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Ernst, Joni

Published onJul 30, 2021
Ernst, Joni

(July 1, 1970 - )

Quick Facts

Joni Kay Ernst, a dedicated individual to her state and country, is a Republican United States Senator for Iowa and the first female to represent Iowa in Congress.

Source: Official US Senate Portrait

Ernst was born in Red Oak, Iowa to Marilyn and Richard Culver. Ernst grew up on a farm with her two siblings, which helped to instill in her “the values important to Iowans: hard work, service, and sacrifice.”1 She graduated Stanton High School as her class’s valedictorian. Ernst went on to attend Iowa State University (ISU) where she pursued a BS in Psychology while also a member of the ROTC program. Upon graduating from ISU in 1992, Ernst commissioned as a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army Reserves. In 1995, Ernst graduated from Columbus College (Columbus State University) with a Master of Public Administration in Justice Administration.

Ernst served with the Army Reserves until 2001 when she joined the Iowa Army National Guard. During her time in the National Guard, Ernst served as a logistics officer and towards the end of her military career, she served as the commanding officer of the 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion at Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa, which is the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard. Ernst deployed to Kuwait and Iraq from April 2003 to April 2004 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where she served as the company commander for the 1168th Transportation Company.2 She remained with the National Guard, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, until her retirement after twenty-three years of service in 2015.3 Upon her election to the United States Senate, Ernst became the first female combat Veteran to serve as a United States Senator.

Before becoming an Iowa State Senator, Ernst was elected to the position of the Montgomery County Auditor in 2004 and re-elected in 2008, where she worked to ensure that the taxpayers’ money was not wasted through pointless spending.4 Ernst went on to win a special election to the Iowa State Senate in 2011 and won re-election in 2012 where she remained until 2014. She served on the following committees of the Iowa State Senate during her tenure: Appropriations, Education, Human Resources, Rules and Administration, and Veterans Affairs.5 In her time as a state senator, she helped to turn a budget deficit into a surplus and aided in reducing taxes and improving education for Iowans.

In July 2013, Ernst made her intentions known that she would run for the open United States Senate seat vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, and in October 2013, she received an endorsement from then-Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. During her campaign, Ernst received additional endorsements from several state legislators along with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Ernst won the United States Senate seat for Iowa against Democrat Bruce Braley by a margin of 52.2% to 43.7%.6 Following her victory, she resigned from the Iowa State Senate on November 28, 2014.

During her current tenure as United States Senator, Ernst sits on four important Senate committees: Armed Services; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Environment and Public Works; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.7 As in her time serving as the Montgomery County Auditor, Ernst, as a senator, tries to ensure that government spending is controlled, taxes are reduced, and the budget is balanced to help the government run smoothly.8 Ernst stands in favor of eliminating the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service as a way to reduce government spending. Additionally, Ernst, as a Veteran, holds Veterans’ concerns and issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs close to her and has been involved with key legislation including the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on October 26, 2017.9

Ernst is a prominent supporter of engaging with her constituents. She sponsored her 1st Annual Roast and Ride in June 2015, where she along with her constituents rode their motorcycles in a parade. This event now occurs every summer. Ernst invites Republican political candidates to this event since she believes in the power of engagement. She knows that Iowans value making a connection on the grassroots level with their candidates. Additionally, every year Ernst embarks on a 99 county tour around Iowa, where she holds town hall meetings across the state and visits with companies, hospitals, schools, and small businesses to hear their concerns, questions, and ideas that allows her to best serve Iowans in Washington, D.C.10

Ernst married Gail Ernst in 1992, and has one daughter with him, Libby, and two stepdaughters from his previous marriage. In August 2018, Ernst announced that she was divorcing Gail. When Ernst is not in Washington, D.C. or away on other engagements, she resides in Red Oak, Iowa. Ernst also is honored at Iowa State University’s Plaza of Heroines outside of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall.

Selected Sources

“Iowa Election Results.” The New York Times. December 17, 2014. Accessed October 20, 2018.

“Joni Ernst.” Iowa State University Archives of Women’s Political Communication. 2018.

Accessed October 20, 2018.

Joni Ernst United States Senator for Iowa. 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018.

“Joni Kay Ernst.” Iowa State University Plaza of Heroines. 2018. Accessed October 20, 2018.

S.585, No. 115-73, 115th Cong. (2017).

“Senator Joni K. Ernst.” The Iowa Legislature. N.d. Accessed October 20, 2018.

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