July 31, 2014

Ernst criticized for taking campaign cash from ExxonMobil PAC

Joni Ernst campaigned at an Urbandale restaurant this morning.

Joni Ernst campaigned at an Urbandale restaurant this morning.

Republican Joni Ernst says she has no reservations about having organizations that oppose ethanol help raise money for her U.S. Senate campaign.

Ernst will appear Wednesday at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser sponsored by the political action committees for ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. Ernst was asked this morning if she felt “uncomfortable” attending a fundraiser sponsored by ethanol critics.

“I don’t feel uncomfortable because they know where I stand with the Renewable Fuels Standard,” Ernst said. “I stand firmly behind that and my record in the Iowa Senate backs that up.”

A new ad blasts Ernst for not refusing the campaign contributions from an “army of lobbyists” representing “big oil.” Ernst has said she’s philosophically opposed to taxpayer subsidies for ethanol, but would support them until tax subsidies are eliminated “for every sector.”

Ernst is the subject of another ad which calls her an “extremist” who would privatize Social Security.

“Oh for heaven sakes,” Ernst said this morning when asked about the label. “I am not extreme, I’ll tell you that.”

Ernst said promises made to seniors who are getting Social Security benefits today must be kept, but she is open to changes for future generations.

“We need to look at solutions moving forward to make sure that my daughters and my grandchildren, all of our children and grandchildren, have that same Social Security system or a semblance of that,” Ernst said. “Whatever form that is in, we have to make sure it’s there for our children and grandchildren.”

Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, returned to the Iowa campaign trail today after two weeks of active duty spent training in Wisconsin.  Listen to audio from her campaign speech and news conference here.

In other news from Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, Democracy for America — the group founded by former presidential candidate Howard Dean — has endorsed Democrat Bruce Braley. Over the weekend, Politico – a D.C.-based publication – reported the Braley campaign recently replaced its ad maker and pollster.

Ernst says it’s up to Braley “to refute” attack on his VA hearing attendance (AUDIO)

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst, the Iowa Republican Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, says it’s up to Bruce Braley, her Democratic opponent, to explain why he missed 78 percent of the hearings held by the House Veterans Affairs Committee when he served on the panel.

“I think he should have been attending those hearings, obviously,” Ernst told reporters this morning. “I heard in one account he had said that he had to skip a meeting to go to another meeting and he didn’t actually go to that other meeting…but that’s up for him. He has to justify why he wasn’t there at a time when he was failing our veterans.”

Ernst, a unit commander in the Iowa National Guard, returned to the campaign trail this morning after two weeks of active duty. She spoke briefly at an early morning rally with about 150 veterans and National Guard soldiers and did not mention Braley by name or his attendance at VA hearings. The subject is now being pressed by a $2.4 million ad campaign against Braley. During a news conference, Ernst was asked if it was appropriate for the ad to accuse Braley of being AWOL — absent without leave — on veterans issues.

“That’s up to him to refute, but I think those are important issues and we need to focus on those,” Ernst said. “We’ve made a lot of promises to our veterans and we need to make sure that we are taking care of our veterans.”

“Joni Ernst can choose to ignore Bruce’s long record of achieving results for Iowa’s veterans, such as securing overdue combat pay for 800 Iowa National Guard troops, working across the aisle to support disabled veterans, and helping thousands of veterans re-enter the workforce by providing businesses with tax breaks to hire veterans returning from duty,” Sam Lau, a spokesman for Braley’s campaign, said in a written statement. “But she can’t hide her extreme views…that put her out-of-step with Iowa’s middle class families.”

Ernst told reporters VA Hospitals should remain open, but she would support giving veterans vouchers or cards that they could use to obtain care at a local hospital or clinic, rather than forcing veterans to drive to a Veterans Affairs facility for care. According to Ernst, the problems with long wait times and substandard care have not cropped up at Iowa’s VA facilities.

“I wish I could say that in every state out there, but unfortunately we have had many, many issues and we need elected officials that are willing to take on these problems head-on — not ignore them, not bury their heads in the sand,” Ernst said during her speech at the rally. “We need to address these issues head-on and find solutions.”

Ernst also said she opposes reducing the size of the U.S. active duty military force to pre-World War II levels.

AUDIO of Ernst’s morning rally, 17:33

AUDIO of Ernst’s news conference, 7:00

(This post was updated at 11:22 a.m. with additional information.)

Braley criticized for missing House VA Committee hearings

Republicans have been criticizing Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley for missing most of the hearings the Veterans Affairs Committee held when Braley was on the panel. Now, a national group is spending $2.4 million to air that complaint in ads on Iowa TV stations.

Congressman Braley, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate this year, attended five of the 19 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings held during the two years Braley was on the committee. The ad from “Concerned Veterans for America” says Braley “skipped an astonishing” number of hearings. Dan Caldwell, a former Marine who is the group’s legislative campaign manager, says Braley was absent or “AWOL” in 2011 and 2012 when veterans needed him most.

