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Political Mercury

Joni Ernst, meet your Snake River Canyon

7/16/2014

With all that bread-bagging of shoes and hog castrating on the farm, life for a young Joni Ernst surely didn’t afford a lot of time for leisurely television.

And in the 1970s, before the proliferation of cable TV and the development of modern satellites to reach into space and snare our MTV or the Lifetime Channel, choices were few and foggy on the 100-pound console sets, furniture so large a 5-year-old could be forgiven for thinking Johnny Carson actually lived in one.

U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst speaks at a campaign event in June with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron. Photo by Jeff Storjohann, Carroll Daily Times Herald

U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst speaks at a campaign event in June with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron. Photo by Jeff Storjohann, Carroll Daily Times Herald

Even with Red Oak remoteness and a sweaty schedule of chores, Ernst must have known, and likely watched, the feats of that most spectacular of Americans, Evel Knievel, a man who could only have existed in the 1970s, and in fact, seems forever suspended in time (even though he wouldn’t die until 2007).

Ernst maybe even sat with her family, as I did with mine, and watched ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” as Evel, aboard his wondrous sky cycle, sought to clear the Snake River Canyon in Idaho.

He had the all-American swagger, the red, white and blue jumpsuit, media savvy on rocket boosters.

But Evel crashed that day. He didn’t have enough juice to clear a big gap in Idaho’s topography.

Cosseted comfortably in the carefully constructed confines of her campaign echo chamber, fluffed with Koch Brothers money, immersed in the day’s talking points (“Obama is bad, corporations are people”), Ernst should break free from the handlers’ grip but for a moment and let her memory go back to Knievel at Snake River.

It’s a relevant image.

Ernst faces a political canyon jump over a reverse gender gap in the U.S. Senate race, one that is expanding in the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” ruling. Evel was smart enough to have a parachute. And he knew the distance to the other side. Glaciers move slowly. Politics change each day. Does Ernst even know what lurks below for her this November?

Polls already are showing Republican Ernst with stronger support from men, while Democrat Bruce Braley pulls better numbers from female Iowa voters.

The court’s 5-4 ruling has Snake Rivered the race for Ernst. The decision allows “closely held” for-profit corporations to deny certain Obamacare-required contraceptive coverage to their female employees based on ownership’s religious beliefs — or assertion of such beliefs. (The state presumably can’t issue a search warrant for prayer, depose faith, so whether it is fealty to Numbers or numbers is really an open question.)

Hobby Lobby’s lobby says it is concerned about day-after pills, other measures many in the pro-life movement consider abortion. But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in dissent, says the ruling could prevent women from getting condoms and birth-control pills and sponges and diaphragms and other contraceptives.

Ernst, who seems to prefer guns and motorcycles over scrapbooking, nevertheless sides with Hobby Lobby.

“Joni applauds the Supreme Court for reigning in a federal government that continues to overreach and apply a one-size-fits-all approach on Iowa and the American people,” said Ernst campaign spokesperson Gretchen Hamel in a statement. “This case was never about limiting individual health-care decisions — but about pushing back against the violation of religious freedom by President Obama and Bruce Braley, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Fair enough. The GOP base agrees. The pro-life movement cheers. But those people are already on the VIP guest list to Ernst’s November party

For many independent, lightly political, or non political women, Obamacare — and the positions of Braley and Ernst — are cast newly in easily digestible terms of gender equity.

Here’s how it breaks down in the simplest of terms:

Ms. Iowa Voter, Bruce Braley, hailing from Iowa’s Eastern Conference, cares about what’s in your brain, how you think about life, when it starts, what’s the moral use of contraceptives in your opinion. We aren’t talking about surgical abortion here, but rather pills and devices, methods many women use so they don’t have to stand face to face with red-countenanced picketers at Planned Parenthood. Read your Bible, consult your doctor or subscribe to Scientific American. You get to think here.

Meanwhile … on the other side of the state … Mrs. Iowa Mom, take heart, chin up, Joni Ernst is protecting your womb, that vessel for future Iowans. Anything in there from the moment of conception is a human being, with just as many rights as your second-grade kid or the Casey’s clerk or the superintendent of the local high school. Corporations are people. Embryos are people.

Ernst isn’t a tourist in the pro-life movement. She joined 20 other Iowa senators in 2013 in filing a resolution that would give embryos the same rights as all human beings — a so-called “personhood” measure that Mississippi rejected.

Which means in this particular boy-girl fight over reproductive rights, Ernst is thinking more about snowflake babies than 27-year-old professional women in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.

What are snowflake babies? The babies born from the embryos left over, but later adopted, after in-vitro fertilization.

Someone should ask Ernst: Does she have a plan to incent more snowflake adoptions?

No matter how inventive or awful the answer, it will ring with irrelevance to thousands of Iowa women.

Identity politics in Iowa is turned on its head.

The big question is: Will Ernst be smart enough to look down and see the canyon in time? CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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