Name: Joni Kay Ernst (née Culver)
Date of Birth: July 1, 1970
What She Does Now: U.S. senator from Iowa
What She Used to Do: Ernst served in the military for 23 years, first joining Iowa State University’s ROTC program at age 20 and then the U.S. Army Reserves after graduating. In 2003, she served as a company commander in Kuwait and Iraq. She retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. She was elected Montgomery County auditor in 2004 and served in that role until she was elected to the state Senate in 2011, a job she kept until she ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Hometown: Red Oak, Iowa
Family Tree: Ernst is married to husband Gail Ernst whom she met while at Iowa State. He served with the Army Rangers for nearly 30 years and, according to his LinkedIn account, is the manager of Red Oak, Iowa’s city-owned airport. Gail Ernst came under fire during Joni's 2014 campaign for posting jokes about shooting an ex and a reference to then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano as a "traitorous skank." In a statement, Joni Ernst said she was "appalled by my husband's remarks." They have a daughter, Libby, and Gail also has two adult daughters from a previous marriage.
Key Life/Career Moments:
Ernst became Iowa's first female senator when she defeated Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in November 2014. Their 152-day fight also became Iowa's most expensive race, according to the Des Moines Register. The state senator rose from near obscurity to national fame thanks in part to two videos: one, a tracker video of Braley saying that a "farmer from Iowa without a law degree" wouldn't be qualified to run the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee -– he was believed to have been referring to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is the chairman now. Ernst also made a splash with her own ad, "Squeal," in which she said she grew up castrating hogs and wanted to go to Washington to make politicians squeal.
She also delivered the 2015 GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address.
Ernst was called to active duty in 2003, while serving as commander of the Iowa National Guard’s 1168th Transportation Company. She was deployed to Kuwait during the Iraq war and remained there until April 5, 2004. The bulk of her service was driving supply convoys into Iraq, conducting 402 missions. As the commander of her unit, Ernst wrote a history of the company's mobilization there, noting one incident with a group of "young Iraqi males" who grabbed onto the trucks, though no one was harmed. Her history also contains some colorful moments, including this account of the 2003 holiday season: "SPC Heather Kreitlow and SPC Jason Schomburg entertained the troops on Camp Arifjan with their amazing singing talents in the holiday soldier show. Everyone seemed to find a niche, even in the desert."
What You Might Not Know About Her:
During her college years Ernst volunteered at a safe house for battered and abused women and children in Ames, Iowa. "Answering a beeper call at mostly inconvenient and late hours, Joni would head to a hospital, police station or safehouse to give comfort to a woman or child in need of support," Gail Ernst once said of his wife.
Ernst is the first woman to represent Iowa in either house of Congress.
When she was running for Senate and living in Iowa, she taught Sunday school in the same church where she was baptized and married.
What She Has Said About Trump:
Ernst never endorsed anyone, though she did appear with Sen. Marco Rubio at a rally in late January, calling him her "good friend" and "near and dear" to her heart, but adding that she was not endorsing him.
Ernst has kept her personal views about Trump close to the vest, but she did unload on him once in an interview with WHO on April 3, saying that she was "disappointed" with Trump's insult-laden campaign, calling it "nonsense." "I would encourage women to stand up and say, 'You know what, I'm not going to put up with his nonsense, but I do agree with him on this policy. Sometimes we have to look beyond certain aspects of a person and figure out do we agree. And there are some big aspects. And he may not be able to overcome some of those aspects."
Of Trump's prospects with women voters, she said, "I think there are a number of women that will not support him."
But she also said she would ultimately be comfortable with a Trump presidency (not exactly a ringing endorsement). "I am comfortable with [Trump] if he is the nominee and he is at the helm. What I would encourage him to do is to listen to the members of our Joint Chiefs of Staff."
During a Fox News interview on May 26, she was less acerbic towards Trump, saying she was "happy" when Trump gained enough delegates to clinch the nomination. "Now we can unify the party, bring folks together," she said.
"We need to work a little more on policy, but overall I am excited about the Trump candidacy because he is bringing so many new voters into the party." On tone, she said, "I think there are a number of issues which he has really used to inflame people, really get them excited out there, so I would like to focus more so on his policy."
And on his approach with women: "You have seen within his own organization, where he does have very strong women working in private industry. So I know that he appreciates the role that women play throughout this organization and I'm excited to see that come to fruition."