Podcast

On this edition of Iowa Press, Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion), Congresswoman-elect for Iowa's 1st Congressional District, discusses her plans as a first-term Republican in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House in January. 

Joining moderator David Yepsen at the Iowa Press table are Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, and James Lynch, political writer for The Gazette.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.

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From the Iowa Statehouse to Congress, Iowa's First Congressional District will have new representation in January. We sit down with Representative-elect Ashley Hinson on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, December 11 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

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Yepsen: It was a familiar script for voters in Iowa's First Congressional District on Election Night. A female millennial candidate with experience in the Iowa Statehouse won her first term to the U.S. House. But in 2020 it was republican Ashley Hinson claiming victory over democrat Abby Finkenauer in a close contest in Northeast Iowa. And Congresswoman-elect Hinson joins us now at the Iowa Press table. Congresswoman, welcome.

Hinson: Thank you, David and Kay and James.

Yepsen: Good to have you with us.

Hinson: Thanks for having me.

Yepsen: Also joining the conversation across the table is James Lynch, Political Writer for the Gazette and Kay Henderson, News Director at Radio Iowa.

Lynch: Ashley, we learned this week that Governor Kim Reynolds would have liked to have joined the Texas lawsuit challenging election results in four states that President-elect Joe Biden won. Is this appropriate for a state to join a lawsuit basically challenging how another state conducts its business? Should Iowa have gotten involved in that?

Hinson: I think kind of at this point it's a moot point, James, because I know our Attorney General has said he wants to be on the opposing side of that lawsuit. So the courts are going to decide these, as they should, and I think that is exactly how it should be. As a legislator here in Iowa right now I believe very firmly that what you do in your state legislature with intent really matters and that is what really is at stake here in the courts, it's interpretation of whether or not those laws were followed. And so I think that is going to play out in the courts and the President has the right to pursue those legal remedies and states as such have a right to join if they so choose. But obviously here in Iowa at this point it's kind of a moot point.

Lynch: It seems appropriate that for an Iowan to challenge something that Iowa's state government did. But is it appropriate for Iowa's state government to challenge something that Pennsylvania did?

Hinson: I think it’s more of a value statement at this point about making sure that the integrity of our elections is upheld according to state law. So that is where I think other state's voices play in to the bigger discussion because right now no matter how these lawsuits turn out, the very real outcome here is that people still believe that their vote didn't count, they think there are problems with the election and election integrity. And so that is where I think this all goes to is my job as an incoming Congresswoman is to now look, okay, do we need to make any fixes based on either the outcomes of these lawsuits or what happened in these states? Are there federal fixes that need to happen? Or is it the state's lanes to do those changes? And so I think that is where this is going to go. That is what my job is going to be after January 3rd is to go in and say, what fixes do we need to be making, let these processes play out in court, but then obviously make any changes we need to make.

Yepsen: And the courts will be ruling on this. I wanted to point out to our viewers we're taping this program on Friday morning because there may be some rulings that come up.

Hinson: Things are moving pretty fast, so yeah.

Henderson: When will this all end? When will you, I guess, call someone President-elect?

Hinson: Well I think there are two processes playing out right now and our state electors are obviously going to cast their ballots for President Trump soon and once that process plays out I think things are moving forward, President Trump's legal team is pursuing all legal remedies for his outcome and he has the right to do that and at the same time President Biden, President-elect Biden or whatever his position is, he has the right to be able to move forward with getting the briefings, putting his cabinet people in place. So as you move forward they both have the right to be able to pursue those remedies and then we'll see what happens when I'm sworn in on January 3rd.

Lynch: No one is contesting your election, at least not yet. Why did you win? What changed over the past two years that voters decided to change congresswomen?

Hinson: I think it was a kitchen table election. It came down to when I was having those discussions with people they were very clear to me about what they were upset with Congress about. That is why I know I very clearly have a good to do list to go in with, to tackle some of these issues that they felt like Congress was dysfunctional on. Just this morning I was on a Zoom with members of the Iowa Corn Board and one of the first questions to me was about health care and the cost of health care as it pertains to a workforce issue. So those were common issues that I was hearing as I was talking with people throughout the campaign and realistically I think they just looked at what is happening in Congress, some of the ideas that were being proposed that were too far for this district and I think we need to get back to center and get back to work and that is what I heard.

