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Joni Ernst

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Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst
United States Senator-elect
from Iowa
Taking office
January 3, 2015
Succeeding Tom Harkin
Member of the Iowa Senate
from the 12th district
In office
January 5, 2011 – November 28, 2014
Preceded by Kim Reynolds
Personal details
Born Joni Kay Culver
(1970-07-01) July 1, 1970
Red Oak, Iowa, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Gail Ernst
Children Libby
Alma mater Iowa State University
Columbus State University
Religion Evangelical Lutheran
Website Campaign website
Military service
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Iowa Army National Guard
Years of service 1993–present
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Unit 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion
Battles/wars Operation Iraqi Freedom

Joni Kay Ernst (née Culver; born July 1, 1970)[1] is an American politician who is the United States Senator-elect from Iowa, elected in the November 2014 election, defeating Bruce Braley, her Democratic opponent.[2] She previously served as a Republican member of the Iowa Senate from 2011 to 2014 and is also a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. Ernst is the first woman to represent Iowa in the United States Congress and the first female veteran in the U.S. Senate.[3][4][5]


  • Early life and career 1
    • Military career 1.1
    • Iowa State Senate 1.2
  • Political positions 2
    • Constitutional and federal issues 2.1
    • Economic issues 2.2
    • Environmental issues 2.3
    • Foreign policy 2.4
    • Healthcare issues 2.5
    • Social issues 2.6
  • 2014 U.S. Senate election 3
  • Personal life 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and career

Ernst was born Joni Kay Culver in Montgomery County, Iowa, the daughter of Marilyn and Richard Culver.[6] She was valedictorian of her class at Stanton High School.[7] Ernst earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Iowa State University,[8] and a Master of Public Administration degree from Columbus College.[7][9] While in college, Ernst took part in an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union.[10]

Military career

Ernst is a lieutenant colonel in the logistics branch and currently commands the 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion at Camp Dodge, the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard.[11][12] As of 2014, Ernst had served 21 years between the Army Reserve and the National Guard. She spent 14 months in Kuwait in 2003-2004 as a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom.[9][13][14]

Iowa State Senate

Ernst was elected the Montgomery County Auditor in 2004 and re-elected in 2008.[9][15]

Ernst was elected to the Iowa State Senate in a special election in 2011 and re-elected in 2012. She represents District 12, which serves the southwest part of the state.[13][14][16][17] Ernst is a member of the Education, Appropriations, Veterans Affairs, Rules and Administration and Health and Human Services committees of the Iowa State Senate committees.[18]

Following her election to the U.S. Senate, she resigned effective November 28, 2014.[19]

Political positions

Constitutional and federal issues

Ernst has proposed eliminating the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency as a means of cutting federal spending. She has advocated eliminating the Department of Education "not just because it would save taxpayer dollars, but because I do believe our children are better educated when it's coming from the state."[20][21]

Ernst has expressed her support for allowing law-abiding citizens to "freely carry" weapons but abide by rules against carrying in public buildings like schools.[22] In February 2013, Ernst co-sponsored a resolution addressing "the Iowa General Assembly's refusal to recognize or support any statutes, presidential directives, or other regulations and proclamations which conflict with the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and which are expressly preempted by the rulings of the United States Supreme Court”.[23][24] She has also received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association for her support of gun-rights issues.[25]

As an Iowa state senator, Ernst co-sponsored resolutions concerning state nullification of federal law. One such bill asserted that Iowa could ignore any federal laws which "are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment," while another "urg[ed] the nullification" of certain EPA regulations related to coal-fired electricity plants.[26][27] In a September 2013 forum held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, Ernst said Congress shouldn't bother to pass laws "that the states would consider nullifying", referring to what she describes as "200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment's states' rights."[28] Courts have consistently ruled that nullification is unconstitutional.[28] During the 2014 Senatorial general election, Ernst's supporters argued that she did not support nullification, and that "her comments on it were about encouraging Iowans to send her to Washington to pass good laws."[26]

