Joni Ernst to visit Cedar Rapids for town hall meeting

Joni Ernst Town Hall

Coe College Sinclair Auditorium — Friday, March 17 at 12 p.m.

Joni Ernst campaigning with Sen. Rand Paul in Iowa City in 2014. — photo by Adam Burke

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) will host an official town hall meeting Friday, March 17 at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. The 1,100-seat Sinclair Auditorium will be open at noon for the public to engage with the freshman Senator. The event is a part of her yearly tour of all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

The Republican took long-time Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat following his retirement in 2014. That election — which brought to the forefront the Koch family’s financial venture in the state’s politics — shifted Iowa from purple to red, with two Senate seats in the hands of the GOP.

This is Ernst’s first town hall in Linn County since her election — a county that Democrat opponent Bruce Braley eked out from her in 2014. Linn, Iowa’s second most populous county, voted Democrat last year as well. Cedar Rapids will be the largest town in which the senator has held a public discussion this year. Ernst ended her most recent town hall (set in Maquoketa) early after protester backlash.

Ernst has not held a town hall meeting in Johnson County, either — a county with staunchly Democratic party leanings. Her visits to the area have taken other forms. She was last in Iowa City on September 16, 2016, stumping for Dr. Christopher Peters during his (unsuccessful) campaign for Iowa Congress. Ernst’s regional director, Sam Pritchard, and other officials from the Ernst team visited the Coralville Public Library on Tuesday, a part of her traveling office hours, which will also head to each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

But some find this layer of separation inappropriate. Johnson County Supervisor Kurt Friese and a contingent of others from the county, including citizens, teachers and county supervisors, extended an invitation at the office hours, asking Ernst to visit Iowa City for a town hall on April 11. They have previously sent formal invitations to her Washington D.C. office and state offices in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines and Sioux City. Ernst has not yet replied.

“She has a tendency to hold town halls in safer counties,” Friese said. “We want her to come to the blue counties. Even though we didn’t vote for her, we’re still her constituents.” Friese and others plan to reiterate their invitation at the Cedar Rapids town hall on Friday.

Following President Trump’s inauguration, Ernst has approved all of his cabinet and top administrative appointments — even voting to fast-track the debate on Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. She is a co-sponsor of the federal bill to defund Planned Parenthood as well as a bill to disallow insurance coverage for women’s birth control. (Her full Senate voting record is available on her website.)

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