Government

Ernst reflects on 2018, looks ahead to re-election bid

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

As many lawmakers do toward the end of the year, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, last week pointed to a range of policy steps in which she had a hand, calling them “victories” for 2018.

That kind of resume-building likely will show up often over the next two years as Ernst begins to prepare for her first re-election campaign.

Ernst spoke with me last week as she looked back on 2018 and ahead to her re-election bid.

“I love the people of Iowa and I love my home state, and it’s important to me to make sure that Iowans are represented in Washington, D.C., with good, common-sense values coming out of the Midwest,” she said via telephone from the capital. “And I’m excited about that. I’m ready to take on that challenge in the upcoming years and never take it for granted. I do think we’ll have a tough election cycle.”

Ernst is wrapping up the fourth year of her six-year term in the U.S. Senate. She won a competitive, high-profile, open-seat race in 2014, and is likely to face another serious challenge in another high-profile race in 2020.

Ernst said last week she is proud of the steps taken in 2018 on issues important to her, including advocating for trade deals, pressing for year-round access to a specific ethanol blend and helping secure federal funding for Cedar Rapids’ flood mitigation project.

Ernst’s colleagues in Iowa’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and First District U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, also worked to secure funding for the project.

“I was just so thrilled to get that over the finish line for their community. They deserve to be protected,” Ernst said. “Kudos to Cedar Rapids for hanging in there and not ever giving up.”

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Ernst celebrated passage of the farm bill. She said she was particularly pleased that “a robust crop insurance program” was maintained. She also praised a proposed rewrite of a rule that dictates how the federal Clean Water Act applies to water on farmland.

Farmers and agricultural groups had expressed concern that the rule, as written under former President Barack Obama, would prove overly burdensome, although some experts expressed skepticism that the rule, which never was implemented in Iowa, would have had the disastrous effect some were claiming.

“We see that as a big win because all across Iowa, it was the most interesting mix of people and organizations that were opposed to the Obama-era regulation. It was far overreaching,” Ernst said. “It was good to see everybody come together.”

After a rough summer and fall amid trade negotiations sparked by President Donald Trump’s administration that contributed to falling crop prices, Ernst said she is hopeful U.S. trade policy is headed in the right direction with tweaked trade deals with Canada and Mexico.

Trade negotiations with China, on the other hand, continue.

“I do feel much better about where we are right now, looking ahead,” Ernst said. “We’re moving in the right direction. I hope that we can get these trade deals done sooner rather than later.”

In 2014, Ernst became the first Iowa woman elected to the U.S. Senate. In 2018, Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne, both Democrats, became the first Iowa women elected to the U.S. House.

Despite the fact the latter knocked two of Ernst’s GOP colleagues out of Congress, she said she is pleased more women are running for office. Ernst said she encourages any woman, regardless of political affiliation, to serve in public office if so motivated.

“I am excited that we see more women advancing to Congress,” Ernst said. “I disagree with (Finkenauer’s and Axne’s) policy positions, but I am excited that more women are stepping up to the challenge, saying, ‘I have a voice and I want my voice heard.’ ”

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Finkenauer’s and Axne’s victories were part of a Democratic wave in 2018 at the federal level: Democrats gained 40 seats and took the majority in the U.S. House.

Ernst said she does not think those results portend bad news for her re-election campaign.

“It doesn’t give me, necessarily, concern for my race,” Ernst said, noting Republicans in the Senate fared much better in 2018. “I think our state feels good about the direction the Senate is going. That is encouraging. But again, I never take anything for granted. I take the fact that I represent Iowa very seriously, and I will always represent them to the best of my abilities.”

l Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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