Wednesday, July 1st, 2020
Election 2020: J.D. Scholten on Running for Congress in IA-04
“I live two hours away, yet I know what’s going on in their community. I feel that’s the best way that we can campaign and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.”
Jul 01, 2020
By Steve King
J.D. Scholten didn’t get the chance to beat Steve King this year. He ran against him in 2018, and helped to begin to close the coffin on King’s vampiric political career more than any other Democrat had. He laid the groundwork for the Iowa Republican Party to throw King out on his racist, zombie ass. Smelling blood in the water, and King’s odorous, reeking, political corpse, Iowa Republicans dumped King’s bloated carcass over the side in the June Iowa primary, and picked someone who might give them more of a fighting chance in November. Randy Feenstra was as good as Iowa Republicans could get in the fourth district, so here we are: a Democrat who actually stands for something, and a stooge of a candidate meant to stem the tide of progress threatening to sweep across the nation.
In IA-04, as we’ve said, it wasn’t enough to just want to stop Steve King, but to replace him with a capable, good person that the district and the people deserved to have as a representative. Steve King was a bought out, hateful drone for the corporate interests that have hijacked the country; Feenstra won’t be much different. He’d be more of the same with only a little less racism. The thing that IA-04 has been severely lacking in the past decade or so is a representative who believes in real justice, whether it be economic, environmental, or racial. Scholten is a man who knows the law and has found it in dire need of care and rehabilitation. Feenstra is a stuffed shirt; he’s a clone of a nobody. And America doesn’t abide clones of nobodies. It’s simple in Iowa: stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything. Now listen:
Steve King (Under the Radar): It took a little longer but the virus hit Iowa and was uncontrolled for a period of time. The use of masks has become partisan and shutdowns are partisan. How has the district responded to the virus?
J.D. Scholten: Since we are 39 counties and so big, I think what we’re really seeing is there are so many mixed signals. Here in Sioux City, we were a leading outbreak in the nation here for about two weeks there. We’ve been an immigrant meat-packing town since the 1880s, and it kind of showed up in the last few months. When it hit here, most of the rest of the district wasn’t hit. Now we’re starting to see the other side of the district start to get hit.
It was so surreal the other day, with having the Vice President in the district and not wearing a mask, and yet just a few counties over, it’s the hottest place for the pandemic right now. In Buena Vista County, we’re one in 12 or, one in 14 residents have tested positive. It’s been all over the map. We definitely have a lot of people who feel like putting on a mask is something against their constitutional rights, but ultimately, I just feel we’re all over the place. We’ve really lacking leadership. In Sioux City, we’re a tri-state area of the five states that never had a stay-at-home order. We were just destined for failure.
If your ability to interact with voters because of the virus, especially with essential workers, is disrupted, how do you expect to be able to respond to the needs of the community if you can’t interact with them in the normal way that you’re used to? How do you get their perspective?
It’s hard. One thing my campaign has done a phenomenal job of is our organizers have really tried to connect with people, not necessarily from a political standpoint like, “Will you vote for me,” but on a personal level of “Are you okay? Is there anything you need?” And then, if they say, “yes,” [we can say] “we’ve got this election coming in November,” and we give them our spiel, and in doing so we’ve helped out a few families that needed something.
The thing that’s difficult too is we’re a very rural area. I feel bad because we did this event, and somebody wanted to participate but they didn’t have access to the Internet that night and you’ve just seen the vulnerability. I’m hearing this from a ton of teachers, that a lot of their students don’t have access to quality Internet, so we’re going to have to find a way to connect with folks in all different sorts of different ways, what I call “touches”—whether it’s mail, whether it’s television, whether it’s digital, or whether it’s phone calls, door-knocking. We’re going to have to figure that out, and what our strength was last time was me getting in the RV and going to all 39 counties and just showing up. We’re going to do that again, but it won’t be shaking hands. It might be bumping elbows or wearing a mask. I’m doing safety precautions, but we will definitely still get out there.
