Des Moines Democrat Eddie Mauro, who enjoys strong family ties in Carroll, announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate at the Graham Park shelterhouse Monday. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst currently holds the seat. (Photo by Caitlin Yamada)
Des Moines Democrat Eddie Mauro, who enjoys strong family ties in Carroll, announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate at the Graham Park shelterhouse Monday. U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst currently holds the seat. (Photo by Caitlin Yamada)

May 21, 2019

Republicans forcefully pushed back Monday night on just-announced Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Eddie Mauro’s contention that Iowans deserve a “different kind of courage” than Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, showed in the military — a hierarchical environment Mauro suggests restricts independent thinking and forces veterans to “fall in line,” an experience he says Ernst can’t shake in her current role.

In an announcement speech in Carroll, where Mauro, a Des Moines insurance man and former high school baseball coach who enjoys deep family roots, the Democrat, who said he respected Ernst’s years in the National Guard, said serving in Congress requires a “different kind of courage” than the military demands.

The remarks quickly drew strong condemnations from Republicans.

Asked to clarify his comments in an interview with The Carroll Times Herald, Mauro doubled down on the observation.

“When you serve in the military, you’re in line, you fall in line, people tell you what to do, you say, ‘Yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am,’ and you continue to do that,” Mauro said.

Mauro said Ernst, elected in 2014 and considered as a vice presidential running mate for President Donald Trump a little more than a year later, is continuing to take orders as a subordinate to higher command. Only this time, Ernst is deferring to superiors in her party and even among monied special interests, Mauro said.

“Absolutely, she’s taking those kind of orders as a U.S. senator from the Koch brothers, from Republicans,” Mauro said.

Mauro said he wasn’t suggesting the military can’t prepare veterans for service in legislative office.

“It doesn’t say that at all,” Mauro said. “That’s not what we’re saying at all. What we’re saying is that this requires a different kind of courage. This requires standing up and saying, ‘I’m not falling in line because that line is not the right line.’ All I’m saying is it’s a different kind of service.”

Ernst, the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, commanded a company of 150 soldiers in the military in Kuwait and Iraq and retired as a lieutenant colonel after 23 years in the Iowa Army National Guard.

State Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Jefferson, a former Army Airborne Ranger who served in Iraq, characterized Mauro’s comments on Ernst as more than misguided.

“It’s extremely offensive to combat veterans especially, but to all veterans,” Thompson said, adding that what Mauro said plays into a false stereotype about veterans not having the mettle or education for certain civilian pursuits.

“This is just a general pushback from the other side of the aisle to try to push back on military service as a credential,” said Thompson, who represents Greene County and part of Boone County in the Iowa House.

What’s more, Thompson said, Mauro’s assessment of Ernst’s service is plainly inaccurate as she led troops in a combat zone, giving orders as well as taking them.

“I think those are absolutely good qualifications,” Thompson said.

David Oman, Ernst’s 2014 campaign finance chairman and a former state GOP chairman, said the Red Oak Republican’s military service is a defining feature of her public life, both in the Senate and before her election.

“Joni led the largest battalion in our state’s National Guard during the Iraq war,” Oman said. “Yes, she received orders, but she also issued orders. And she brought her troops home to Iowa safely.”

Oman said populating Congress with military veterans like Ernst is essential for national security and intelligent use of force abroad.

The Senate and our nation need her perspective as issues of military engagement and troop deployment are debated,” Oman said. “It’s hard to see anyone finding pay dirt questioning Joni’s courage or judgement — just ask the veterans on Iowa’s Honor Flight to D.C. Tuesday.”