Yepsen: Republicans went door-to-door, did a lot of grassroots campaigning. Democrats opted not to for fear of COVID. Smart move on republicans' part?

Hinson: Yeah, and I think there was a way to do that and be respectful of people's space.

Yepsen: Did it make a difference?

Hinson: I think it did. If there is one thing I think in this state it's that voters want access to their candidates. And I knocked probably 20,000 doors during my state legislative races and knocked some doors for this congressional race, put a lot of miles on my van around the district meeting with people. People want to be able to see who is working for them and ask them questions in person.

Henderson: Let's talk about a few issues that you may tackle in January. Joe Biden has said he wants Congress to pass a stimulus package. What do you want included in that?

Hinson: Additional relief for our small businesses. Just yesterday I got a text from a person who owns 12 different restaurants in the Cedar Rapids area. It's a real tough time for them right now and I think the new report from the Restaurant Association just said we might see 1,000 of them close by March. So that is a very real challenge. I want to see more of those relief dollars be able to flow to our small businesses. And then continued unemployment benefits. The reality is even though we’re moving in the right direction we need to make sure that people who are unemployed because of COVID have the resources they need to stay afloat. We're facing a very real challenge with the possibility of people not being able to pay their rent, evictions and then not being able to feed their families as a result. Food insecurity is a big issue that I worked on a lot during the campaign as well. So those are key components of a relief package that I want to see move forward.

Lynch: One of those relief package ideas is another round of stimulus checks to Americans and we've got democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and Missouri conservative Josh Hawley who agree on this that we need to send checks to Americans. Is that part of what you would like to see in terms of pandemic relief?

Hinson: Yeah, I think families need help right now. It's very clear to me that there are a lot of challenges. I think it needs to be scaled based on unemployment probably. I think there needs to be some at least consideration of that because at this point we are adding a very real price tag to the cost of these packages with every dollar that is spent. We’re going to have to tackle the debt ceiling obviously and probably this coming summer. And so I think it needs to be a part of the conversation, absolutely. But I want to see if there is a way to target that relief to people who really have been without a job, maybe are just getting on their feet.

Lynch: So this might be based on income or unemployment?

Hinson: I think we should be considering all of those ideas because at this point if there is anything that Congress needs to learn is that hindsight can be 20/20. Some of these packages moved through very quickly and some have unintended consequences. Right now I'm hearing from a lot of business owners that took part in the PPP that they are facing possibilities of huge tax bills that they didn't necessarily think were very clear for them. So there are some unintended consequences that I just think we need to be very deliberate about as we're moving forward with whether it is stimulus or a continuation of these aid packages.

Henderson: What about paying for the vaccine distribution? Should that be included in another stimulus package? Should the federal government pay the whole bill for that to ensure that the vaccine is free?

Hinson: I think we need to be able to get that vaccine to anyone who wants it because that is the way we move this country forward is we've got the doses, we need to get them out and distributed in our states. So I think the federal government needs to be able to get that out and dispersed to anyone who wants one. I feel the same about COVID testing at this point. I think anybody who wants a test should be able to get one so that they can know. Some of it is peace of mind, but it's also protecting our communities, and people need access to those tests, they need access to the vaccines so that we can get things back to normal as quickly as possible.

Henderson: For folks who may not be familiar who are watching, you took a test and found out you had it.

Hinson: I did and I did that before I was going to get on a plane and go out for orientation because I knew, number one, I didn't want to get on a plane if I has COVID and expose people, even if I didn't know I didn't want to do that. But second of all, I look at, it was hard for me to get a test. I saw people waiting four or five days. I know what that's like because I've been through it myself. I have now had the virus myself, I experienced complete exhaustion. I couldn't tell if it was because of COVID or because the campaign was just done because it all hit about the same time. But I have been there myself, I pulled my kids out of school, my husband, our whole family was home isolating because of this virus. And so we know the challenges that families face. I've been homeschooling my kids for the better part of a month at this point and it's hard. And so I understand that and I understand how important it is to get that test so you can know or get back to normal as soon as you can.

