Iowa Field Report connected with Ashley Hinson via phone interview to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, her campaign’s progress, politics and her role in the legislature. Hinson is running for Congress in Iowa’s First District.
IFR: Good morning, Ashley. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. How are you holding up?
Hinson: No problem, thank you for the opportunity! I think the biggest challenge has been, like a lot of families across Iowa right now, I am juggling a lot of roles. I am playing legislator, playing mom, all while still trying to run a congressional campaign. I think my life has taken a new turn into a new normal in the past two weeks. So I’m very sensitive to what many families are dealing with right now. That makes for a very interesting time for our campaign to try to pivot to on the groundwork. I spent a lot of time yesterday calling sheriffs in the first congressional district. I’ve been spending time touching base with my constituents. For instance, in my official legislative capacity, last Saturday, I did a tele town hall. We did that so that we could reach out and communicate to as many people as possible without having a public forum where anyone would violate the recommendations on gatherings, but more importantly that no one would risk getting sick. I have just been trying to stay in touch with as many of my constituents as possible; Not only in my current capacity as a legislator but also as a congressional candidate.
IFR: Wow, so you’re keeping busy. That’s a lot to have on your plate. You must be exhausted. How has that been for you mentally? Are you dreading the next few weeks and the work ahead?
Hinson: Actually, these kinds of situations energize me. I find this kind of work incredibly rewarding. Being able to help people get through these kinds of situations is why I do what I do. I spent time yesterday on the phone with a woman who runs a hair salon, and as a result of all of these things that are happening, her business has been shut down. But this morning, I’ve had the opportunity to Facebook messenger her about what’s going on. I shared with her here is what’s happening at the state level, and here is what’s happening for you at the federal level. Again, I find that kind of work incredibly rewarding, to help people through these challenges As I am navigating what’s ahead for me in the next couple of weeks, While we’ve hit pause on specific aspects of the campaign, but its a great time for me to step up and show people why I deserve to have this job in congress.
IFR: As someone who is obviously keeping a close eye on what’s happening on the ground there in the first district, what are people doing to come together and help each other out?
Hinson: People have truly stepped up. Many churches are helping out members of their congregations who are struggling. Families and communities have come together to help out folks who were undergoing a crisis already. That’s truly what Iowans do. We do step up, and we rally as a community, even if we can’t be physically together as a community. Yesterday I saw someone post that they had four hours free tomorrow morning and wanted to know if anyone needs virtual volunteering done. People are figuring out how they can assist and help, and I think that’s what really impressive. This situation had created a new normal for all of us. But within that, people are figuring how they help others since we’re all going through this crisis together. That should be really motivational for all of us.
IFR: Yeah, agreed. It’s interesting that you mentioned that this is what Iowans do. That is exactly what the Governor has been saying. In recent days there have been some critics attacking Gov. Reynolds for her decisions. How do you feel the Governor has handled this situation?
Hinson: Well, I have two points on that question. One: It’s easy to armchair quarterback: two, it is our job as policymakers to make decisions based on factual information, not emotion. Taking emotion out of it isn’t easy for decision-makers. She is damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. There will always be someone unhappy with decisions made at that level. That said, I am confident that the Governor is making her decisions based on information from the CDC and the Iowa Department of public health. Those are the experts. I’m convinced that the Governor is taking those recommendations very seriously in making her decisions.
IFR: In DC, we see that there has been an agreement on the COVID-19 stimulus package. As someone who is running for congress and plugged in, what are your thoughts on the package, and what do you think about what’s going on in Washington right now?
Hinson: Well, my first thought is, It’s about time! Unfortunately, we have seen all the coverage about the pork that Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi tried to put in the bill. Now is absolutely not the time to be playing politics with what’s happening here. They need to focus on getting relief to people. I’m getting those calls every day where people are sobbing on the phone because they don’t know what’s next for their business. So while people are crying on the phone with me, Nancy Pelosi is trying to give something like 30 some million dollars to the Kennedy Performing Arts Center in DC, I mean how tone-deaf are they to what is happening in our country? But that’s precisely what’s wrong with Washington DC. Let’s get this package through so that we can get relief to Iowans who need it right now, and who are scared. This delay was completely unnecessary, the package should have been passed last week or over the weekend, when there was an agreement. Personally, I see this package is absolutely necessary, it makes me a little nervous to be spending so much money, but we cannot let our economy tank. We need to make sure we are taking care of Americans. Many of the decisions made by the federal government and our state and local government in response to this crisis have created hardships for our citizens.
