In response to questions about Rep. Steve King’s latest anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim comments, Gov. Kim Reynolds tried to downplay her connection to the western Iowa congressman on Friday. “He is one of over 4,000 honorary chairs in my campaign,” Reynolds said during her appearance on Iowa Press, an Iowa Public Television public affairs show.
Even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who has steadfastly refused to comment on any of King’s many racist and xenophobic public statements, finally drew the line at King approving the tweet of a self-identified neo-Nazi.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein tweeted:
NEW — AshLee Strong, Paul Ryan’s spokesperson, sent me the following statement on Steve King: “The speaker has said many times that Nazis have no place in our politics, and clearly members should not engage with anyone promoting hate.”
— Sam Stein (@samstein) June 26, 2018
Reynolds didn’t go so far. Her firmest statement on King was that she disagreed with him, but she added, “No two people are going to agree on everything.”
The first member of the three-person Iowa Press panel to ask Reynolds about King was the Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel. After noting King has a history of “inflammatory statements,” Pfannenstiel said, “A lot of people have called on you to remove him as co-chair [of Reynolds’ campaign for governor]. Would you do that?”
“Well, first of all, I don’t agree with comments that he’s made. I’ve made that very clear in the past,” Reynolds began, although she never said which of King’s many comments she was disagreeing with. “I don’t think some of the comments he made are absolutely reflective of Iowans and who we are as a people.”
The governor continued,
He is one of over 4,000 honorary chairs in my campaign. I have all of the Republican Congressional delegation that have signed on to be an honorary chair in my campaign. He is not involved in policy or issues that we’re working on. And the fact of the matter is, he does represent over a fourth of the state, so people that live in his district. [sic] So, we’re not going to agree on everything, and I make it clear when asked where I stand on specific issues and I’ll continue to do that.
Reynolds’ performance on Iowa Press was almost an exact repeat of her performance at a press conference in December. On that occasion, she was being asked about King tweeting: “Diversity is not our strength. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, ‘Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.’”
“I have a lot of co-chairs that have signed up to participate in our campaign,” Reynolds told reporters at the press conference. She added, “I’m not going to agree with everything that they have to say and I can certainly make it known when I don’t agree with a comment that they made, but I also want to be able to work with them on really important issues for Iowans.”
When reporters continued to ask King-related questions, Reynolds said she disagreed with King and that “diversity has made this state and this country stronger.” But asked whether King’s comment was racist, Reynolds replied with a long, rambling answer that suggested addressing whether the comment was racist might interfere with her attempts to improve the economy in Iowa, as well as somehow jeopardizing federal tax reform efforts.
On Iowa Press, Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson followed Pfannenstiel’s question with a specific question about King saying on Friday that he doesn’t want Somali Muslim immigrants working in Iowa meat-packing plants.
“So as long as they’re preparing this pork for infidels, it helps send them to hell and it must make Allah happy,” King told Breitbart Radio. He finished by saying, “I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.”
Henderson asked Reynolds, “Do you have the same concern?”
“I don’t. I don’t agree with it. This would be one of those situations, one of the comments that he’d made that I absolutely don’t agree with,” Reynolds said. “And so, someone needs to ask him about that.”
David Yepsen, the host of the Iowa Public Television show, then asked Reynolds if King is “giving Iowa a bad name as a place to locate a business. Do you think it’s hurting Iowa’s economic development?”
Reynolds began her answer with a long, “Noooooo.” She then pivoted into a version of her stump speech about how vibrant the Iowa economy is. After her answer came to a close, the panel moved onto other topics.
It wasn’t so long ago that Reynolds was happy to embrace King. Introducing him as a campaign co-chair at her first election fundraiser in September — the same event where she called Iowa liberals “unhinged” — Reynolds said, “Congressman King. Defender of freedom, our conservative values, candid, independent, principled. You never have to question where that congressman stands.”
Reynolds partially owes her position as governor to King’s support. At the 2010 Iowa Republican Party convention, the more conservative members of the party were pushing Terry Branstad to choose longtime rightwing activist Bob Vander Plaats as lieutenant governor. But King, who is very influential with that wing of the state GOP, threw his support behind Reynolds, and was the party member who officially nominated Reynolds as Branstad’s running mate.
“We put on the same jersey today because we’re pulling together as a team,” King told the convention.
Although Reynolds has avoided repudiating King or removing him as a campaign co-chair, it seems unlikely she’ll being using that jersey metaphor anytime soon.