Lynch: Let's talk about some of your priorities as a Congresswoman. While you were in the Iowa legislature you chaired the Transportation Committee. During your tenure there lawmakers raised the state gas tax and we've seen a lot of new construction and repairs being made to the transportation system. Is that the key to one, getting to weak infrastructure and addressing some of these big issues across the nation, and also stimulating the economy?

Hinson: I think it's a win-win if we can move forward with an infrastructure package. It is something that has been talked about obviously for a long time. But here in Iowa, as you mentioned, we're seeing the results of that. I-80 and 380, that interchange is a huge part of what we're seeing, very visible, some changes to Highway 30. Just this morning I was on that Zoom and they were talking about the need to invest in the lock and dam system and continuing to keep that up and running. So I think an infrastructure package would be something I would love to work on using my skills from the Transportation Committee here. I'm advocating to be on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Congress. I hope I get to work on those issues. But it's important. It's an economic boon but it's also an economic development tool. You build it, they will come, right. As we see those projects develop we know employers want to relocate their businesses where they have easy access to Interstates so they can move their product. So there's ways to do that and the investment I think is a good thing for states like Iowa.

Lynch: Senator Grassley has talked about trying to find support to raise the federal gas tax to fund some of these projects. Is that a good idea? Can you get behind that? It hasn't been raised in a couple of decades if I remember right.

Hinson: Well, and I said here I would support, I supported what we did here in Iowa because it was a direct stream, a direct funding stream that you can see that actual result from, money can't be scooped into something else, which is what I believe is really important when you're talking about funding something as important as infrastructure. I think based on my conversations with other folks coming in, in the conference, as well as existing members, I think the key here is finding a middle ground whether it's a sunset for something like that so we can make sure hey, do we need to revisit this. One of the biggest I guess pieces of feedback I got while I was on the trail is the government turns on these things and never turns off the spigot. So being very guarded about that, the length, how much money is going to come in, I think that is all part of the conversation. But I think we need to be talking about it.

Yepsen: Is the gas tax sort of an old vet? We're moving away in our society from gasoline engines and how are you going to raise money on an electric car that doesn't use any gasoline?

Hinson: I ran the bill here in Iowa that fixed the equity issue here because we were looking at that, right, looking 15, 20 years down the road we're going to have an increased use and purchase of electric vehicles whether it's hybrids or full batteries. So we established a graduated registration fee and then an excise tax at charging stations. So I think the federal government needs to be thinking about that also. So when we're looking at policy for the mechanism, whatever it is to fund roads and bridges, we need to be considering that too.

Yepsen: Does that give you second thoughts about all the effort we have put into the ethanol industry? If people aren't burning gasoline they aren't going to need ethanol.

Hinson: I think the ethanol industry is an incredible part right now at least of our ability to reduce our carbon footprint. I was just looking at a bill that democrat Cheri Bustos filed that is encouraging other blends of ethanol to help reduce the carbon footprint. So I think there are ways to have this all be part of the conversation as we move toward being more environmentally friendly with our vehicles. But I think ethanol is still a part of that conversation.

Henderson: You mentioned water infrastructure, the locks and dams on the Mississippi, you also live in the Cedar Rapids metro which saw recovery from the 2008 floods stretch over more than a decade related to what some characterize as intransigence on the part of the Army Corp of Engineers. What policies do you plan to pursue to get the Corp to more quickly address flood control concerns along the corridor of the Mississippi and in communities like Cedar Rapids?

Hinson: Well, I think we all agree the federal government in many respects could probably move faster on some things, on some things it's good that they move slower. But on things like this where we need to get this relief and the infrastructure in place quickly I would like to see them move faster. I know that this has been a concern of our delegation for quite some time when you look at the population based assignment of resources. A state like California has a lot more people, they are going to get more resources. That's not how it should be. So we need to be focused on policies that are merit based rather than maybe location based. I think also one thing I have tried to do is offer flexibility for getting our communities to be able to pay for these projects because in many cases it's a match between your locals, your state and your federal. So continuing to look at how we can make the bonding period longer so that the life of the project spans the payment of the project. So I'm open to those kinds of solutions to try to make these projects, number one, more affordable, and get them implemented faster.

Lynch: Like a lot of us you're getting a firsthand lesson on Internet connectivity with all your Zoom meetings and livestreams and things.

Hinson: Lots of Zooms.