“He neglected his responsibilities as a member of the VA Committee and it was quite (clear) these responsibilities were a low priority to him,” Caldwell says.

The ad mentions one particular hearing Braley did not attend which focused on the long-wait times for veterans seeking care in the VA system as well as bonuses being paid to some executives in the Veterans Administration.

“The VA Committee…has been very proactive in flushing out a lot of these problems with the VA and Congressman Braley obviously neglected his duties as a member of the full committee and that, in our mind, is unacceptable,” Caldwell says.

The Concerned Veterans for America ad asserts Braley was too busy attending three different fundraisers on September 20, 2012, to go to that particular VA Committee hearing. Braley’s staff says Braley was not at a fundraiser during the time of the VA Committee hearing, but attended a House Oversight Committee hearing instead, an assertion Caldwell disputes.

“In that (Oversight) hearing he offered no testimony, there are no recorded remarks,” Caldwell says. “…What it looks like he did was show up briefly, got recorded attending and then left.”

Democrats charge “Concerned Veterans for America” is mainly financed by the Koch brothers, businessmen who have donated millions of dollars to conservative candidates and causes.

State Representative Todd Prichard, a Democrat from Charles City who is a major in the Iowa National Guard, defends Braley.

“It’s about getting results for the people you represent and it’s about taking care of those people back home and that’s what Bruce did,” Prichard says. “That’s what he did for the people I served with.”

Prichard’s guard unit served 17 straight months in Iraq, but when the soldiers returned in 2007 they were declared ineligible for military education benefits. They were also denied combat pay.

“Things that were promised to us that weren’t really delivered,” Prichard says. “But Bruce was able to work to get us kind of what we had coming for the service.”

Prichard also cites Braley’s work to extend another federal law that offers grants to returning soldiers with disabilities, so they can retrofit their homes.

“That’s how I know Bruce, as a champion and somebody who’s going to go to bat for veterans ’cause that’s what he’s done for me and the people I served with,” Prichard says.

As for the attendance issue in D.C., Braley’s staff says the congressman attended 15 of the 17 hearings held by the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee he was assigned to, so Braley’s overall attendance record for committee and subcommittee hearings was above 50 percent.

Attendance records were an issue in the U.S. Senate race earlier this year. Joni Ernst, who won the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination in June, was criticized by one of her Republican opponents for missing about 40 percent of the votes taken in the Iowa Senate in the 2014 legislative session. Ernst is a state senator and an Iowa National Guard unit commander. A Cedar Rapids Gazette analysis concluded about 10 percent of the state senate votes she missed where taken while she was on active duty. The other 90 percent were missed because Ernst was out campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

Republicans ridicule Braley for complaining about chickens roaming on his vacation property

Republicans are criticizing Bruce Braley, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, for a neighborhood squabble over chickens. American Crossroads, the conservative group founded by George W. Bush’s top political aide, has produced an on-line video ridiculing Braley for complaining about chickens that were running loose on his vacation property.

Pauline Hampton lives at Holiday Lake, a vacation community near Braley’s hometown of Brooklyn and she bought the chickens last year. Braley’s wife, Carolyn, went to the neighborhood association’s meeting in May and complained about the chickens and the smell. Hampton, who is a mental health counselor, said she uses the chickens as “animal assisted therapy” for her clients.

“You know I could have resolved this issue face-to-face,” Hampton told Radio Iowa this week.

Hampton said she was unaware the neighborhood’s rules require property owners to keep their pets on their own property and she has put up a pen to keep the “therapeutic chickens” in her own yard. A Grinnell lawyer who works for the neighborhood association wrote an email posted on TheIowaRepublican.com indicating Bruce Braley had phoned him to talk about the chickens. Attorney Thomas Lacina, who has not responded to Radio Iowa’s phone calls this week, wrote that Braley wanted to “avoid a litigious situation,” but Braley, according to Lacina, “believes strongly that chickens are not pets.”

Hampton, the owner of the four hens, said the Braleys did not threaten legal action against her, but Hampton said Carolyn Braley did refuse her offer of eggs that had been laid by the chickens. William Nagle of Malcomb, who serves on the board of directors for the Holiday Lake Owners Association, told Radio Iowa he wishes the Braleys had handled the situation “like adults” rather than involve the neighborhood association.

“Really, I don’t know why it got to be such a big deal,” Nagle said. “…All we can do is enforce the covenant, which we did.”

The American Crossroads video accuses Braley of waging a “war on chicks” since his first campaign ad against Republican rival Joni Ernst featured a baby chick. The video also suggests the episode shows Braley isn’t a “true Iowan” who would “just talk to his neighbors” to resolve this kind of a dispute.

Jeff Giertz, a spokesman for Braley, issued a written statement.

