***In the coming weeks, we will look back at Congressman Steve King’s career in the Iowa Senate and United States House of Representatives. Congressman King has served in political office since 1997. He spent six years in the Iowa Senate before entering Congress in 2003.***
Prior to running for elected office, Steve King founded a construction company. King decided to run for Iowa Senate because of a few reasons, but a major one was a parental notification bill when it comes to abortion.
“I was watching what was going on there,” King said. “It was an important piece of legislation. At that time we considered it to be pro-life legislation that would make a difference — and it’s made some difference. But when they defined parents, they defined parents as parents, guardians, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters in whole or half-blood.
“I thought, ‘How far off can you be? These are life and death decisions so you are going to leave that to a half-sister that has never met her other half?'”
King said he sent a fax to Wayne Bennett, who was his state senator at th time.
“I asked him to support the Banks amendment that defined parents as parents or legal guardians,” King said. “At about 5:30 p.m. that day, he called me and said ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you on that amendment vote.’ I asked why not, it was life or death. He just didn’t have an argument. He didn’t have a way to defend it. I thought how can we have somebody making life or death decisions for us who can’t even defend them? That set me off then. I went about to try to recruit somebody to run against him who believes like we do.”
But every time King asked someone, they pointed their finger back at him.
“Before I knew it they formed around me,” he said. “It took me a while to realize what had actually happened. At that point, they convinced me it was the right thing to do and that I was called to do that and it turned out to be the right thing.”
WORKPLACE DRUG TESTING NEEDS REFORM
Another reason he decided to run for state senate? Iowa’s workplace drug testing law. If the parental notification bill was half of the motivation to run, King estimated the workplace drug testing law makes up maybe a quarter of the motivation.
“I was in a position where, when I signed a contract to do a construction project, I would be required to sign a document that I would guarantee a drug-free workplace,” King said. “Yet I was prohibited from drug testing my employees by Iowa law.
“When there’s a matter of principle, that you just swallow that principle and move on expeditiously, I’ve never had the talent to do that. This was a wrong that needed to be corrected, so one of the pledges I made was I would change Iowa’s workplace drug testing law.”
It took two years, but King got it done.
“Now every private-sector employer can legitimately, without discrimination against employees, can guarantee a drug-free workplace. That is a significant accomplishment that I don’t think would’ve taken place if I hadn’t run for office,” King said. “Now, when King Construction signs those contracts, I don’t know if they’re still obligated to sign on a drug-free workplace, but it has had a drug testing policy and the people on the crew like it. I know we’re using it, we’ve been using it for years. It’s never been litigated and it’s working well. That’s one of those things I look at that, if I did nothing else, that has improved thousands of families’ lives and likely saved a good number of lives.”
ENGLISH AS IOWA’S OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
One other piece of signature legislation King took care of the Iowa Senate was English being the official language in the state of Iowa.
“That’s another piece that I believe strongly in and I think I recall when that lit up it was Oct. 10, 1996,” King said.
He went on to recount being at a Crawford County fundraiser. Terry Branstad was there as well.
“I was giving a speech to about 150 people — it was a packed house,” King said.
It wasn’t necessarily planned, either.
“I didn’t have a canned speech, I was just ranging across the map of things I was thinking about,” King said. “I said I believe English should be the official language of the state of Iowa and when I said that the place erupted with applause. I was surprised with the enthusiasm demonstrated.”
Not everyone was jumping up and down, though. A reporter from the Denison paper was in the back corner and attacked King for that position, he said.
“Twice a week the Denison paper attacked me,” he said. “Of course, you have to push back and curl up or otherwise push back. It was an intense fight. It took six years, but I finally got that bill on Gov. Vilsack’s desk and he very reluctantly signed it.”
King fought for Iowans outside of the legislature as well. He had to sue both Vilsack and Chet Culver when they were the state’s executive.
“I’m confident that I’m the only person alive that has successfully sued every living Democrat governor in the state of Iowa,” he said. “I don’t think about that very often, but I had to sue Chet Culver because he was violating English as the official language and sending out election documents in multiple languages.”
Prior to that, Vilsack issued an executive order — No. 7, King said — to grant a special protected class based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This was right around 1999 or 2000.
“I’m thankful to somebody who faxed a copy to me from the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper in Washington D.C., that Vilsack had signed this executive order — otherwise nobody would’ve noticed,” King said. “When I read that, it was clear to me that he was legislating by executive order.”
His own leadership, staff and lawyers told him he was wrong.
“I told them I could read the Constitution and I could read the statute and he has violated the separation of powers and I was going to sue him,” King said.
King made a list of a number of points in his argument and sent it out to about a half dozen people on a Thursday night to get their opinions.
“On Friday morning I was driving down the road listening to Jan Mickelson and curiously, he was going down through these points that sounded exactly like what I had sent out the night before,” King said. “I pulled off on a gravel road — I know exactly where it was — and called in on the hotline and I didn’t tell him that what I was hearing from him is what I think I wrote, I’ve never had that conversation and it doesn’t really matter so much. He asked me what I was going to do about it and I said ‘I’m suing the Governor.’
“He asked if I had the support of the legislature and I said I didn’t know. I said, ‘Jan, there are 150 of us altogether and if 149 of them think it’s a bad idea I’m suing anyway. I don’t need their support to go to court.’ I made that public declaration over 50,000 watts and I’m glad I made a big promise like that and we prevailed in court. That was vacated for 10 years and we went back to the law that existed before he violated the Constitution.”
***In the next part of the series, we will hear about King’s move to Congress.***