Lynch: The FCC just appropriated $143 million spread over 10 years to Iowa to address connectivity. Is the problem solved or what does Congress need to do? Should that be part of an infrastructure package to connect every Iowan, connect every acre, whatever you want to call that?

Hinson: I think if there is anything we've learned in this pandemic it is that we are all experiencing the new normal, many people are working from home. When I've got four people in my house, and I'm in an area with high speed Internet, but my husband is working in the basement, both my kids are on Zoom and I'm on Zoom, we even experience the buffering challenges. And what is one issue. Affordability is the other issue. So talking about how can we establish grant programs for broadband for people who need help paying their bills. Senator Mathis, we were on a Zoom with the Cedar Rapids schools earlier this week and that was an issue we were all talking about. Can we continue to provide access to families? I think it's a start. Obviously here in Iowa they're establishing a new committee in the legislature this year to look at broadband and connectivity specifically and I think that is exactly the way we should do it, hyper focused so we make sure those resources are best used.

Yepsen; It isn't just broadband or high speed broadband, it's fiber broadband that is most important and it raises questions about how you pay for it whether it's the state level or the federal level.

Hinson: It's expensive.

Yepsen: Kay gives me a bad time, I always say I'd be a wealthy man if I had a dime for every time somebody, a politician came out here and talked about high speed Internet. So what is different about you going to Congress? And why is that going to make it more likely that we'll have fiber broadband in this state?

Hinson: Well, one thing that is happening that I think is really good to at least know as a part of this conversation, I met with the folks from Alliant virtually this week and every time they are burying a new line they are also putting fiber in. So it's a bigger conversation than just what the government is doing, it is also what all of our private entities are doing, all of our utilities and all of our cable providers also. So they are focusing on helping with that infrastructure because they realize it's what their customers want also. So you've got this two-fold process. You've got the private sector laying the infrastructure because they realize the benefit, but also you've got the federal government trying to target resources so we can actually get those last miles connected. So I think it's a partnership between both.

Yepsen: Another issue, health care, Affordable Care Act. You're a republican. What do you replace it with?

Hinson: I've talked about trying to fix it with targeted fixes and I think that is still what we need to do going forward, more options for people. We've tried to make some workarounds here in the state of Iowa. I mentioned the Zoom that I was on just this morning trying to find ways where we can band more people together to be able to purchase, combining that purchasing power. I think that is important. So flexibility and arrangements for health care, that is what policy wise I think we need to be focusing on.

Lynch: Closely associated with health care is the Social Security system and there's always questions about its solvency, will it last? Do you expect it to be there when you're ready for Social Security and when your sons are ready for Social Security?

Hinson: I think it's my job now to go in and try to make some of those tough decisions to fix it and make sure it is solvent for my kids and hopefully their kids too. But I think the bigger discussion is about fixing the debt in this country because if we aren't cognizant of that in this bigger discussion there won't be any Social Security or any of these entitlement programs if we don't get a handle on that too. So I think that is a part of the discussion, trying to look at the debt so that these things are preserved long-term.

Yepsen: Ms. Hinson, haven't republicans lost some of their credibility on debt and deficit issues? You have extra money, republicans like to cut taxes r most recently spend money tool. What is going to be different about you going to Congress than all the other republicans who have preceded you and our national debt is at an all-time record?

Hinson: I agree, it's a problem, and it's both sides of the aisle. I think Washington D.C. has a spending problem whether you're a republican or a democrat. So what I would just say is that like my perspective is the kitchen table perspective. My husband sends a picture of the tax check he sends into the state of Iowa every single year, he takes a picture and says, honey spend it wisely. It's not lost on me the value of a dollar and how important that is to Iowa families. And so when I look at trying to fix those problems and advocate -- I was reading the rules for our new conference and one of the rules is if you're going to make a change you have to advocate for why you think the country should take on more debt. So you have to be very transparent about it.

Yepsen: Well, Economist magazine says we're going to be in for some huge inflation because that is how you pay it back, you print more money. But go back to James' question on Social Security. Do you reduce benefits or do you raise the payroll tax?

