July 26, 2013


U.S. Rep. Steve King's gleefully crafted, highly descriptive observations about Latino immigrants raise many questions in the swirl of controversy now surrounding the western Iowa Republican.

One of those questions: How would he be greeted by the student body at his own alma mater, Denison High School, which school officials say now has a student body that is about 50 percent Latino.

Could the 1967 Denison graduate, for instance, give a commencement speech there?

"I'd venture to say not," said Eric Skoog, a Crawford County supervisor and registered independent who has owned Cronk's Cafe for 34 years.

King recently told the conservative news website Newsmax that he didn't agree with the suggestion that many youths who aren't legal citizens are also high-achieving. "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," King said.

Skoog counts King, who lives in nearby Kiron, as a regular customer, but the Crawford supervisors' board chairman says such comments from King "bother me a little bit."

"If that's the way he intended it to be said, then he's wrong," Skoog said.

Lynn Torr, principal at Denison High School, said the system's grade school buildings are at least 70 percent Latino, and growing. School officials, during registration, cannot by law ask for documentation of student citizenship, so there's no reliable breakdown on which immigrant students' parents are in the United States with proper papers.

"They all have great potential in our eyes," said Torr, who declined to comment on King's remarks.

Veteran Denison School Board member Les Lewis said King's comments are not surprising.

"Mr. King is playing to his base, and as usual, making stuff up as he goes along," said Lewis, who will seek a third term on the Denison school board Sept. 10.

Lewis, who lives in rural Denison, said it is not helpful to divide student achievements at Denison High School along racial lines. But he is aware of a number of top students who are Latino.

"They seem to be well-integrated and pretty typical of the student body as a whole," Lewis said.

Lewis said people should consider King's comments as part of a well-established pattern.

"He's not doing anything that one wouldn't expect him to do if they know him," Lewis said.

As to whether King would be a welcome speaker at a Denison High School event, Lewis said he expected students would treat any visitors with respect.

The Center for Investigative Reporting released an exhaustive analysis in March revealing that three out of four people found with drugs by the border agency are U.S. citizens. Looked at another way, the report says, when the immigration status is known, four out of five busts - which may include multiple people - involve a U.S. citizen.

The center based its study on drug busts between 2005 and 2011 through the federal Freedom of Information Act, including records never before made public of more than 80,000 drug seizures by the U.S. Border Patrol along the Southwest border.

Nearly half of the 81,261 seizures don't have suspect information available, because the drug loads were abandoned and no one was caught. In the remaining busts - more than 40,000 drug seizures - at least one U.S. citizen was involved 80 percent of the time.

"I'm really curious to see his (King's) justification for what he's saying," Skoog said.

King, who has not backed off from the comments in interviews with several media outlets this week, has said his statements are based on personal observations at the United States border with Mexico.