Ernst hears from supporters, detractors at Grundy town hall (with photos)

Robert Maharry

Unlike her Iowa colleague Chuck Grassley, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst isn't a member of the judiciary committee, but she still heard an earful on the drama surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of attempting to sexually assault Dr. Christine Blasey Ford while both were high school students in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., during an hour-long town hall meeting at the Grundy Community Center last Friday afternoon.
As this issue of The Grundy Register went to press, Ford was scheduled to testify before the committee on Thursday morning, and a second woman had come forward to allege that Kavanaugh behaved sexually inappropriately during a dormitory party at Yale University.
Julie Duhn of Eldora, who has become known in Hardin County for her frequent quarrels with the board of supervisors there, castigated Senator Ernst over the handling of the Kavanaugh allegations and demanded an FBI investigation into the matter. Some Republicans, including Ernst, have questioned why the incident was never reported to local authorities.
“Obviously, you do not understand sexual assault, or you would not say that there should be a criminal complaint filed in Maryland,” Duhn said before Ernst interjected in an attempt to correct her. “You do not get it… What is he hiding? If he wants to clear his name, do the investigation.”
Kristy Harris of Iowa Falls argued that an inquiry into the allegations should be considered more of a “standard” background check than an active criminal investigation to avoid a “he said, she said” hearing and cast doubt on the narrative that Senator Grassley, the chairman of the judiciary committee, had no knowledge of Dr. Ford’s accusations until they became public in the Washington Post on September 16.
“How could—the day after her name was released—how could there already be 65 people on a letter vouching for Kavanaugh about this issue if he hadn’t had any forewarning? You can’t just go out and magically come up with these people’s names,” Harris said. “We can quibble about that, but there is a question.”
Irlanda Helgen of Marshalltown asked Ernst what could be done to change a culture in which the weight of proving sexual assault allegations is placed on the victim while attackers are often given “the benefit of the doubt,” in her view. The Senator drew one of her biggest applause lines of the day, however, when she reminded Helgen that the U.S. justice system is predicated on the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”
“I would hate to have us change the entire culture of a country where we are saying now ‘You’re all guilty,’” Ernst said before referencing the Kavanaugh situation. “In the area of sexual assault, it’s very difficult to prove anything… Whether there was a criminal complaint filed or not, the accuser has the right to file a criminal complaint, and she can do that.”
Helgen’s husband Bill later criticized President Trump and other Republicans for “blaming the victim,” putting Dr. Ford on trial and failing to take the charges seriously.
Ernst countered that ranking judiciary Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-California) had not presented Ford’s allegation to the rest of the committee in July when she first became aware of it, and Leonard Stephens of Grundy Center urged the Senator to stand behind the President’s nominee. Both statements drew thunderous applause from the crowd of around 35 people.
“Please vote for Judge Kavanaugh as soon as you can. We don’t need this nonsense,” Stephens said.

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