Richards makes his case to dethrone King
By James Grob, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bret Richards acknowledges that his fellow GOP rivals have more political experience than he does, but said he believes many Iowa voters will see that as a positive for him.
“I’m not a career politician,“ said Richards, who is one of three Republicans challenging incumbent Rep. Steve King for the nomination for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District in the 2020 election. “I’m not going to go there for 40 or 50 years, I’m going to serve five terms (10 years) and come home.”
Richards, an Army veteran, educator and former businessman whose political experience includes serving as mayor and city councilman in his home town of Irwin, said he thinks voters have grown weary of politicians from both parties who use the same issues against each other to get re-elected, but then neither party does anything about them.
“Iowans are tired of career politicians,” Richards said. “Anyone that’s been in the system, people have second thoughts about.”
Richards stopped by the Press Friday afternoon to discuss his campaign and explain why he thinks he could make a difference as a U.S. congressman from Iowa’s 4th district, which covers north central and northwest Iowa and includes Sioux City, Ames, Mason City, Fort Dodge, Carroll and Boone, as well as Charles City and all of Floyd and Chickasaw counties.
“There are a few things that make me a difference-maker,” he said. “My background in the Army, my business experience, and just the fact that I’ve grown up in rural Iowa. All those things combined make me a good fit.”
Richards grew up in Irwin, a small town near Harlan, and married his high school sweetheart after they both graduated from the University of Iowa. He went into the Army as a combat engineer officer, then he and his wife returned home, where they’ve raised their three children.
He took over his family’s petroleum and convenience-store business, running it until it was sold in 2015. He said in his time running the business, it grew from about 30 employees to more than 300.
He said the skills he’s developed in business, in the military and in his background in engineering “directly apply to what we need in Washington, D.C.”
“We need to balance the budget, and we need people who will hold to their principles,” he said. “We need to get things done, and you do that by talking to people and getting them to realize that the problems we’re facing — like the $23 trillion debt — is a national security threat. We can’t just keep kicking that down the road.”
Richards currently is an adjunct professor for Creighton University, teaching research design and data analysis and other leadership classes to doctoral level students. He also has been an adjunct professor for Norwich University and Bellevue University. He has his BS in civil engineering from Iowa, his MA in leadership from Bellevue University, and a PhD in human capital management from Bellevue.
Richards said he first considered running last year, when he saw that — in a district where President Trump had won by about 27 percentage points — King won by just three.
“I thought that I still had some service left in me and I believed that I have the right skills to make a difference,” Richards said.
King, who has been in the U.S. Congress for over 16 years, drew renewed criticism late last year over racist remarks and posts on social media linked to white nationalists. The National Republican Congressional Committee declined to support him in his 2018 general election race against Democrat J.D. Scholten, who intends to run for the seat again.
“I think at some point in time, politicians get changed by Washington, D.C.,” Richards said. “It’s one thing to stand up for your principles, it’s another thing just to shout at the wind. I think that I will go there and stand up for principles and values I have that are important to Iowans, and still get things done.”
Although King narrowly won that election over Scholten, Republican leadership in the U.S. House stripped King of his committee assignments for defending white supremacy and white nationalism in interviews with the media in January. The U.S. House also overwhelmingly voted to condemn King, who has maintained that his comments were misinterpreted.
“I think everybody knows the issues with Congressman King. He’s not on the committees,” Richards said. “A lot of Iowans have said to me that we have to have representation. For the first time ever, we almost didn’t have a representative from Iowa on the agriculture committee. It’s important to me that we get solid, effective representation. I think Iowans want that, and deserve that.”
Other Republicans challenging King in the primary are Jeremy Taylor, a Woodbury County supervisor who served one term in the Iowa House from 2010 to 2012, and Randy Feenstra, an Iowa state senator from Hull.
Having served as a mayor and councilman, Richards said he would like the GOP to be the party that advocates keeping the direct influence of government at the local level, rather than at the federal level.
“Republicans need to be talking about smaller government, not bigger government,” he said. “That’s where it should be.”
Richards has served as chairman of the board of directors of the Manning Regional Healthcare Center, and said he has served on various other boards. He said that health care in general — and veterans’ mental health care in particular — are important issues to him.
“There are good people working in the VA system, but the system itself is so constrained that they can’t adapt and help,” he said, and noted that veterans abuse drugs at higher rates, they are homeless at higher rates and have a higher rate of suicide. He said the federal government should allow the VA to be more innovative, invest in research and explore opening it up so veterans can get treatment at local facilities.
He said that there are some issues that Iowa representatives in Washington should be able to work together on and put partisan differences aside, for the good of the state. Ethanol is one of those issues,
“Right now the EPA administrator is ignoring what President Trump wanted to do, and he’s granting small refinery exemptions and waivers to some of the biggest companies in the world,” Richards said. “Where’s our congressional delegation? All four of them should be working together to get that EPA administrator to change his mind or be fired.”
Richards said that Washington politicians in both parties have been “talking about solving immigration for 40 years,” and yet, the issue never gets resolved.
“We know that the immigration system needs fixed after we secure the border,” he said. “We can figure that out, it’s not that hard.”
Richards attended 30 county fairs in the district while on the campaign trail last summer, and said he talked with people from all walks of life and heard from people who are all over the political spectrum. He said one common denominator was that everyone wants a better future in Iowa for their children,
“One thing we all have in common — we all care about our families,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Sioux City, Ames or Charles City, we all want our kids to have opportunities.”