When asked at a Montgomery County, Iowa candidate forum in January 2014, about the Supreme Court case about the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's recess appointments, she said that Obama had "become a dictator",[29] and that if he acted unconstitutionally, he should face the proper repercussions as determined by Congress, "whether that's removal from office, whether that's impeachment." When the tape of that event was published in August 2014 by Yahoo News, her spokeswoman said that "If any president oversteps their bounds, there are procedures in place for Congress and the American people to hold him or her accountable. Impeachment is a strong word and should not be thrown around lightly.”[30]

Economic issues

Ernst opposes the federal minimum wage, and instead argues that states should have sole authority to set their own minimum wages.[31] In an August 2014 interview with the Mason City Globe-Gazette, Ernst stated: "For the federal government to set the minimum wage for all 50 states is ridiculous."[32] She has pointed to differences in the cost of living in various states, and has said: "I think $7.25 is appropriate for Iowa, but that's up for our state legislators to decide, and I'm willing to have those discussions at the state level."[33] In response to a report by the Congressional Budget Office report which projected that increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would cost 500,000 jobs, but would lift 900,000 people out of poverty, Ernst stated that "government and government-mandated wage increases are not the solution—especially when doing so comes at the expense of the jobs of hard working Americans."[34]

During the 2013 legislative session, Ernst worked on legislation which reduced property taxes in Iowa.[35] She supports a "fairer, flatter, and simpler" federal tax code.[22]

In a May 2014 interview with The Des Moines Register, Ernst expressed her support for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, as well as a reduction in spending on entitlement programs and discretionary spending.[22] She has also expressed support for a partial privatization of Social Security accounts for young workers[36] while protecting Social Security for seniors and those nearing retirement.[37]

Environmental issues

On the subject of global warming, Ernst has stated: "I don’t know the science behind climate change, I can't say one way or another what is the direct impact from whether it's manmade or not", and believes that any regulatory role by the government to address it needs to be "very small".[22][38][39] Ernst has proposed eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency and criticized its interpretation of the Clean Water Act as applied to farms.[40] In a Republican primary debate in May 2014, Ernst said she would have voted against the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill and stated her view that the Clean Water Act is damaging for business.[36] Ernst has expressed her opposition to cap-and-trade.[22]

At a January 2014 GOP forum in Montgomery County, Iowa, Ernst warned that Agenda 21, a 1992 United Nations voluntary action plan for sustainable development, could force Iowa farmers off their land, dictate what cities Iowans must live in, and control how Iowa citizens travel from place to place.[41] During the general-election campaign, Ernst moderated her tone, saying: "I don’t think that the U.N. Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers... I think there are a lot of people that follow that issue in Iowa. It may be something that is very important to them, but I think Iowans are very smart and that we have a great legislature here, we have a very intelligent governor, and I think that we will protect Iowans."[41]

Foreign policy

Regarding the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction, Ernst stated: "We don't know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in, however, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the intelligence that was operated on. I have reason to believe there was weapons of mass destruction. My husband served in Saudi Arabia as an Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that's a hot-button topic in that area."[22] After criticism from Iowa Democrats and some commentators,[42][43][44] Ernst then issued a clarifying statement in which she stated that she did not mean to suggest that Iraq had WMD at the time of invasion, but rather that Iraq had had WMDs in their past which they used, and that her point was that "we don't know exactly what happened to those weapons".[45]

When asked whether she supports the limited airstrikes conducted in Iraq in August 2014, Ernst said: "What I can say is what I would have supported is leaving additional troops in Iraq longer and perhaps we wouldn't have this situation today".[46]

In an interview with Time Magazine, Ernst said that she was sexually harassed in the military, stating that “I had comments, passes, things like that” which she was able to stop, and said she will support removing sexual assault cases from the chain of command.[47]

Healthcare issues

Ernst indirectly endorsed Paul Ryan’s partially privatized Medicare model in a 2011 Iowa Senate vote. According to an August 2014 article in The Gazette, she has not laid out a detailed plan for Medicare reform.[48]

Ernst supports replacing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act saying that it is "an additional tax of $1.2 trillion on the American people over the next decade and I believe we need to eliminate Obamacare but replace it with free market alternatives."[22]

In answering a survey for the Campaign for Liberty in 2012, Ernst answered "Yes" when asked if she would support legislation that would "nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement [it]."[49][50][51]

