Democrat J. D. Scholten who’s running for Congress in Iowa’s 4th District says incumbent Republican Steve King is abdicating his leadership by declining his invitation for three campaign debates.
For his eight terms in Congress, King has largely avoided appearing on stage with his opponents. In his first race in 2002, he appeared on Iowa Public Television with his Democratic challenger Paul Shomshor. But he did not debate his opponents in subsequent elections until his race with Democrat Christie Vilsack in 2012 and again with Democrat Jim Mowrer in 2014. He declined an invitation to debate Democrat Kim Weaver in 2016.
The King campaign did not immediately return a call for comment, but in an interview with KTIV-TV in Sioux City, he explained why he would not debate Scholten.
“If there’s not a clear division on issues here then you know if nobody’s criticizing the way I vote then they just call me names,” King said. “And I don’t think that’s a good reason to have a debate.”
Scholten held a news conference in Ames to set the record straight.
“To make this perfectly clear, I'm not running for Congress to call Rep. King names,” Scholten said. “I'm running to work for and represent the people of the 4th District.”
Scholten says, “to be fair,” he did in the last 14 months call his opponent Confederate Steve King when a confederate flag was seen on his desk.
Scholten is highlighting agricultural issues as he seeks to unseat the incumbent. He faulted King for failing to be appointed to a critical conference committee on the farm bill, even though he serves on the House Agriculture Committee.
“He's the most senior member of the Iowa delegation and he's absent from this conference committee,” Scholten said. “You're the representative from the second largest agriculture producing district you have an obligation.”
Scholten said King missed nearly 40 percent of agriculture committee meetings, and he speculated that King was not appointed to the conference committee because of his “personal agenda.”
Scholten is about to launch a 39 county tour of the sprawling 4th District in a Winnebago RV. He does not rule out staging a debate with his absent opponent.
“We're willing to use quotes that he has publicly said, we're willing to use videotape of his words, and just hold him accountable,” Scholten said.