th, and, Scholten said, its representative should be out front on issues such as market consolidation and problems with the renewable fuels standard.

Scholten said he's heard little to nothing from King about those issues, and neither have his constituents.

"There are enough agricultural folks who are frustrated with him. I'm always going to be on the side of Iowa farmers," said Scholten, a freelance paralegal who returned to Iowa after the 2016 election, when he said his grandmother urged him to come home and ensure the future of her family's farm near Lake Mills, Iowa.

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Rather than take up farming, Scholten took up the challenge of facing King in a district in which the number of registered Republicans heavily outnumbers registered Democrats. Frustrated by what he saw as a lack of jobs paying more than $15 an hour, Scholten created his own job and decided to try to do something about wage stagnation in the district. Improving the ag economy is a big step in doing that, he said, so ending harmful tariffs that hurt Iowa's ag exports is a must. A modernized visa program for immigrants and other immigration reforms would benefit Iowa employers, Scholten said, and a revitalization of unions and raising the federal minimum wage would help the state's workers.

An East High graduate, Scholten played baseball at Morningside College before transferring to the University of Nebraska for his senior season. He continued to play baseball professionally after his graduation, including a number of years with the Sioux City Explorers. Perhaps because of his athletic background, Scholten's statements contain many references to teamwork.

He emphasized that he's willing to reach across party lines to find solutions to the issues that affect Northwest Iowa.

"I'm probably one of the more patient Democrats you'll ever meet. I'm willing to work with anyone as long as it will help our district," he said.

King, he said, has failed to do that and seems unwilling to seek input from the people he represents.

"What this democracy is about is engagement with the public, and that's not what the district is getting now. We have a representative who's not doing town halls and won't debate me," Scholten said.

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