Mailers are still a big deal, they always have been, they always will be. That will never change.
We just need to hope that the US Postal Service still exists come November. What’s going to happen in two months? Think about where we were earlier this year, and think about, even six months ago, compared to where we are today. We’re living decades in a week. November just seems like a lifetime away.
Old school retail campaigning is more important in Iowa than anywhere else in the country. You won your primary because of it. How do you plan to change and reach out to voters? What’s going to be your primary thrust of it? Is it going to be mailers? Will it be virtual town halls, something like that?
It’s everything. Everything is on the table. I don’t think there’s one campaign that has figured it all out. We jumped on virtual stuff very early on. Like tonight, we have leaders from the NAACP from three different communities in the district to talk about race and Black Lives Matter, and things like that, tonight. There’s that, but we’ll start going to all 39 counties.
As a campaign, we’re still trying to figure out what that looks like. By mid-late July, I fully anticipate being on the road until November in the RV. I have that thing. I want to use it. Last fall, when we did our “Don’t Forget About Us” tour, going into towns of under a thousand people, we connected with people on a whole different level. In fact, one of the towns we went to, I picked up a story, and I was literally talking to a group of small town bankers earlier today, and one of the gentlemen, I was able to relate with him because I was like “Oh, I’ve been to your town, here’s what I heard what’s going on there,” and he was really impressed. There was a big battle about saving the grocery store there. It’s amazing to be able to connect with people. I live two hours away, yet I know what’s going on in their community. I feel that’s the best way that we can campaign, and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.
With the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, how do you make racial justice matter to the majority of Iowans, who are white?
This district, according to the Census, is 91% white, but what’s been amazing in the last month is, think of our current congressman, who has a Confederate flag on his desk even though he’s from Iowa, and just what’s line after line of blatant racism. We’ve had at least 15 communities in this district who had Black Lives Matter events. I think that’s amazing. The raw energy that it has brought to a district like this and what we’re hoping to get involved with the organizers of these events and participates. Then say, “Hey listen. This goes to November. We need to make sure the movement continues in the ballot box.”
One thing I like to talk about is the concentration of power in this district. One of the ways this district is being hugely affected, especially people of color, is the meat packing industry. We look at a lot of the people who are testing positive; it’s the workers from these meat packing plants, and they’re mostly people of color, and often immigrants, so you have these multinational corporations that are profiting a ton. They got this tax break a couple years ago, and right now consumers are paying three bucks more for meat, per pound, at the grocery store than they were a decade ago, and yet the farmers are getting the same price. Workers are getting paid the same price they got in 1984. Consumers are paying more; that’s what we see in this power struggle. I feel that is a racial injustice and economic injustice in this district.
We’ve talked a bit about farm jobs but I read some wild statistic about “Farm Stress” and increased suicide risks. It’s a higher likelihood because of the presence of guns but it’s also about a lack of mental health services in rural communities. What can you do to expand mental healthcare coverage in the district? Has this come up on the campaign trail at all?
It played a role in the 2018 Iowa gubernatorial race. What we’re seeing here in the district, and here in Iowa…farmer suicides are on the rise, and there’s a lot of stress. In a lot of these rural communities there is struggle. There’s not a lot of opportunity for jobs…. The economic pain in this district is real, and it tends to go down other avenues. On Facebook this morning I had a classmate going through drug addiction. All of these things are interrelated. I’m a huge proponent for the push for mental health in whatever we end up on when it comes to healthcare. I push for Universal Healthcare. We need to absolutely have mental health and dental health as well. That’s what I’ll continue to push for
The president’s numbers have started to change a little in Iowa. He owned IA in 2016. What are you seeing in the district? Are Iowans finally waking up to the fact that this president is a failure? Because Joni Earnst’s numbers don’t look that great either.
