It is no news flash to readers of "Taking Note" that this column has been used with some frequency in the last 13 years to vigorously challenge our congressman Steve King.

A skilled orator and turner of phrases, King often presents views in provocative fashion.

This column has pulled no punches on calling out the congressman where we find him wrongheaded.

In a strongly worded but civil exchange with me following his town-hall meeting, King, a Kiron Republican who represents Iowa's 5th Congressional District, offered reasonable criticism.

Put another way, the congressman called me out. And he has a point.

King doesn't mind the colorful barbs, the political shots. King trades in those, too. They are the coin of the realm in American politics, and have been since British colonial rule.

But King took issue with my direct labeling of him as a "racist" - which I have done.

(I am not going to "re-try" the issues of past columns here. But for those looking to judge what Congressman King is referencing you can find a post on my Web site, www.iowapoliticialalert.com or search "Steve King" in the Daily Times Herald archives at www. carrollspaper.com.)

When I asked King a question Wednesday afternoon about the GOP gubernatorial race and how his own foot-dragging with a decision may delay important commitments from those who have long supported both King and State Rep. Roberts, R-Carroll, who is in the race, King said he'd happily take the question (See related story on Page 1). But he wanted to clear the air first.

"That's a well-stated question, Doug," King said. "Let's just compartmentalize some animosity here before I move to answer that question. You know that that exists between us. I'll just tell you the heart of that is this: in one of your articles you labeled me a racist in print. And I take great offense to that."

He added, "I'm not going to get engaged in a debate, and I'm not going to defend myself. I think my life's activities do that well enough."

We moved back to the 2010 race for Terrace Hill, and King fielded some more questions from me and Daily Times Herald reporter Butch Heman.

Following the session at the Santa Maria winery, I told King that while this column will continue to challenge and criticize him it will never again affix the label of racist to him.

King is right. That's not fair on my part. I cannot divine what's in Congressman King's heart, and our public discourse is limited by the quick-draw labeling of people as "sexist" or "racist." I have been called both.

Where this matter is concerned I will quote King and let readers draw their own conclusions as to the content of his words. There is much nuance where race is concerned and what may appear prejudiced to one person comes across as according to Hoyle to the other.

*****

King: Obama American born

King's town hall meeting at the Santa Maria winery in Carroll was a model in civility. Audience members from both conservative and liberal points of view asked questions as others in a banquet room at the new Santa Maria facilities listened politely.

All but two questions were on health care.

None of the attendees challenged Barack Obama's constitutional legitimacy as president as has been the case elsewhere where so-called "birthers" have hijacked elected officials' town-hall meetings to charge that Obama wasn't born in the United States.

King, who thinks Obama is clearly a native of Hawaii, addressed this issue in our interview after the town hall meeting.

Daily Times Herald: Unlike some of the town-hall meetings that are looped over and over again on cable news this one was exceedingly civil. You had some people bring up points that were obviously at odds with your viewpoint. One thing that has happened at some of these town-hall meetings that have been so highly publicized is that people have held up birth certificates and questioned the legitimacy of Obama's presidency.

That's not something I've ever seen you do, and I've actually heard you speak movingly about what it was like being there in January and watching Obama be inaugurated. Obviously some of these people that hold these views about Obama's legitimacy are conservative.

Would you have any message for them? Do you think Obama's a legitimate president, that this birther issue should be set side and that those people should move on on the issues?

Congressman King: "I spent my time before the inauguration to look into that because I thought it was the time to do so.

"We discovered working with a small group and their staff in the Library of Congress the microfiche copy of one of the two Hawaii newspapers that published the birth announcement of President Obama on Aug. 4, 1961.

"It was published on either Aug. 10 or 16. I looked at that copy, and we began to play that out on how would that actually be there in many of the public libraries in America if he wasn't born in Hawaii.

"It almost comes down to, yes, that information could have been sent, but his mother would have had to imagine that she was protecting the interests of a future president in order to do such a thing.

"I don't think anyone has that kind of clairvoyance, yet alone a young mother, at that time.

"I came to the conclusion that it's improbable that Obama was not born in Hawaii as he says.

"I just don't understand why he wouldn't ask under Hawaiian law that the certificate of live birth, the real legitimate birth certificate, be released to the public. I've seen the one that they put out. It doesn't look exactly like some of the others they've used to compare it.

"So I just wish the subject weren't there. I think he could have avoided the subject if he would have just simply laid his birth certificate out.

"I don't know what his motive for not doing that would be unless it would be something that is embarrassing, that he doesn't want us to know, and, otherwise, I think he would have let us know. But he's the one that has to answer that, and we have core public policy things to move forward on, and that's not a priority of mine to dig into it.

"The truth will eventually emerge."

*****

If government is so terrible ...

Daily Times Herald: You have a lot of concern about government involvement with health care. One place where that occurs right now, some would say successfully, others would have issues with it particularly in light of some of the stories that have broken in the last few weeks, is the Veterans Administration. If the government is terrible at running health care, should the services provided through the VA be privatized?

Congressman King: "I think our Veterans Administration does a good job with the health care that they deliver to our veterans. We've been expanding the clinic access in the district - Shenandoah and here (Carroll) and up in Spirit Lake. We continue to work on that. The standard that we want is I don't want to see a veteran drive more than an hour to go to any clinic. That expansion's taking place, although the Veterans Administration deserves the lion's share of the credit.

"I don't see them always move when we push. But we're getting it done. We visited a VA hospital in Des Moines not that long ago, and their technology seems to be keeping up pretty well with the technology I'm aware of.

"I'm hearing from veterans they get good service. Now there are exceptions to that, but I don't want to see us privatize that. The veterans have earned the health care that we're giving them. In fact, they've earned more than we're giving them."