Social issues

Ernst has said she believes marriage is a "state issue". She co-sponsored a failed bill to amend the Iowa constitution to have marriage legally defined as between one man and one woman.[36][52] She opposes same-sex marriage.[53]

Ernst is pro-life, believing that life begins at conception.[54] She voted for a fetal personhood amendment in the Iowa Senate in 2013 and has said that she would support a federal personhood bill.[55]

In 2013, Ernst voted against bringing Senate File 79 up for a vote in the Iowa Senate, a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. Ernst expressed concerns that the drug "would ultimately end up in the hands of minors".[56]

2014 U.S. Senate election

In July 2013, Ernst announced that she would seek the Senate seat held by retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin.

Ernst received the endorsement of Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds in October 2013.[57] She was also endorsed by 23 current and former state legislators.[58] In March the Ernst campaign was endorsed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.[59][60] In May 2014, she was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.[36][61][62][63][64][65]

Ernst received widespread attention for a campaign advertisement she released in March 2014 where she employed a tongue-in-cheek comparison between her experience castrating pigs and her ability to cut "pork" in Congress.[66][67] Many found the ad to be humorous[68][69] and it was spoofed by late-night comedians including Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert,[70][71][42][72] Before the ad aired, Ernst had struggled in fundraising,[73][74] and two polls of the Republican primary taken in February 2014 had shown her in second place, several points behind opponent Mark Jacobs.[75][76] After it aired, a Suffolk University poll in early April showed her with a narrow lead and a Loras College poll showed her essentially tied with Jacobs.[42][77][78][79] By May, she was being described by the media as the "strong front-runner".[36]

In an interview with the Des Moines Register on May 9, 2014, Ernst said she was "extremely offended" by comments made by Republican opponent Mark Jacobs in which she was characterized as AWOL due to missing over 100 votes in the legislative session ending April 7, 2014. Ernst stated: "If [Mark Jacobs] had any sort of service like I have, he would've understood what AWOL means. I have not been AWOL, I will never be AWOL."[22] Previously, in an article in The Gazette, Ernst cited her National Guard duty to rebuff criticism about her missing votes,[80] but The Gazette found that only 12 of the 117 missed votes came on days when she was on duty. The other 105 missed votes represented 57 percent of the Iowa Senate votes that session. Ernst's spokesman said that she has had a better than 90 percent voting record during her career in the Senate and that she never claimed guard service was the only reason she's missed votes this session.[80][81]

In endorsing her for the Republican Primary nomination, the Des Moines Register stated: "Ernst is a smart, well-prepared candidate who can wrestle with the details of public policy from a conservative perspective without seeming inflexible."[82] On October 23, Ernst cancelled a scheduled meeting with the Des Moines Register's editorial board, citing as a reason the newspaper's negative editorials about her.[83] The newspaper's editorial board endorsed Ernst's opponent, Democrat Bruce Braley.[84][85]

On June 16, 2014, in an event organized by Americans for Prosperity, at a panel titled "The Senate: A Window of Policy Opportunity for Principled Leaders", Ernst thanked the group for its fundraising.[86] In July 2014, Ernst's campaigning was temporarily paused while she participated in two weeks of National Guard duty.[87] In that same month, Ernst delivered the Republican Party's weekly address, where she criticized the health care scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and pushed for a balanced federal budget and entitlement reform.[10]

On August 29, Ernst and Braley announced their agreement to hold three televised debates in Davenport, Des Moines, and Sioux City. They were held on September 28, October 11 and October 16, respectively.[88]

Ernst won the 2014 Senate race 52.2% to 43.7%.[89] She is the first woman elected to represent Iowa in either house of Congress.

