May 15, 2014

Rep. Steve King: U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman.

The Republican from Kiron apparently likes the sound of that.

With current Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., stepping aside after this year, it would appear that King has a clear shot to take over the committee in 2015.

The only other Republican with more seniority on the committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, has already served three terms as the panel's chairman or ranking member, the maximum under House Republican Conference rules.

That's probably a good thing for Iowa, considering Goodlatte's hostility to ethanol programs.

But King's chances of actually winning the chairmanship are limited, and that could be a bad thing for Iowa.

"He's far from the leading candidate," said one congressional source.

The leading contender for the post, insiders say, is Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reports that Conaway has been campaigning aggressively for the job.

Conaway, like Goodlatte, is a decided foe of biofuels programs. Just last week Conaway added an amendment to an annual defense bill that would end mandatory Pentagon purchases of biofuels.

House Republican leaders aren't saying anything about races for committee gavels that won't happen for at least seven months. But it's fair to assume the current leadership team would be skeptical about placing King in a high-profile role such as Agriculture chairman.

King's relationship with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has been rocky, bordering on antagonistic.

After the upcoming elections, the leadership-dominated House Republican Steering Committee will vote on the chairmanships for all of the standing committees including Agriculture, which is one of several that will be vacant thanks to those internal term-limit rules.

King acknowledged his interest in the chairmanship in a recent interview with the American Ag Network, but he also noted Boehner's influence over the steering committee (if the Ohioan returns as Speaker, which is an open question).

King said he didn't want the job if too many strings are attached, saying he'd rather continue as "the conscious of constitutional conservatives in Congress."

If King does put forward his name for the Agriculture spot, he'll carry several liabilities into the race that could be magnified in a one-on-one matchup with Conaway.

First, King's over-the-top rhetoric on issues like immigration often brings unwelcome headlines for the Republican Party.

King's tenacious opposition to immigration reform carried the day when Boehner and company decided to drop the issue for the year.

But King probably didn't make any friends in the process. (He has a dog; what does he care about friends in D.C.?)

King would be the pro-ethanol candidate, but that is no longer a majority position within the GOP Conference.

King served on the recent Farm Bill conference committee, but his most significant contribution was to inject a debate over hens' cages into the process.

So even though King has the most seniority on the Agriculture Committee, the Republicans on the steering committee won't view him as a guy with the most-effective and -impressive policy resume.

And then there's money.

Conaway represents a safe Republican district in Texas, raises a lot of money and shares it with his GOP colleagues.

This is politics, not church, and money does buy friends.

So far, King isn't raising much money as he faces a challenge from political newcomer Jim Mowrer in Iowa's 4th District.

King may or may not need the cash: He's well-known and gets plenty of free air time in the district.

However, there is an expectation that someone like King, representing a safe or likely Republican seat, would raise money for the team.

Conaway currently chairs the House Ethics Committee, a thankless task usually seen as the mark of a team player.

More so, Conaway has contributed about $120,000 so far this election cycle to GOP candidates and party committees.

King paid his dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee, but that's basically it.

King got a pass from the expectation that he would contribute to colleagues in 2012, when he faced a tough challenge from Christie Vilsack.

Conaway contributed over $350,000 during that two-year cycle.

The pattern holds for 2010 too, when House Republicans went all-in to help win back the majority: Conaway kicked in over $360,000; King contributed to just a handful of fellow candidates even though he romped to victory with almost 66 percent of the vote.

Money isn't everything in the races for committee chairmanships.

But a perception that a committee chairman will contribute to the overall good of the party is very important.

That's a hurdle King has yet to clear.


Radio Iowa recently reported that Jim Mowrer's 3-year-old son, Jack, was diagnosed late last year with a rare degenerative disease.

The Mowrer family visited Disney World in April thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

We want to extend all of our best wishes to Jack and his family.