If you want to point out the direct reflection, it is exactly what’s happening in this district. We are the second most agriculture producing district. I was talking to a farmer the other day, and you have a choice between beans and corn. I asked him, “What is your plan?” He said, “75% soybeans and we did a little bit of corn,” and the reasoning is because “we can feel like we will lose less money if we plant more soybeans.” So, that’s where farmers are right now. It’s about losing less money. It’s not even about breaking even or profiting. It’s nuts.
This will be the eighth consecutive year of low commodity prices. It doesn’t matter how good the season is, if we get enough rain, or anything like that; it’s because our beans, our international market, went to China. Such a strong portion of it went to China. Just two weeks ago, China decided to buy a ton of beans from Brazil, even though the American bean was cheaper. That’s just a gut punch to a district like this. You look at corn. Corn prices are just tanking and they’ll continue to tank because this administration has abused the Renewable Fuel Standard. This administration is full of lobbyists from the oil industry and former oil executives, so all these oil folks hate ethanol. This administration has just crushed the industry.
So, the majority of plants here are either idle or they’re closing, so that means there’s more grain and more corn in the bin, and when you have that much supply, the prices tank. So both beans and corn and the reasons that prices are low right now is a direct reflection of this administration. And then you look at our livestock industry and we are more concentrated now then when Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle. A hundred years ago the big five packers controlled 45% of the market share. Well, we broke them up, and when I was born in 1980, the four biggest ones controlled about 35% of the market share. Today the big four control 85% of the market share, so if what we’ve seen in this pandemic is a meat processing plant closes in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it affects the whole market. It affects the whole nation because it’s concentrated. If we’re going to be a secure nation, we need to be a food-secure nation, and our vulnerability in our food systems has just been highlighted with this pandemic.
I was just reading today about John Bolton’s burn book and how the president was trying to get China to buy more farm goods here, and even in an underhanded way; even in that, he’s ineffective…
I think the big thing that a lot of Iowans are pissed off at, is look at who our ambassador to China is. Our Chinese Ambassador. It’s Terry Branstad. Our long-time Governor, where has he been? I think we have a lot of folks who have voted Republican for a long time who are questioning things right now, and I think there’s a huge opportunity. With the right message, and the right campaign style, to go and try to earn votes…and that’s what we plan to do.
It’s as though this administration had one mission, and it was to create a permanent underclass and that doesn’t just apply to any of the races that the president hates, but it also applies to white people who support him. It’s crazy.
I will say that farmers are doing well under Trump. But they’re Brazilian farmers, not the American farmers.
Do you think the presidential primary debacle earlier this year will end Iowa’s status as the first contest of any primary?
Man, that seems like forever ago! I haven’t had to address the Iowa Caucus in a while. Until the reporting part of the process, it worked the best it ever has. It was more inclusive, it was smooth. There were a lot of issues that we had in the past, like registration, and all that’s up. It went really flawlessly and then the recording happened. From that moment on, it was a disaster. I mean, there was change needed in the system. I hope there is some sort of change. I’m really hoping we still have it. I hear the reasons why it should go away. But at the end of the day, we as Iowans have done our part. We had 20-something candidates and we narrowed the field. We made a lot of these candidates get uncomfortable and address us.
Iowa has a full array of politics that we draw attention to. I also feel, as Democrats, that we as a party are becoming more and more coastal, and more and more urban, so the more we can balance that out…if we want to get the Senate, we have to go through rural America, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re showing up in places that we don’t always have success in. I’m very grateful for what this district was able to do.
Iowa, to me, is it less diverse than the overall Democratic electorate? Yes. Is it representative? No. However, Iowa has always been the heart of the Democratic Party; it picks Democratic presidents, except this past year. It’s the heart of the party but also something that we might need to change.
Let me point this out. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the prime example of why I feel Iowa is important, whether you like him, or whether you didn’t vote for him, it doesn’t matter. No one knew how to pronounce his name when he launched. He had no money. He didn’t really have a huge national profile at the beginning, but at the end he was able to raise enough money to get ads on. He had a tremendous staff and he showed up in the most places, and I feel like that rewarded him. That’s why we have the Iowa Caucus.