Personal life

Ernst resides in Red Oak, Iowa with her husband, Gail, a retired command sergeant major in the United States Army Rangers and their daughter, Libby.[6][17]

Ernst is a lifetime member of the Montgomery County Republican Women, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2265, Montgomery County Court of Honor, Altrusa, PEO Chapter HB, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, and member of and the Montgomery County Farm Bureau.[17] She is a member of the Mamrelund Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Stanton, Iowa.[9]


  1. ^ Ernst, Gail. "Joni Kay Ernst - Plaza of Heroines at Iowa State University". Retrieved 5 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "Joni Ernst wins Iowa GOP U.S. Senate race". The Des Moines Register. Retrieved 4 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Joni Ernst wins Iowa U.S. Senate seat". 4 November 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014. 
  4. ^ "Ernst becomes first woman elected statewide in Iowa". Washington Post. 5 November 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014. 
  5. ^ "Joni Ernst's Senate victory makes her first woman to represent Iowa in Congress". Retrieved 15 November 2014. 
  6. ^ a b pseudonymous (June 16, 2014). "Does Joni Ernst Support Traditional Divorce?".  
  7. ^ a b Gail Ernst (May 16, 1994). "Joni Kay Ernst". Retrieved 2014-07-13. 
  8. ^ "Meet the Candidate: Iowa's U.S. Senate seat: Joni Ernst, Republican". DesMoines Register. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
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  11. ^ Jacobs, Jennifer (10 July 2013). "Republican Joni Ernst joins U.S. Senate race". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  12. ^ Jacobs, Jennifer (29 May 2014). "'"Ernst mobilizes to crash Washington's 'boys club. Des Moines Register. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
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  16. ^ "Senator Joni Ernst (IA)". Project Vote Smart. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
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  24. ^ "Senate Joint Resolution SJR7". The Ioaw Legislature. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
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  26. ^ a b Jacobs, Jennifer (July 30, 2014). "Ernst campaign says she doesn't support nullification". Des Moines Register. 
  27. ^ "Senate Resolution SC3". The Iowa Legislature. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  28. ^ a b Levy, Gabrielle (28 July 2014). "Iowa GOP nominee says states can nullify federal laws". UPI. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  29. ^ Shiner, Meredith (July 8, 2014). "Joni Ernst seeks to walk back talk of impeaching Obama". Yahoo! News. 
  30. ^ Shinner, Meredith. "Joni Ernst: ‘Impeachment’ of Obama should be on the table". Yahoo News. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  31. ^ Nebbe, Charity; Katherine Perkins (June 1, 2014). "Candidate Profile: Joni Ernst". Iowa Public Radio. 
  32. ^ Skipper, John (August 25, 2014). "Ernst: Let states set minimum wage". Mason City Globe-Gazette. Retrieved September 30, 2014. 
  33. ^ O'Connor, Molly (August 1, 2014). "U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst does not support a national minimum wage, says her opponent".  
  34. ^ Tibbetts, Ed (February 18, 2014). "Report: Minimum wage boost would cost jobs, lower poverty". The Quad-City Times. 
  35. ^ "Ernst, Payton speak at local GOP meeting". Newton Daily News. November 27, 2013. Retrieved April 10, 2014. 
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  37. ^ " Democrats misrepresent Joni Ernst's position on Social Security". The Des Moines Register. Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  38. ^ Hohmann, James (September 28, 2014). "Bruce Braley, Joni Ernst tear into each other". Politico. 
  39. ^ Masters, Clay (September 29, 2014). "Braley, Ernst Differ in First U.S. Senate Debate". Iowa Public Radio. 
  40. ^ Tibbetts, Ed (August 12, 2014). "Ernst takes on EPA Clean Water Act plan". Sioux City Journal. 
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  43. ^  
  44. ^ Cameron Joseph (May 12, 2014). "Iowa Republican still believes Iraq had WMDs". The Hill. Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  45. ^ Jennifer Jacobs (May 13, 2014). "Ernst seeks to clarify remark on Iraq WMDs". Des Moines Register. Retrieved May 15, 2014. 
  46. ^ Zeleny, Jeff. "Joni Ernst, From Obscure Iowa Legislator to Potential Role Model for Future GOP Candidates". ABC News. 
  47. ^ Newton-Small, Jay. "Ernst Says She Was Sexually Harassed in the Military". TIME. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  48. ^ "Fact Check: Ernst on Medicare". The Gazette. Retrieved 31 August 2014. Ernst has presented privatized models for social security reform and indirectly endorsed Paul Ryan’s privatized Medicare model with her 2011 vote. 
