Joni Ernst, GOP candidate for US Senator of Iowa, has served over 20 years in the military, spent 14 months in Kuwait during Operation Iraq Freedom, and as a Lieutenant Colonel, commands the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard. She's a Obamacare-opposing, gun rights-supporting, Palin-endorsed, GOP nut. And she's speaking out about sexual assault in the military.
In a statement to Time, Ernst described the difficulty of dealing with harassment:
"I had comments, passes, things like that," Ernst tells TIME. "These were some things where I was able to say stop and it simply stopped but there are other circumstances both for women and for men where they don't stop and they may be afraid to report it."
She went on:
"This legislation must ensure that sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted," Ernst writes in a draft of her Sioux Falls speech, provided to TIME by her staff. "This will not be an easy challenge. I understand many in my own party in Washington will oppose this plan, as will many in the military and Pentagon. However, this should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now."
Ernst maintains that she is not endorsing New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to overhaul sexual assault policies and by detaching sexual assault and other major military crimes cases from the chain of command. She claims that she would instead work with Gillibrand on new legislation that would garner more bipartisan support, something she could provide herself by endorsing the bill. Hmm.
Of course taking a stand for women in the military and running the risk of alienating herself from her peers in the Republican party and the pentagon is a huge move. More importantly for her, it's a smart one. For the woman whose claim to fame has consisted of comparing her goals in Washington to "hog castration," it's a step in a very different direction, much needed for her image.
She's currently neck and neck with her opponent, Democrat Bruce Braley, and a strong stance on an incredibly important women's issue could be what pulls her ahead.
Image via AP.