Here’s what you need to know about Ernst:
1. She Wants to Eliminate the EPA, IRS & Department of Education
In a much-discussed campaign ad released in March, Ernst claims that her background in castrating hogs means that she knows how to “cut pork” in government.
She called for the elimination of the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Education, and Environmental Protection Agency in an Iowa public television appearance in April. She also supports the replacement of the Affordable Care Act, and the elimination of a federal minimum wage.
On her campaign website, she explains her ideas:
I believe government has become too big, too expensive, and too involved in our lives. I believe the free enterprise economy is the greatest job creation machine ever imagined, but only if government gets out of the way. That means low taxes, an end to job-killing regulations, and a small, but efficient government.
Of her past in government, she says:
As Montgomery County Auditor, I worked to eliminate waste, save taxpayers money, and hold government accountable. As state senator, I have fought to improve education, limit government, cut taxes, and grow jobs. In fact, this past year, I helped pass the largest tax cut in the history of our state.
2. She Visited the Soviet Union During Her Time at Iowa State
Ernst was born in 1970 in Red Oak, Montgomery County, Iowa, to Richard and Marilyn Culver. She says of her childhood, “I grew up walking beans and feeding hogs. My mom made all of my clothes.”
She attended nearby Stanton High School, and graduated as valedictorian of her class. She then attended Iowa State University. She met her husband, Gail, in the university’s ROTC program, before graduating with a bachelor of science.
Of her time at Iowa State, Ernst said, “I was fortunate to be able to attend college at Iowa State University with the help of academic and leadership scholarships, and earned tuition money by working construction jobs with my dad during the summer months.”
While at Iowa State, she went on an agricultural exchange to the then-Soviet Union. She said in the Republican party’s weekly address for July 12, “When I was attending college, I went on an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union. And I saw with my own eyes what a nation without freedom looks like. When I came home, I decided that it wasn’t enough for me to simply enjoy freedom and liberty. I had to do my part to protect and preserve it.”
She then went on to earn a Masters in Public Administration from Columbus College, in Columbus, Georgia.
3. Her Husband Called Hillary Clinton a ‘Lying Hag’ & Janet Napolitano a ‘Traitorous Skank’
Ernst met her husband Gail in Ames, Iowa, while studying at Iowa State, and they have a daughter together, Libby, who attends Stanton High School.
Libby recently posted this Instagram picture of the family voting in the Republican primary.
Gail also has a military past, having served as a Command Sergeant Major in the Army Rangers until his retirement.
He drew criticism recently over Facebook posts that were made public, in which he calls Hillary Clinton a “lying hag,” former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano a “traitorous skank,” and jokes about shooting ex-wives (he is divorced from his first wife). He said:
What do you do if you see your ex running around in your front yard screaming and bloody? Stay calm. Reload. And try again.
The page has now been made private, and these screenshots were obtained by Democratic operatives and shared with the Des Moines Register while still visible to the public.
Joni Ernst said, “I’m appalled by my husband’s remarks. They are uncalled for and clearly inappropriate. I’ve addressed this issue with my husband and that’s between us.”
Her husband said in a statement to the Des Moines Register, “I would like to apologize for the inappropriate comments I have made on Facebook, which I deeply regret. It is not the respect that women deserve or the example I want to set for my daughters.”
4. She’s a Soldier
While at Iowa State, Ernst joined the ROTC. She has since spent 21 years in the US Army Reserves and the Iowa National Guard, and spent 14 months overseas in 2003-2004 as a company commander at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
She is now a Lieutenant Colonel, and commands the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard.
Ernst says on her website:
I am running for senate because as a soldier, a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, I understand the importance of a strong national defense – both at home and abroad. I’m a proud Iowan who put on the uniform to protect our Constitution and what it stands for. These are the things that made America the greatest nation in the history of mankind, and they are worth fighting for.
5. She Was Named in a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit
Ernst is fighting back against allegations that she was a bystander to sexual harassment that allegedly occurred within the Iowa State Senate Republican caucus.
A lawsuit was brought on October 16 by Kirsten Anderson, former communications director for the Iowa state Senate Republican Caucus, who claims she was fired for bringing forward accusations of sexual harassment against her boss. In it, Ernst is named once, in context of naming senators who witnessed “sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior exhibited by their male colleagues and did and said nothing.”
Ernst said in a statement:
As a mother of three daughters and someone who has been sexually harassed myself, I take sexual harassment allegations very seriously. Sexual harassment should never be tolerated. If I had witnessed any sexual harassment in the state legislature, I certainly would have put a stop to it. If anyone had brought accusations like this to my attention at the time, of course I would have acted immediately. Frankly, I am shocked to learn that I’m even referred to in this suit, and as a former colleague I hope she is not being exploited ahead of the election.
Her spokesperson also raised questions in an email to Politico about the timing of the lawsuit, coming on the day of the final debate with Braley. The lawyer who filed the complaint has a history of supporting Iowa Democrats and tweeted to Braley’s adviser that Ernst’s campaign was “a big gaffe waiting to happen”.
Ernst has been vocal in the past on the subject of sexual harassment and assault, especially in the military, and has said that she herself has experienced workplace harassment. In a statement released August 15 on sexual assault in the military, Ernst said:
Sexual violence of any kind is a hideous crime that must be rooted out and punished wherever it is found … when I am sworn into the United States Senate as its first female combat veteran, I will work with Senator Gillibrand and other Senate leaders in seeking bi-partisan support for new legislation. This will not be an easy challenge. I understand many in my own party in Washington will oppose this plan, as will many in the military and Pentagon. However, this should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now.