  49. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: GOPer Ernst Backed Arresting Feds Over Obamacare In 2012 Survey". Talking Points Memo. October 3, 2014. Retrieved October 3, 2014. 
  50. ^ "Conservative group: Ernst backed arresting feds over Obamacare". MSNBC. October 3, 2014. Retrieved October 3, 2014. 
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  52. ^ "The Iowa Legislature Bill Book". Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  53. ^ Campus Election Engagement Project. October 17, 2014. Bruce Braley vs. Joni Ernst Nonpartisan Candidate Guide For Iowa Senate Race 2014. The Huffington Post. Retrieved: 23 October 2014.
  54. ^ "ISSUES - Joni Ernst for Iowa". Joni Ernst for Iowa. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  55. ^ "Senate Candidate Joni Ernst Endorses Federal Personhood Bill For Fetuses". The Huffington Post. October 16, 2014. Retrieved October 17, 2014. 
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  58. ^ Endorsement, Joni Ernst for Iowa
  59. ^ Joseph, Cameron. Palin endorses Joni Ernst in Iowa Senate race, Politico, March 26, 2014.
  60. ^ Sullivan, Sean (March 26, 2014). "Sarah Palin endorses Joni Ernst in Iowa Senate race".  
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  64. ^ "GOP candidate with both grassroots and establishment backing". CNN. May 27, 2014. Retrieved June 2, 2014. 
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  66. ^ "Iowa Senate Candidate Says Castration Gives Her Conservative Cred". Time. March 25, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  67. ^ "In Politics, Hog Castration Cuts Through The Ad Clutter". NPR. March 28, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
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  69. ^ "How did John Boehner's opponent get his campaign ad to go viral? Humor. (+video)". Christian Science Monitor. April 15, 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2014. 
  70. ^ "Jimmy Fallon cringes at Joni Ernst's hog-castration ad". Des Moines Register. March 25, 2014. Retrieved April 19, 2014. 
  71. ^ "'"Colbert: I'm pulling for Joni Ernst 'whole hog, or whatever's left. Des Moines Register. March 27, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
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  73. ^ "Sarah Palin endorses "hog castrator" Jodi Ernst in Iowa Senate race". CBS News. March 26, 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2014. 
  74. ^ "The Fix’s fourth-quarter fundraising winners and losers". CBS News. February 3, 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2014. 
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  76. ^ "Ernst Aims to Be Iowa's First Female Senator". RealClearPolitics. March 9, 2014. Retrieved April 18, 2014. 
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  79. ^ "Jacobs, Ernst tied in inaugural Loras Poll". TH Online. April 14, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2014. 
  80. ^ a b "Few of Ernst’s missed Iowa Senate votes due to National Guard Duty". The Gazette. April 14, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  81. ^ "Iowa Sen. Ernst juggles busy schedule with Senate work". The Gazette. April 1, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  82. ^ The Register's Editorial: Joni Ernst offers Iowans strong credentials "In the federal budget deficit, for example, she readily concedes that cutting federal discretionary spending won't be nearly enough and that the biggest savings must come from Medicare and Medicaid." Des Moines Register, May 17, 2014
  83. ^ "Ernst cancels meeting with Register's editorial board". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  84. ^ "The Register's Editorial announces candidate endorsements". KCCI News. October 25, 2014. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  85. ^ Editorial Board (October 26, 2014). "Endorsement: Bruce Braley is better choice".  
  86. ^ Weisman, Jonathan. "On Tape, McConnell Envisions Using Budget to Undo Obama Initiatives". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 August 2014. 
  87. ^ Jacobs, Jennifer (2014-07-28). "Joni Ernst resumes campaign after 2 weeks of guard duty". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 28 August 2014. 
  88. ^ "U.S. Senate candidates Braley and Ernst agree to 3 debates". Quad City Times. 
  89. ^ "Iowa Senate Election Results: Joni Ernst Wins Race Against Bruce Braley". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 November 2014. 

External links

  • Joni Ernst for Iowa official campaign site
  • Iowa Legislator - Senator Joni Ernst official Iowa Legislature site
Party political offices
Preceded by
Christopher Reed
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Iowa
(Class 2)

Most recent
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