What I worry about is if you have a place with one media market, if it went down to Georgia, for instance, it’s going to be the Atlanta media market and that’s it. I don’t know. I’m not saying it’s the best place, or that everything works perfect. I’m just saying that we have a system now that forces candidates to do retail politics. It forges candidates who may not have name recognition. It allows them to have a chance if they can create that grassroots movement.
You have to work for it in Iowa and New Hampshire. It doesn’t just get handed to you. You have to show up, like you said.
But I don’t want, in this scenario, what we see in a lot of races, where if you have a self-funder, who can just blanket ads, and drown out everybody else, then it wasn’t much of a contest to begin with.
Mike Bloomberg tried but it didn’t really work.
Right? You have to show up and win people over here.
It’s pretty clear that the party didn’t expect to win with Steve King as their nominee, and that your strength as a candidate essentially forced him out. It was kind of…I compare it to Ironstahce and Paul Ryan. So you’re the Democratic Party’s official party nominee now. King lost his primary, something certain people felt really strongly about. But I think we all wanted that rematch between the two of you. How has Feenstra changed the fundamentals of your race? Or has he at all?
I think the worst case scenario would have been for us to face King in the general, and for us to lose. That would have empowered King, a voice that needs to be done with it. It would empower that voice again. What could have been the worst case scenario is off the table, so that’s the good news.
The way that this race really changes? I think it makes the issues more important. For the longest time, when you run against King, it’s all about him and his statements. So now, we can put our issues at the forefront. If you went to one of our town halls in the last cycle, or this last fall, in our “Don’t Forget About Us Tour,” what we’re able to do is talk about what we’re for, not those who we’re against. It would have been very easy to run a campaign and just bash King the whole entire time; lord knows I wanted to do that, but at the end of the day it’s not going to win you votes.
What you have to do is try to tell folks what you’re going to do that will improve their lives. If you look at how we’re matched up, and how Randy Feenstra was defined in the Republican primary and the debates, he was the establishment pick; it was funded by national PACs more so than the money he raised. You look at the special interests and all that, and his big pride was matching Iowa to give the big tax breaks that happened nationally. Well, what happened in those tax breaks that all these multi-national corporations got all this money, and they abused their power on our Iowa farmers. It’s the same thing that happens in the meatpacking plants and all that. We match up against him very well. I feel like all the special interests that have influenced him from the outside, like from Des Moines and D.C., that’s what I’m up against. I’m running against cleaning up these things and getting rid of special interests that ruined our democracy.
And the other thing is, I talked about healthcare every day. I don’t know. I haven’t heard one Republican plan for healthcare, to be honest. Yes, I definitely haven’t heard it from him. You go to almost any gas station in this district, and there’s a donation box for someone who just got sick, or someone who just got in the hospital. The amount of Go Fund Me sites, or the amount of pancake breakfasts…and we’re the wealthiest nation in the world and we have to beg to pay for our medical care. It’s nuts. So we match up against Randy Feenstra really well.
This district has more Republicans than Democrats, I get that, but last cycle we were able to get 25,000 more people to vote for us than there are even Democrats in the district. And if we run the campaign that I envision, and what we were able to do last time, as long as the resources are there, and then we continue to fundraise, as of right now, we’re still on pace for what the plan was whether it was King or not-King. If we can get all those things going, especially with the way the agriculture economy is depressed right now, I think we have a huge opportunity to really do some good in this district.
It really seems as though Feenstra is kind of an empty suit placeholder. He’s just there to not be as racist. But we are all better for not having Steve King’s voice in the conversation. I really wanted to beat him. I wanted you to beat him.
