Who Is?
S4 E11

Who Is Joni Ernst? Narrated by Rose McGowan


Joni Ernst is a giant Koch beneficiary, staunch anti-choice U.S. senator from Iowa, and an advocate of castrating hogs. Ernst was born Joni Kay Culver in Red Oak, Iowa, where she checked off just about every box conservative voters in the hawkeye state are seemingly looking for.

After graduating as valedictorian of her 1988 class at Stanton High School, Ernst attended Iowa State University, where she joined the ROTC. “We didn’t have much money, so I was fortunate to be able to attend college with the help of academic and leadership scholarships,” she said.

But really, Ernst’s family reportedly relied on federal aid and raked in $463,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2009. The Los Angeles Times notes, “The database of farm subsidies dates back only to 1995, when Ernst was already 25; but if that period is any indication, her family was probably doing quite nicely even before then, thanks to her fellow taxpayers.”

While attending classes at Iowa State, Ernst went on an agriculture exchange to the then-Soviet Union, where her path to serving the country was conceived. “...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 stayed true to her word and served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserves and the Iowa National Guard. She was assigned to units in South Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, and Alabama.

In 2014, Ernst was elected to the U.S. Senate. It wasn’t easy at first, as Politico reports. Ernst was hardly raising any money at all and she was just barely registering in the polls...until she was given the infamous Koch treatment, an all expenses paid trip straight to the Senate. She was invited to a Koch summit in Albuquerque, where she wooed over donors. Months later, an operative named Karl Crow, someone who had worked for the Kochs before, launched a nonprofit called Trees of Liberty, which spent over $250,000 in television ads blasting Ernst’s Republican opponent, Mark Jacobs, not to be confused with American fashion designer, Marc Jacobs.

Politico notes, “The ads swiped at Jacobs for supporting a proposal to limit carbon emissions years earlier. The measure was bitterly opposed by the Koch public policy network, as well as the brothers’ multinational industrial conglomerate, Koch Industries, which would have been adversely affected by the proposal.” Around the same time the attack ads against Jacobs launched, another Koch-adjacent nonprofit went after Ernst’s Democrat opponent Bruce Braley. Politico again notes, “She cruised to a lopsided primary victory in the June 2014 primary and headed into the general election in strong position against Braley.”

Ernst defeated Bruce Braley by 8.5 percentage points to become Iowa’s first female Senator in 2014.

In the Senate, Ernst has been lockstep with Trump. Although it’s unclear exactly where Ernst — a proud owner of a Harley Davidson — stood when Trump backed a boycott on the bike, it is clear just how much she’s backed his agenda. Ernst has voted with the former steak salesman nearly 92% of the time over her career. She has supported both his judicial and executive branch nominees. Including Brett Kavanaugh - support that perplexed some when months after his confirmation hearings, she told Bloomberg News that she was raped in college. As a survivor of sexual assault, it could lead many to wonder why Ernst would lobby her fellow senators to confirm someone who faced credible allegations of sexual assault to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

In addition to backing Kavanaugh, Ernst also backed Trump’s massive tax cuts for the richest families and largest corporations. She’s a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act and wants to shoot it with a gun. Ernst is up for reelection in 2020 in her conservative-leaning battleground state of Iowa, which Trump easily won in 2016. With the help of a little Koch money and Trump changing his tune about Harley Davidson, Ernst might just hop back on it and cruise to another six-year term in the United States Senate.