IFR: From DC to Des Moines, As a current member of the Iowa House, do you see the current situation changing legislative priorities from what they were a month ago? What do you hear about what the focus will be when the legislature reconvenes?
Hinson: That is a big question. My number one priority will be making sure we are funding the government so that our services for Iowans stay open and running. I was on a call this morning with Iowa Workforce Development and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. They are experiencing incredible challenges on their systems. Right now, Iowa Workforce Development is currently fielding 20,000 calls a day, when normally they might field 800. Those stains won’t be there long term, but they are there now, so I think our priorities have shifted to take care of these immediate needs right now. It’s hard to do that when we’re not in session. We gave the Governor additional authority to be able to dip in the economic emergency fund. We also provided other executive powers to allow her to and the department heads to pivot quickly, be nimble, and take care of the needs that come up while we are not in session. We are working on setting up some virtual caucuses to tackle some of the policy issues that we still want to try to move forward with. Many of them seem small in comparison now to the changes we are dealing with from COVID-19. However, one policy issue I was working on that we intended to run was a bill on prescription drug transparency. I had been working on this Representative Lundgren that would have forced additional transparency on marketing spending for these drug companies, and it would have provided for some mechanisms to offer coupons based on need. So when I look at what we didn’t get to finish, that is definitely a priority not just for Rep. Lundgren and me but for many members of the caucus. That is an issue I intend to take up federally, this issue of healthcare and costs.
IFR: Great to hear. On the topic of your opponent, Has she stepped up? How has she dealt with the situation?
Hinson: I Think she missed an excellent opportunity to step up and call out this pork-barrel spending that Nancy Pelosi is trying to add to the stimulus bill. I think she didn’t do that because she supports it. She signed on to the PRO Act, which was a union wishlist, it had a lot of expansions to union bargaining rights in the bill. Again, I think the reason she didn’t speak up was that she supported a lot of the pork spending that Democrats were working on adding. That sent a very clear message to Iowas that I have been talking to. They are telling me that they are looking for new leadership in the first district in Washington, DC. They certainly didn’t feel like Congresswoman Finkenauer differentiated herself from Speaker Pelosi as all these negotiations were moving forward.
IFR: Your campaign success so far seems to speak to that message of new leadership being needed in the first district, you and your team have posted strong fundraising numbers and assembled an impressive grassroots operation, plus recent polling. Do you feel good right now?
Hinson: I feel great about where we’re at. We’re engaging with the people. From that perspective, I’m proving that I am the person that should have this job. People are supporting me because they know I’m a person they know can win. They also know that I will ask the right questions and make decisions based on the issues, and in a time like this, that is incredibly important. That makes me feel good about the campaign ahead.
IFR: Work on the street is that you will be putting out some big news soon. Can you tell us about it?
Hinson: Yes, I’m excited that we’re going to be announcing Ashley’s Army. It’s more than 450 Grassroots leaders backing my campaign. I am so proud of the campaign we’ve built with people from every part of the district. As I see it, the strength of our campaign is in the people who support it. I have always operated under the idea that I am not an expert in every field, and I don’t pretend to be. I use my constituents as my experts in making my decisions. I have always tried to operate that way, and so the coalition groups we’ve built, Farmers for Ashely, our Small Businesses Advisory Committee, and Veterans for Ashley, they are all part of my advisory committee and are a model for what we should have as a Congressional Representative
IFR: Ashley, this has been great. Thank you again for your time.
Hinson: Thank you for having me. I look forward to doing it again.
Editor’s note: This interview took place by phone on Wednesday, March 25th