Hinson: I would prefer we don't raise the payroll tax, I think I just want to make that clear. But I think we need to be looking at age, we need to be looking at the age of workers, we need to be looking -- for someone like me obviously if I know coming in, I'm 37 years old, if I know coming in I'm going to have to work longer it's much easier for me to absorb that than to pull the rug out from someone who is 62 years old right now.

Yepsen: So for younger workers you would entertain raising the retirement age?

Hinson: I would, yes, because I think long-term as we're talking about solutions here, somebody has got to be willing to make a tough call and that is exactly why the problem hasn't been fixed. And I may be roasted on both sides for saying that I'm willing to be open to it, right, but I am. And I think that is why I won this election is because people are like okay, she's willing to go and just at least entertain the topics, which I think has been missing from the discussion. 

Yepsen: Just a few minutes left. Kay?

Henderson; If you look at Twitter there are people mentioning you as a potential nominee for the U.S. Senate if Senator Grassley chooses to not seek re-election. Is that a possibility you would entertain?

Hinson: At this point, Kay, I have an office to set up in Washington, D.C. and I just won, what, a month ago. So that is my priority right now is just getting to work, people hired me to do a job, I'm a current State Representative through the end of the year, I still have work to do for my constituents in my house district. So I'm working hard to make sure I do my job that people sent me there to do.

Yepsen: So you're not ruling it out.

Hinson: I am focused on January 3rd --

Yepsen: You're an old reporter, we watch these word games. You're not saying no.

Hinson: Well, I think there's a lot of things to consider. Like every decision I have to talk to my husband first.

Yepsen: Okay.

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Hinson: I've got kids to consider too. It's all part of the conversation, right, about any decision in life. And I'm not focused out two years from now, I'm focused on getting started in January.

Yepsen: Another question facing us in the country is should President Trump pardon himself? Some people say he should do that just to get this off the nation's agenda. Other people say no, he should face the music if there's such music.

Hinson: Here's the thing about the last four years, there's been a lot of noise, a lot of it has gone nowhere. I think that like any President he's probably the target of a lot of people's, the people who are unhappy with him who might be pursuing legal remedies or are saying that he did things they didn't like. So I think that all remains to be seen what will happen after if he leaves office or whatever happens. But I don't think he needs to pardon himself. I think that if what he's saying is true and he didn't do anything wrong then that will play out too.

Henderson: You have made a point of meeting with democrats who will be serving in the next Congress. You heretofore in the Iowa legislature served in the majority. Have you figured out how to be a member of the minority?

Hinson: I'm working on it. I think the key is just being open to having a conversation about any bill. I referenced Cheri Bustos' bill. I think there are a lot of good ideas in there so I would be happy to reach out to her, to work on those issues and I think what people want is they want us to come together on the issues that we agree on as much as possible. And so that's what I want to do in the minority is work on those things that we have that common ground on because there's a lot of it and I think 90% of the bills or close to it that we passed through the legislature here we all agreed on. So that's what you don't necessarily hear about in the news, right, is all the stuff that's not as controversial.

Yepsen: Just a minute left, James.

Lynch: You campaigned as a mom in a minivan. I'm curious why that worked for you. You talk about kitchen table issues and those sorts of things. What was it that propelled you to victory a month ago?

Hinson: Well, the minivan was the vehicle to get me there for sure, but I think it came down to I was willing to listen to everybody who had a perspective and I would tell them whether or not I agreed with them and I would try to present an idea and then ask them to try to change my mind, absolutely, engage in the conversation. I think that is what it came down to, accessibility, transparency and being willing to come to the able and talk about these tough ideas.

Yepsen: Is that a template for other republican women? Republicans still have a woman problem, they lose votes of women to democrats.

Hinson: Well, we made a lot of ground on that this year obviously and I think absolutely, we need people who are willing on both sides of the aisle to have that attitude and I think that is what you're going to see a lot of in this new Congress with the new members. I've met a lot of them and I'm very excited to go to work with them.

Yepsen: And being a former broadcaster you know about time.

Hinson: Yes, and we're out.

Yepsen: That's right.

Hinson: Thank you.

Yepsen: Thank you for being with us. And we'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times, 7:30 Friday night and again at Noon on Sunday. Our guest will be Congresswoman Cindy Axne, now heading into her second term representing Iowa's Third Congressional District. So for all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen, thanks for joining us today.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at IowaBankers.com.

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