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Morning Plum: How far right is Joni Ernst?

National political reporters love the story about Iowa Dem Senate candidate Bruce Braley’s dispute with a neighbor over chickens. But analysts appear to see less significance in Republican opponent Joni Ernst’s string of eyebrow-raising statements about everything from impeachment to the United Nations.

Commentators have widely claimed that Braley has committed a series of missteps that have helped Republicans paint him as out of touch. And it’s true that the race remains a dead heat. But Democrats believe Ernst’s true views and policy positions have not received a full airing out before Iowa voters.

Case in point: Back in March, Ernst seemed to suggest that Medicaid recipients “have no personal responsibility for their health.” A Democrat points out that in a newsletter Ernst sent to constituents last year, in which she laid out her objection to the state’s Medicaid expansion, she said this:

Participation in the broken Medicaid program has doubled over the past decade. Iowa has nearly 500,000 Medicaid enrollees. If the program is expanded, it is estimated the Medicaid population will grow by an additional 110,000 to 181,000 recipients who have no personal responsibility for their health and no accountability for the care provided.

Asked for clarification, Ernst spokesperson Gretchen Hamel said Ernst didn’t mean Medicaid recipients themselves are not taking responsibility for their health:

Her concern was that bureaucrats overseeing the program would have “no personal responsibility or accountability” for the care being delivered. She was referring to bureaucrats not those receiving care. On the other hand, through his vote for Obamacare, Bruce Braley is the only candidate running who has voted and successfully cut over $500 billion from Medicare.

In fairness, it’s hard to know precisely what Ernst meant here, but there may be a legitimate clash of policy views underlying it. It’s a fairly standard conservative argument that safety net programs trap people in a web of dependency, and this could be a very stark way of expressing that. For liberals, of course, the suggestion that recipients need to take “personal responsibility” for care is seen as code for making people pay for it, which they can’t afford to do — the rationale for such programs in the first place.

This comes after a string of surprising statements from Ernst. She suggested impeachment of Obama should be on the table, though she subsequently clarified that she has not seen “evidence” he should be removed. Video recently surfaced of Ernst asserting: “We should not be passing laws as federal legislators — as senators or congressman — that the states would even consider nullifying.”

Yahoo News has also unearthed examples of Ernst commenting on “Agenda 21,” a preoccupation of conspiracy-mongering on the right, in which she suggests Agenda 21 could force farmers from their land and exert vast control over Iowans. She subsequently backed off the idea, but her original dabbling in it prompted Yahoo’s Meredith Shiner to accuse Ernst of “flirtations with the political fringe.” Steve Benen recently observed that Ernst “seems to hold beliefs that put her squarely on the furthest fringes of American political thought.”

The new Medicaid quote above isn’t in this territory. But taken all together, emerging Ernst quotes raise the question of whether she is the most ideologically far right GOP Senate candidate of the cycle. That would seem to be as worthy of attention as a dispute over chickens.

* REPUBLICANS FIND CONSTITUENTS LIKE OBAMACARE: Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn has a great piece documenting that more than 70,000 of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy constituents are newly insured thanks to Obamacare, which he has voted to repeal umpteen times. This quote, from McCarthy constituent and HIV positive William McKenzie, is perfect:

“Without this plan, I would probably be in the ground,” McKenzie said after a recent appointment at a community health center in Bakersfield. Medicaid pays for his $113 tests to measure his viral levels and the $1,200 monthly cost of antiretroviral medications.

The growing uninsured ranks may not make Republicans pay a price for continued opposition for some time. But Republicans are quietly modifying their repeal talk by increasingly endorsing the law’s general goals, one reason it is receding as an issue.

* FERGUSON KILLING DIVIDES REPUBLICANS: Jeremy Peters has a good piece detailing how the killing of Michael Brown has induced more Republicans to come out against the over-militarization of the police — in contrast to those who are still emphasizing scenes of the looters. This suggests a shift in the GOP:

Since Richard M. Nixon made cracking down on crime a central issue of his 1968 presidential campaign, Republicans have held themselves up as the alternative to a Democratic Party they have derided as soft on issues of law and order. But an appetite for changes in the criminal justice system has been building among Republicans, many of whom believe the tough-justice approach has run its course.

As reported here yesterday, criminal justice reform could be an area where we could see that often-elusive alliance resurface between civil liberties progressives and libertarian conservatives.

* CONGRESS UNDER PRESSURE TO DE-MILITARIZE POLICE: The Hill explains why the pressure will now be on Congress to take action to demilitarize local police forces. One hopes this is true, but there are grounds for skepticism. How far will this left-right alliance really reach?


A 53 percent majority of all Americans think police in most big cities are tougher on blacks than on whites. Only 31 percent think police treat blacks and whites the same…The poll found a partisan divide on the issue, however. Sixty-nine percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents, but only 33 percent of Republicans, said that police in big cities are usually tougher on blacks.

One wonders who the three percent who think the police are tougher on whites are…

* THE PROBLEM WITH RAND PAUL’S LIBERTARIANISM: Rand Paul is getting some props for condeming police over-militarization in the wake of the Ferguson shooting and linking it to race. But Brian Beutler does a nice job deconstructing the true nature of Paul’s overall formulation:

He attributed the violence against civilians to police militarization, or some other derivative of the “m” word, eight times, and to race several more. His core analytical error was a failure to connect the two more directly. When you pass Ferguson through a racial filter, a much more consistent picture emerges, both with respect to the unrest itself and to its place within a broader social context.

Read the rest for an explanation of what this means for the country and what we really should learn from Ferguson.

* ZELL MILLER ENDORSES MICHELLE NUNN: This is pretty big news out of Georgia: Former Senator and Governor Zell Miller, who has long supported Republicans, has thrown his support to Dem Senate candidate Michelle Nunn. Dems have already seized on the news to bolster their case to insulate her from national Democrats, paint her as a bridge-builder, and further ground her candidacy in the state.

* HOW DEMS HOPE TO TRANSFORM THE SOUTH: Nate Cohn has a deep dive into an important political phenomenon: Democrats are making inroads into key southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, yet Republicans are consolidating their position in others.

Democrats were able to become competitive so quickly in states like Virginia and North Carolina because they combined a growing nonwhite share of the electorate with gains among white voters, particularly in postindustrial metropolitan areas full of Northern expats. Without additional gains among white voters, Democrats will be forced to wait a long time for the children of foreign-born residents to carry them to competitiveness in Texas.

These demographic changes could figure in the battle for control of the Senate, since the North Carolina race is pivotal to the outcome.