Politically Speaking: Steve King says his controversial immigration comment was informative

August 08, 2013 2:35 pm • Bret Hayworth
Sioux City Journal

Dawn J. Sagert, Sioux City Journal
Iowa U.S. Red. Steve King, R-Kiron, talks to the Journal's editorial board Thursday at the newspaper's office in Sioux City.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, on Thursday said he's been surprised by the uproar that came with his July 23 comment that many children of undocumented workers are drug smugglers. Speaking to the Journal's editorial board, King added there was no need for him to back away from his statement, since it helped make people "better informed."

In a news interview last month, King said this about the children: “For everyone 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.”

Asked several questions about that comment, King said the only thing he might change would be to convert the weight from 130 pounds to 120. He said there was nothing racist about the remark.

"There were no racial implications. There were no ethnic implications," King said.

King said the genesis for the drug mule comments were many past comments he's heard from border agents when visiting down south.

"This was a very well-grounded statement that I made," said the congressman, who is in his sixth term.

King shared his math thought process. Each high school only has one top-ranked graduate, so "valedictorians are rare." On top of that, there are many drug smugglers daily in the age 11 to 35 range, he said. (He apparently chose that age because an early reform bill, the DREAM or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, uses that range for certain undocumented people who could gain citizenship.)

"This image is accurate," King said.

Many Democrats and some Republicans, notably House Speaker John Boehner, strongly criticized King's remarks. Boehner said the fallout makes it harder to achieve immigration reform.

King said he has a digital tool beyond Google alerts to show how much attention he gets on Twitter, in Facebook likes or comments and other online sources. On an average day, that total might run about 700, but with after the valedictorian/cantaloupe calves comment, the number spiked above 10,000.

That meant for a bracing couple of days, he said, when calls into his office were more negative than supportive by a 2-to-1 margin. King said those included calls from around the nation, but the majority of the contacts coming from Iowa were always supportive.

"A lot of people came up to me and said, 'Hang in there, you said the truth,' " he shared.

King initially said he was "surprised it grew as much as it did," but later said that each day in America many people awake and head to the Internet to find news stories about which they can get outraged. He said many left-of-center sites such as Media Matters For America will latch onto some stories, hopefully pushing enough buttons with people to move mainstream news outlets to hop on a story.

So, did King's comment help the debate underway this year on immigration reform, after the Senate forwarded a bill to the House earlier this summer?

Due to his comment, King answered, "I don't have any doubt that people are better informed."