“The wild claims made in this Karl Rove smear video are simply false,” Giertz said, “and it’s sad that the Ernst campaign and her special interest friends are trying to smear Bruce and his family just to distract from her extreme views, like privatizing Social Security, voucherizing Medicare, and opposing a federal minimum wage.”

Hampton, the chicken owner who lives next door to the Braley’s vacation home, is a registered Democrat. She won’t comment on whether she’ll vote for Braley or for Ernst.

“I am still mulling over my options at this point for both candidates,” Hampton told Radio Iowa on Tuesday, adding that her recent experience with the Braleys “would seem…kind of contradictory to what (Bruce Braley) represents.”

Other neighbors say they didn’t like Hampton’s chickens roaming around either, but they didn’t file a formal complaint with the Holiday Lake Owners’ Association.

Braley seeks country-of-origin labels for gas, diesel

Congressman Bruce Braley is trying again to pass legislation that would require “County of Origin Labels” on U.S. gas and diesel pumps. Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo who is running for the U.S. Senate, first introduced a bill in 2010 to accomplish that goal, but it never advanced. He’s re-introduced the measure again this year.

“Unfortunately Americans currently have no say in whether the money they’re paying at the pump goes to support unfriendly regimes around the world or is headed to Iowans producing ethanol,” Braley says.

Consumers also want to buy soybean-based biodiesel that’s made “in their neighborhood” according to Braley.

“If I buy a tomato at Fareway or Hy-Vee, I can look at the sticker and see where the tomato comes from. These labels gives consumers the knowledge and power to make their own decisions about where their products are from and where their hard-earned money is going,” Braley says. “I believe consumers should have the same power at the pump.”

Braley’s bill would require gas stations to post a label on each gas pump indicating where the fuel came from — whether it’s the U.S.A. or somewhere in the Middle East.

“Right now there’s a 50 percent chance your next fill-up will be with gas produced outside the United States and we shouldn’t force America consumers to flip a coin when they’re at the pump,” Braley says. “America has a decision to make about its energy future.”

The “Renewable Fuels Standard” — a federal requirement dictating how much ethanol and biodiesel is produced each year — is the “best, long-term hope” for a stable supply of domestic fuel, according to Braley. Forty years ago the U.S. imported just 24 percent of the oil that was used to make gasoline. In 2012, 57 percent of the crude that was processed in U.S. refineries came from foreign sources.

Joni Ernst, Braley’s Republican opponent in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, is on active duty with her Iowa National Guard unit for training exercises in Wisconsin.

NBC/Marist poll finds Braley/Ernst race deadlocked, Branstad leading Hatch by 15

Another poll shows Iowa’s U.S. Senate race is a dead heat.

Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst each had the support of 43 percent of registered voters who were surveyed by the Marist College Institute of Public Opinion for NBC News. The two candidates still have work to do in introducing themselves to more Iowans. One-third of those surveyed said they are either unsure about the candidates or have never heard of them. Another 14 percent were undecided.

The poll found almost six out of 10 the Iowans surveyed gave Republican Governor Terry Branstad a positive job approval rating. Branstad led Democratic challenger Jack Hatch by 15 points in the poll.

Pollsters also pegged President Obama’s job approval rating in Iowa at 37 percent.

The poll’s margin of error is 2.5 percent. It was conducted from Monday, July 7th through the 13th, which was Sunday.

Ernst delivers response to president’s weekly address

U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst delivered the response to President Obama’s weekly address for her fellow Republicans this past Saturday.

“The problem in America today is that Washington is fully liberals who think that government is the solution to every problem,” Ernst said. “They think that nothing can be solved unless Washington is involved.”

Here is a link to the video of her remarks.

Ernst opened the nearly six-minute speech by discussing her military experience and she closed by stressing her farm roots.

“Growing up on that southwest Iowa farm, my family didn’t have much. My mother canned our food and made our clothes, teaching us the lessons of not spending what we don’t have.” Ernst said. “…Today, to get America back on track it’s going to teach each of us working together to advance real solutions to our problems, not more tired rhetoric.”

Ernst repeated her call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would forbid deficit spending and require congress to pass balanced budgets.

“That is how we run our households and we should expect nothing less from Washington,” Ernst said.

Ernst faces Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley this fall in the contest for the U.S. Senate seat Democrat Tom Harkin has held for nearly three decades. Braley has been traveling the state since June, citing Ernst statements that “perhaps” younger workers and those just entering the workforce should be able to shift their Social Security taxes into personal accounts and manage their own retirement savings. During her national speech, Ernst said Republicans believe Social Security and Medicare should “be strengthened.”

“But we also believe, as do some of our friends in the Democratic Party, that these programs must be reformed,” Ernst said, “so America not only keeps its promise to today’s seniors, but is also able to guarantee a safety net is available for our children and grandchildren.”

Ernst is a lieutenant colonel and battalion commander in the Iowa National Guard. She’s currently on a two-week training mission in Wisconsin with her troops and she recorded the speech before going on active duty.