In Candid Discussion With W4W, Ernst Talks AboutChallenges That Shaped Her Life
Ernst: Because we live in this great country, I, a little farm girl from southwest Iowa, have had some truly extraordinary opportunities, and not without adversity. So I’m speaking to all of you tonight. All of us have faced various adversities in our lifetimes, and I am here as testimony that you can overcome these challenges and go on to have joy in your lives.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.– Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) joined Winning For Women (W4W) for a candid book talk on her new memoir, Daughter of the Heartland: My Ode To The Country That Raised Me. In the discussion, moderated by former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Ernst talked about her experiences with sexual assault, in the military, and as the first female senator from Iowa.
Watch the full discussion here. A rough and partial transcript is below.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:How did you decide to put your whole life out there for the world to see? Again, Iowans have had a chance to get to know you. And to get to know you is to love you. And now you’re sharing that story with the country, and frankly with the world. How did you get through that process and what made you want to do it?
SENATOR JONI ERNST:Arriving at that decision to write the book, it was difficult but it was made easier by the fact that I had a very public divorce, just a few years back. And in the course of that divorce, for whatever reason, somebody overlooked it, but the court records were not sealed and the incidents of domestic violence, infidelity by my husband, all of those things, came to light. And it was not something that I wanted to discuss with anyone.
It became very public, and so people knew at that point more about me than I wanted folks to know. I was outed. There are certain times when we will decide to disclose personal information about ourselves. And I was not given that choice. So the information was out there. And I had so many women, and some men, that shared with me some of their past and the incidents they had been through. And one in particular, when she came up to me after an event, she said, Joni, I just can’t believe this. She said, you have gone through rape. You have gone through domestic violence. You’ve gone through all of these things, and yet you went on to become a battalion commander. You went on to become a United States Senator. And she said that’s so powerful that you were able to drive through that adversity and still find success in your life.
And it struck me at that point that maybe this is something it’s okay to talk about. And again, every person will make their own decision on how to share personal information, but I thought I really wanted to put this down on paper, one, as a celebration of my home state and where I’m from. But secondary, to share my experiences, knowing that so many others have been through those experiences as well and they just need to know that there is joy, there is life on the other side.
SANDERS:Let me be one of many to join in a chorus of people to say thank you for opening yourself up, because you’re allowing so many other women to feel comfortable stepping out into a public space, or even into a private space, but recognizing things that are really difficult to talk about… What is the hardest part about being in the U.S. Senate?
ERNST:I could say it’s long hours, a lot of work, but those really aren’t the hardest things. I think anybody could truly do that. I think, for me personally,the hardest part about being a senator right now and in such a contentious climate is just the hatred that is exhibited by so many people. And people that have never met me, have never known me, all of the hatred that’s directed at everyone because of the letter that you might have behind your name, whether it’s an R, an I, or a D.
There are a lot of folks out there that feel that they can really go after you on social media. I have people that will do it to my face, as well. Not even having a conversation with me. So that to me is just the hardest thing. And personally, this body is completely scarred from years in the military – just you know from being chewed out by superior officers and so forth.
But to have another human being with no reason at all treat another person that way, I think that we have gotten into such gutter politics.I think about my predecessor Tom Harkin, who was a Democrat, and the things that people will say to me, I can’t ever in a million years imagine saying to Senator Harkin. I always had great respect for him, even though I differed very much on his ideas and politics, but I don’t know why we have come to this point in our country where we feel that that’s okay.It’s not okay. And that’s what is probably the hardest thing for me, is just recognizing that our culture is changing, and maybe not for the better.
SANDERS:I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we do a better job, as a community of women, building each other up instead of tearing each other down?
ERNST:Absolutely. And I think that there is this game of one-upsmanship that is out there, and we have to prove that we’re better than someone else or the next woman out there, you know, whatever it is. And we shouldn’t engage in that game. That’s a game that men can play all day and night. But you know, we are the doers.I look across, whether it’s the Republican Party or even in the Senate – both Democrats and Republicans – the people that are working together and getting things done, large in part, are women. So we’ve got to get beyond that. And when we work together we really do become such an incredible force.
And what we have to celebrate is our differences. With Martha McSally and I, you would think that there is this great competition out there. We’re both combat veterans, you know, how can we one up the other. But I take great delight in the fact that she was our first female combat pilot. I think she is an incredible woman in her own right. And that’s what we have to do is focus on those incredible things that each of us bring to the table. And if we start celebrating more, we can detract less.
In a world that’s dominated by men, we should not take the time to tear each other down. If we ever want to achieve parity with men and our colleagues, we have got to learn to build each other up.And that’s what I like to spend my time doing, regardless of whether we’re Republicans or Democrats. If I see someone that’s doing something really well, I want to make sure that I’m saying they’re doing something really well. So we’ve, again, we’ve got to get over it and we just need to be supportive of one another.
SANDERS:Who has been the most influential person in your life?
ERNST:When I look at those that were the catalysts in my life, it will always come back to my mother and to my grandmothers. And my mother came, you know, I came from a humble family. My mother came from an even more humble family, and her mother already had two children when she was expecting my mom and my biological grandfather was killed. And so my grandmother raised three little ones on her own. And this would have been during the 40s, or early 50s. Just learning from my grandmother and then how my mother was brought up: Waste not, want not. Just very, very thrifty with everything they did.
And a lot of that she then passed on to me. But my mother taught me to sew, she taught me to can, she taught me gardening – all of those things. And then, with my dad, taught me farming, taught me to work very, very hard.And that working with my hands and doing manual labor is perfectly okay. I’m not above any job out there. If that means shuffling you know what out of a hog pin, that’s exactly what you’re going to do, young girl.
Get out there in the morning and I get it done. But it is a very humbling experience to have such great women that were in my life and guiding me and my sister and my brother and all of my cousins as well.
There’s just something really special about farm families in Iowa. How we all come together as family units and get that work done. I don’t know that I ever could have had a better childhood, working on the farm, being raised on the farm, and having such strong – not just physically, but mentally through the tough times – those strong women in my life.
SANDERS:Leave us with your final thought on one of the messages that you want to make sure everybody takes away from tonight. I just think it’s, again, such a powerful story.
ERNST:Yeah, a couple different things, Sarah. One is that God blessed me so much to place me in the family that I had, in the greatest nation on the face of the planet.I really believe that we are blessed to have such an extraordinary country. And because we live in this great country, I, a little farm girl from southwest Iowa, have had some truly extraordinary opportunities, and not without adversity.
So I’m speaking to all of you tonight. All of us have faced various adversities in our lifetimes, and I am here as testimony that you can overcome these challenges and go on to have joy in your lives.I have gone on. I have true joy in my life. I feel that I am where God wants me to be. And I really have had some tremendous successes, because I’ve driven through the adversity. But certainly what I want all of you to understand is that we do not have to let challenges define who we are. We define who we are. We should not allow others to do that for us.