EXIRA, DEDHAM: Sally Smith of Exira checked out two books from the Exira Library after joining more than 30 people in a crammed corner of the public lending facility in the downtown of this southwest Iowa city to hear congressional candidate J.D. Scholten make his case a year before the election.
One of the David Baldacci thrillers in her hand brings mystery into the life of the clerk and cook at Casey’s General Store, where she makes about $10 an hour, she says.
So Smith connected with Scholten — and his call to cut congressional salaries from $174,000 to the median income in the districts they represent — meaning the 4th District member of Congress would make about $60,000, the median income in the state of Iowa. The 4th District cuts across western and central Iowa, pulling in 39 counties.
“For somebody living in Seattle, it should be different than somebody living in Sioux City,” said Scholten, who hails from Sioux City, where he pitched for the minor league baseball team, the Explorers.
He added, “I’m going (to Congress) to serve, not live in luxury.”
The same spirit of fairness and equality should apply to health care for members of Congress, Scholten said, adding that his plan should be based on the coverage those in the military receive.
“I should not have any better benefits than what other people have,” Scholten said.
In recent days, Scholten stopped in Exira, and later Dedham, where he drew a crowd of 20 at the American Legion. It’s part of the Democratic congressional candidate’s “Don’t Forget About Us” tour in which he hits communities of fewer than 1,000 people. Scholten, who narrowly lost to U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in 2018, and is running against him again next year, sees the early campaigning as vital to getting past the 3-point margin by which he lost to the veteran Republican.
“It is a great turnout, and I think where other people who’ve run against Steve King in the past, it’s been a one-and-done, and that’s not what J.D. is,” former Audubon County Democratic chairwoman Peggy Smalley said. “I think this really promotes him above those other people who have run against King.”
Smalley, 75, a retired 20-year Audubon County treasurer, said Scholten has a rare connectivity with voters. She sees him beating King in November 2020.
“He seems like he’s a hometown guy,” Smalley said of Scholten. “He talks common. I get the feeling that he’s one of us.”
That’s the way Smith sees it playing out, too.
“He’s getting out to small towns, he’s for the small-business owners and farmers, whereas Steve King, he’s been in office for so long, he’s just along for the ride in his own self-interest, or against interests we hold dear,” Smith said. “J.D. is just a person that bonds with us. It’s like, OK, we’re worried about the small people. We’re not worried about political aspirations.”
In addition to calling for the massive cut to congressional salaries, Scholten said, he supports lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to 55 — maybe even 50.
“There are so many horror stories when it comes to health care, it’s tough to hear,” he said.
Scholten said that too often in rural Iowa, the health-care plan of last resort is a donation jar or can on the counters of restaurants and convenience stores for people seeking to pay for their own, or a child’s, cancer care or other health issues with contributions.
Jenn Custer, 43, a residential supervisor at New Hope in Carroll, says she battles asthma and has to deal with the cost of inhalers, which are more expensive in the United States than Canada.
“The reality is, it’s either my house payment or the inhalers,” she told Scholten at his event in Dedham.
One of Scholten’s takeaways: “It’s harder and harder to live in rural America.”
Rich Stoffers, the former superintendent of the Coon Rapids-Bayard School District, asked Scholten in Dedham if President Trump’s trade strategy, and the tariffs that have resulted in harm to Iowa farmers, would take a political toll on King and Trump in the election.
“This is the only race in the country where the challenger doesn’t have a primary opponent and the incumbent does,” Scholten said.
Scholten is facing no opposition on the ballot for the June Democratic primary; there are five Republicans running for King’s seat, including the congressman.