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GOP Congressman Peter King Runs for the Exits

GOPer Peter King—The Latest Member to Join the R-EXODUS (the Republican Capitol Hill Exodus) November 17, 2019

And GOPers keep racing away from Capitol Hill at track meet speed. The latest “Team Red” member to join this R-EXODUS (Republican EXODUS) crowd? On 11/11/2019, Republican Congressman Peter King stated he will not seek re-election in 2020. King makes 20 GOP House members who have announced their plans to retire in advance of the 2020 election or run for another office (Pramuk, J., cnbc.com, 11/11/19). In fact, according to Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman, since Trump took office in 2017, King is the 101st House GOPer to “either leave office or announce retirement plans (cnn.com, Cole, D., 11/11/19).” IMHO, if congressional GOPers really believed they could re-take the House in 2020, so many of them wouldn’t be speeding to the Capitol Hill exits. The GOP now has to recruit or encourage 20 new candidates to run for those House seats and there may be more “Team Red” retirements. Open seats, where non-incumbent candidates are running, are a lot harder to win than when an incumbent with his/her name advantage is up for re-election, or a retiring incumbent’s well-known relative gets into a race. Much more money will have to be spent to successfully contest these open seats. There was talk that Cong. King was retiring so that his daughter Erin King Sweeney, who declined to run for re-election to the Hempstead, NY Town Council, would run to take her father’s seat. However, King’s daughter took herself out of the running when she recently moved to N. Carolina where her husband’s job had been re-located (See Cole, cnn.com, 11/11/19, longisland.news 12.com, 9/12/19, Cillizza,cnn.com, 11/11/19). Let’s analyze this race.

Fourteenth-term GOP Congressman Peter King (75) currently represents NY’s 2nd Congressional District (CD). The present NY 2nd is located on suburban Long Island. It includes the eastern part of Nassau County, including the cities of Massapequa and Levittown as well as the southwest corner of Suffolk County. After WWII, many families living in row houses and apartments came here from the boroughs of Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens to buy single family homes. The NY 2nd also contains the southwest corner of Suffolk County which stretches from Amityville and Babylon east through Bay Shore and Islip to Sayville and Bayport. These communities are strung out along Sunrise Highway. One-third of the 2nd CD resides in Nassau County, the rest in the Suffolk County Sunrise area. The 2nd additionally takes in Brentwood. In 4/2018, Suffolk County officials announced plans for a $1 billion development near the MacArthur Airport which would include a large sports arena, a hotel, and retail shops (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac).

Politically, the 2nd’s eastern part of Nassau County is generally GOP, but most of the 2nd’s residents live in the more Democratic areas in Suffolk County’s southwest corner. The city of Brentwood is 2/3 Hispanic. Hispanics make up 23.3% of the 2nd CD. Brentwood has a per capita income barely half Suffolk’s average. There have been many murders in the Brentwood Latino community linked to the MS-13 gang. There has also been “a larger breakdown between the police department and Latino immigrants (Cohen & Cook 2020).” In 2012, Obama beat Romney in the second by a 5% margin, 52%-47%. In 2016, the 2nd flipped to Donald handing him a 9% win, 53%-44% (Cohen & Cook 2020). The Cook Partisan Voting Index gives the 2nd CD a weak R+3 score, a fairly swingy area (Cohen & Cook 2020).

Manhattan-born Peter King was raised in Queens. His father was a NY City police detective. His paternal grandparents were Irish immigrants as was his maternal grandmother (nyu.edu/library, Cohen & Cook 2020). King received his 1965 undergraduate degree from NY’s St. Francis College and a 1968 law degree from IN’s Notre Dame. He served in the NY Army National Guard from 1968-1974. He clerked one summer at former GOP Richard Nixon’s law firm with Rudy Giuliani with whom he became friends (Cohen & Cook 2020). After moving to the Long Island suburbs, King worked as a lawyer and staffer in county government and became part of the powerful Nassau County GOP machine. In 1977, he won election to the Hempstead, NY Town Council, serving there till 1981. In 1981, he won election to the Nassau County Comptroller’s office and was re-elected in 1985 and 1989 (Cohen & Cook 2020, “Newsday,” 4/10/83). In 1992, King won the open congressional seat left vacant by a Democrat. Although being outspent 5:1, King won this race by a 3.1% margin. In his 1994-2016 campaigns, King easily coasted to re-election, getting winning margins ranging from 12%-44%. In 2018, however, King won with his smallest re-election margin, 8%, against Democrat Grechen Shirley (See King Electoral History, 1992-2018, Opensecrets.org).

In the House, Cong. King is a talkative fellow known for his quotable quips and his strong NY accent. He frequently appears on cable television and radio where he makes provocative comments. Although he calls himself a “moderate maverick,” that is not his real record. Since Donald took office, King has voted with him 86.2% of the time. That score is very close to the hard- core GOP Southerners that he once complained were making him feel like a “’second-class citizen’ in the more Southern-oriented Republican caucus (Cohen & Cook, 2020, projects.fivethirtyeight.com).” Still, King remains a loyal GOPer. In the previous 115th Congress (2017-2018), Cong. King had an 83%-17% composite Conservative v. Liberal rating. That average included a 78%-22% Conservative-Liberal economic score, a 76%-24% Conservative-Liberal Social issues ranking, and a 95%-5% Foreign policy score (2020 Almanac). Conservative Catholic Cong. King has been rated 100% by the National Right to Life Committee, while receiving a 0% score from NARAL Pro-Choice America (votesmart.org). True, King broke from his fellow GOPers when he voted against Demagogue Donald’s top 1% tax cut bill. That legislation would have badly hurt his constituents because of its $10,000 cap on state, local, and property taxes. The GOPers had enough tax cut votes without him. King also favors gun control, a big plus in NY. However, King knows that such a stand will go nowhere in his party which he rightly stated has “a love affair with guns (See Cook & Cohen 2020, Almukhtar, S., nytimes.com, 12/19/17).” And yes, he fought for aid for his Hurricane Sandy-stricken constituents, and attacked Southern GOPers who wanted to tie that to budget cuts. That issue was an easy local “no brainer,” which he knew would ultimately pass (See Cook & Cohen 2020).