We did too, but I feel like what our campaign was able to do in 2018 was what ultimately defeated him, and I’m incredibly proud of what we were able to accomplish last cycle, and incredibly lucky to have so many great supporters and volunteers, and amazing staff last cycle. It was overdue this time. Ultimately our paths differ, but we’re just excited where we are. We’re light years ahead of where we were two years ago and I’m eager to get out on the road.
I feel like Democrats need to sustain this level of enthusiasm that’s literally bursting out onto the street. Movements come and movements go, and every time it happens we say “this one feels different,” but this one is actually different because, like you said, you’ve seen rural protests. That never happened to the first wave of Black Lives Matter. It certainly didn’t happen during Occupy and all that, so hopefully things are changing for the better.
I think that’s exactly right. What happened to George Floyd was horrific, but it will never be forgotten, not in my lifetime. I mean you already have NASCAR banning the Confederate flag. And here you have the University of Iowa’s football program. They really took a look at themselves on race relations and made adjustments. Already, you’re seeing, when Ferguson happened, activists activated, now you’re seeing athletic departments activate. You see the University of Nebraska, I can’t remember if it was their athletic department or something like that, something from them tweeted about Black Lives Matter. That’s great. The movement, it’s great to see, but we have to continue it. It can’t just be a tweet. This movement has to continue on, and it’s racial justice and economic justice. It’s so much more. I’m hopeful it’s a turning point, but we have to continue to push.
When I think of Iowa. I think of it as the Democrats’ conscience. It feels as though the country is rediscovering its own conscience. I see no reason why that couldn’t turn into something really great in Iowa and flip that thing, because the numbers are right there on the edge.
Here’s part of the thing: we had five people run in the Republican primary race, and I believe all of them talked pretty heavily about their faith, at least the top ones did, but the majority talked about their faith on a consistent basis, and what I was frustrated with was that not one of them talked about George Floyd and his death and the aftermath. Here’s the thing: the primary was a week out, so I understand they were focused on that. Could you get someone like Randy Feenstra to say racism is a sin? If you talk about your faith so heavily, I think it’s an easy thing to talk about race relations. It’s not always easy, as a white guy, I would say.
I agree. I’m always uncomfortable talking about it; like, right now it’s our time to listen and not talk.
Exactly. There’s a Proverbs quote I like to say; “I speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and ensure justice for those being crushed.” That’s the point; we need to speak up for those who are unable to speak for themselves. What my campaign is trying to do is give a platform to these voices, and we had George Niang, who is an Iowa State basketball All American, who now plays for the Utah Jazz. We talked with him about Black Lives Matter and race relations and athletic activism on Monday on a Zoom that we streamed through our social media. We have the NAACP leaders talking tonight in the district, and then tomorrow, we have my state representative, who’s black, from Ames. We’re going to talk to him about life and what Black Lives Matter did to shift the discussion down here in Iowa. They passed arguably the fastest bill ever on police reform on banning chokeholds and holding them accountable here in the state of Iowa. What we’re trying to do is find our place in all this and not overstep anything, but also up lift up the voices of those around us.
What’s the most creative way you’ve been made to reach out voters during the pandemic?
I would say that I started on TikTok. I wish I had more time to create videos and be goofy and creative. That’s right up my alley, but unfortunately I’m so busy I don’t have a lot of time to do it, but when we first sheltered, and we stayed in Sioux City, I was like “I’ll give it a try.” And I really got into it for about a week; then I realized there’s only so many things I can do to balance my schedule. I’ll put this on the side for now, but we’re looking to find a way to incorporate that into the campaign a little bit more, starting after the 4th of July. I just feel like we can’t afford not to do stuff like that, and it shows the human side of politics. I just got off the phone with all these bankers, and I’m assuming most of them aren’t Democrats but I don’t know. A huge part of our messages is [that] it doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, or brown. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Independent, Republican, or never voted before; we’re going to go out and try to earn your vote. That’s what we did last time. That’s my 100% intention this time as well.
Also read our 2019 interview with J.D. Scholten.