Joni Ernst town hall: The overflow edition

Thanks to Stefanie Running for talking with Iowans who had hoped to question Senator Joni Ernst yesterday. -promoted by desmoinesdem

It was unusually warm for St. Patrick’s Day in Des Moines. Despite being spring break week for Drake University, the campus where Senator Joni Ernst chose to hold her town hall had remarkably little available parking. I arrived about 4:45 p.m., fifteen minutes prior to the start of the event, but was unable to join the throng inside; Sheslow Auditorium had reached capacity.

There were about 200 of us still outside, unsurprised but still disappointed. We were given the opportunity to fill out the question cards, the same as our comrades who made it inside. It was a consolation prize of sorts, knowing the questions wouldn’t be asked. A few people wrote their names and their questions, the rest either left or milled about. A few groups crowded around those who were playing live-streams the discussion on their phones.

I was able to speak to a handful of folks who had come to hear Ernst address their concerns, ask their own questions, or see if she actually engaged honestly.

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Carlene Russell, Pleasant Hill.

Carlene was very friendly, as were most people I approached. She was concerned about health care for older adults and recent reports that the proposed American Health Care Act will increase costs for seniors.

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Rosemary Thierer, Des Moines Metro

Rosemary greeted Carlene as we walked around to the other side of Sheslow. The friends were glad to share more of their concerns. Rosemary indicated an overwhelming number of topics were on their minds. She wanted Joni Ernst to hear her message: “We are here, and you need to listen.” She said that the new health care bill was a big issue. She had recently emailed the senator about the gross deficiencies in necessary mental health care services. She sent a similar message to Senator Chuck Grassley and received boilerplate non-answers from both. Ernst remarked on Obamacare as a disaster, and said they had to make changes.

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Andrea Ward (pictured with the adorable Phoebe Levi), Des Moines Metro

Andrea came to express concerns about the cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, National Endowment for the Arts, and other humanities related programs. She noted that those programs encompass a very small part of the budget relative to increases being handed to larger departments like the Department of Human Services and the military.

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Alan and Heather Miller (pictured here with a couple really cute and happy kiddos)

The Millers came to discuss health care and gun control. Alan is worried about the 24 million Americans who will lose insurance and health care with a repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act. The family is also concerned about the GOP relaxation of gun laws, and the ease in which a domestic violence perpetrator can access guns.

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Josh Sullivan, Des Moines

Josh, who was gracious about the fact that I repeatedly called him Jason (perhaps because he was wearing a Jason Isbell tshirt), wanted to know if Ernst was ever going to hold President Donald Trump accountable for his lies about wiretapping as well as the other lies Trump frequently repeats. He wants Congress to hold Trump accountable, but he seemed to have little hope that they would.

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Allissa Buelow, Des Moines

Allissa and Josh had just met outside of Sheslow and were discussing their concerns when I interrupted them to ask their input. Allissa is a very warm and personable young woman who was deeply concerned about the repeal of the ACA. She noted that it was very hard to determine who this new American Health Care Act would help, and that it would kick millions off of the insurance they have.

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Kristi Poole, West Des Moines

Kristi came prepared with data to back up her concerns. She wanted to know why Senator Ernst is putting party politics over what is really important to the people of Iowa. She noted that 77 percent of Iowans support Planned Parenthood, yet Ernst supports defunding. Approximately 6 out of 10 Americans don’t support the travel ban, and 75 percent don’t want a repeal of ACA before an actual viable option for replacement is on the table. Kristi wants Ernst to represent her actual constituents, and she’d like to know why Joni refuses to do so.

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Vicki Stout, Johnston

Vicki noted the unbelievable number of issues that are part of our lives now. She wants us to focus on a pathway for undocumented immigrants to gain residency and citizenship, rather than building walls. She supports our designation as a sanctuary city, and fully believes that our neighbors are our friends. She supports Planned Parenthood and believes that women should have the right to choose where they receive their health care. She is unhappy with the GOPs efforts at voter suppression. She believes that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s voucher program is bad for our education system. She wants to see Social Security fully funded. She supports the Standing Rock protesters, and wants to see more funding for renewable energy like solar and wind. She believes we need gun reform with background checks. She’s disappointed in the recent news of the defunding of Meals on Wheels and the Peace Corps. As a former Peace Corps member, she believes in increasing funding for “person to person diplomacy”.
She is interested in attending the upcoming March for Science in DC and hopes to see a change in the anti-science sentiment coming out of Washington.

Vicki is very engaged, and a big fan of Bleeding Heartland.

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Tim Tutt

Tim didn’t find out about Ernst’s visit until the last minute, but felt it was important that he attend. He appreciated the senator’s willingness to hold this town hall in a predominantly liberal community, where some of her colleagues won’t visit. But he also noted that the small venue had unnecessary restrictions, limiting the ability of people to attend. He came to see how open Ernst is to questions this time, and whether she was willing to answer honestly, since a previous town hall he had seen recently featured only one question and no real answers from Ernst.

This was my first volunteer photography “assignment” for Bleeding Heartland. Thank you Laurie (desmoinesdem) for letting me represent BH in our community. I met a lot smart and engaged people. I hope to provide more photo reports in the future.

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  • Inside Sheslow Auditorium

    I have images from inside Joni Ernst’s town hall. How would I upload them?
    (I’m sorry to post these comments so late. I’m surprised no one else beat me to it.
    It was a spirited overflow crowd that did make it inside. We got there maybe 15-20 minutes before doors opened and were at the end of line that reached to the street. It quickly grew behind us.
    Inside the hall looked to contain a good variety of constituencies. Restive blue collar Democrats (suffering from both national and state Rep. domination) were in no mood to play nice with Joni. It appeared also that they saved the front row for Ernst supporters. The audience was skeptical but gave her a fair hearing until it came to issues including healthcare, gun control (with a particularly poignant moment where a 9-year-old girl and her mom expressed fears over possibility of more armed individuals on school campuses.
    Ernst has mastered what I call the ‘concerned stare’ i.e. she appears to be listening and even gives the impression that she actually cares what you have to say. The “stare” was on full display throughout the impassioned comments about healthcare, labor, choice, gun control, and education issues.
    Every question (save a super-wonky query about agriculture credits) was, however, usually non-answered and in its place was barely warmed over Koch-ian boilerplate designed to get her past you and onto the next question. It was almost like question time in the British parliament when members in mass voice their displeasure with the points being defended by the other. Energetic howls of dissent followed comments about Repub plans for education, healthcare and especially her weasel-worded non-answer to a direct question about whether or not she believed in, or would act to mitigate, global climate change.
    Except for one especially energetic young woman (who sat next to me) who did lob some pretty good insults at Ernst, most people took their outrage up to an “acceptable” level of disagreement with Ernst, but no chants of “Your last term!” erupted from this crowd.
    (Chuck G. see how easy that was for Joni? Time for you to come on out and play. We’ll bring the bacon.)
    Again, sorry for the late post. I felt as if people realize that it’s better to organize and persist rather that just yell at someone like Ernst (who, like local repubs) are NOT listening to anyone outside of their funding constituencies.
    I didn’t get to ask Joni a question but mine would have been:
    “As a relatively new Senator, how does it feel as you try to balance the needs of the fainter voices of those ordinary Iowans who are struggling with those of the powerful political and financial interests who actually fuel most of your campaigns and whose positions you now endeavor to sell to us?”

    • I don't know how to upload photos in a comment here

      I think you would have to create a separate post to do that. Thanks for the report!