Cong. King, like his fellow GOPers, opposed Obama’s crucial economic stimulus package and was against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009(crainsnewyork.com, clerkhouse.gov). Cong. King voted in favor of repealing Obamacare, a bill that, fortunately, was defeated in the Senate, thanks to dying Sen. John McCain’s key “NAY” vote (See cnn.com, 5/04/17). And despite overwhelming and corroborating evidence from numerous diplomatic and national security officials, Cong. King, like most of his fellow House Republicans, remains against impeaching Demagogue Donald (See AP, 11/11/19).

Cong. King endorsed Donald after his nomination with no qualms (See Cohen & Cook 2020). Like Trump, King is an outspoken conservative/reactionary on immigration matters (Cohen & Cook 2020). King once had a close relationship with Muslims in his district. He helped cut a ribbon on a mosque in 1993 and supported aid for Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo (Wan, W., washingtonpost.com, 1/24/11). However, after the 9/11 attacks, he flipped 180 degrees. He was, according to the NY Times, “the most fervent fan” of W Bush’s civil-liberties curtailing Patriot Act. In 9/2007, he told “Politico” that “there are too many mosques in this country…There are too many people sympathetic to radical Islam. We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.” As Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, King held hearings to attack “the radicalization of the American Muslim community and homegrown terrorism.” Muslim Americans feared a witch hunt against them, and King acknowledged that these hearings carried “risks.” In 2009, when Obama’s Homeland Security Dept. issued a report about domestic right-wing, read white supremacist extremism, King attacked it by saying that that agency had never put out a report talking about “looking for mosques.” In 2014, King falsely accused Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq for causing the growth of Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL), commonly known as ISIS (Cohen & Cook 2020). W Bush was the one with his disastrous Iraq War that caused the power vacuum that created ISIS.

And speaking of terrorism, Cong. King himself has been an active supporter of the IRA, the Irish Republican Army. King called the British Government a “murder machine.” Cong. King became involved with Irish Northern Aid (NORAID), an organization that the British, Irish, and U.S. governments had accused of financing IRA activities and providing them with weapons (bbc.co.uk, 9/26/01, time.com, 11/26/79). Regarding the 30 years of violence during which the IRA killed over 1,700 people, King stated, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it (nytimes.com, Shane, S., 3/08/11).” However, after Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political arm, became involved in a bank robbery and highly publicized murder in 2005, Cong. King finally called for the IRA to disband. He wrote three novels about policy and diplomacy in Northern Ireland. In one of them, “Deliver Us From Evil,” the protagonist is a thinly disguised Long Island Congressman (Cohen & Cook, 2020).

With Cong. King’s retirement, the race to succeed him will probably be a free-for all on both sides. For the Democrats, even before King announced his retirement, Babylon Town Councilwoman and former Army Lt. Colonel Jackie Gordon declared her candidacy. Islip local Democratic committee member Mike Sax is in this race. Grechen Shirley, the non-profit worker who held King to his narrowest margin of victory in 2018, is “seriously considering” running again. Steven Bellone is an eight-year Suffolk County Executive. He won his second re-election earlier this month to lead a county that Trump won in 2016. Bellone, interested in the Governor’s race, is, however, “not ruling out a run for Congress (crainsnewyork.com, 11/11/2019, Bredderman, W.).” On the GOP side, Assemblyman Michael LiPetri, who unseated a Democrat last year, has received an “outpouring of support.” He stated he would make his decision after Veteran’s Day. State Senator Mike Boyle, a 25-year lawmaker who lost a 2017 GOP primary for Suffolk County Sherriff in 2017, is considering running. Rick Lazio, a former Long Island Congressman, is also being mentioned. Lazio lost a race for NY Governor and a U.S. Senate contest in 2000 to Hillary Clinton (See crainsnewyork.com).

Can Democrats win this swingy, but still GOP-leaning seat? Cong. King and other GOP party leaders in the area will carry influence with their endorsements. Someone like LePetri certainly has the background and experience to make this a tough contest and the GOP will furnish their nominee with oodles of money. Yes, since Trump took office, GOPers have been doing very badly in suburban areas as we just saw in VA and Philadelphia, and the NY 2nd is suburban. However, it last had a Democrat Congressman in 1992. Trump, with his anti-immigrant/anti-crime emphasis, won here by 9 points in 2016, in a district Obama formerly took. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball Report both label this seat as a “Lean Republican” one (cnbc.com, Pramuk, 11/11/19). To win, Democrats will have to quickly get behind their nominee, and this candidate will have to be heavily financially supported. The nominee will have to emphasize kitchen table issues-- expanding health care, more jobs, and education. And, of course, our voters will have to come out in droves. This race will be very tough, not a “cakewalk,” but we can do it.

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