Iowa’s Ernst has raised fears of Agenda 21 conspiracy

08/13/14 12:53 PM—UPDATED 08/13/14 01:17 PM
Steve Benen

The conventional wisdom maintains that Republicans are in a strong position this year, especially in U.S. Senate races, because the party has avoided nominating some of the radical candidates that hurt the party in 2010 and 2012.

But the conventional wisdom continues to underestimate what Iowa’s Joni Ernst brings to the table. The Republican state senator, who easily won her party’s U.S. Senate nomination in June, seems to hold beliefs that put her squarely on the furthest fringes of American political thought. Yahoo News reports today, for example, on her remarks about a ridiculous U.N. conspiracy theory.

The latest primary comments that could haunt her Senate bid are on the topic of Agenda 21, a community planning provision in a decades-old United Nations treaty that’s become an object of fear and conspiracy theories on the right, and especially in the commentaries and writing of Glenn Beck.

Yahoo News has obtained video showing Ernst at a January GOP forum in Montgomery County, Iowa, warning that Agenda 21 could force Iowa farmers off their land, dictate what cities Iowans must live in, and control how Iowa citizens travel from place to place.

In response to a question about Agenda 21, Ernst responded as if she’d given the fringe topic quite a bit of thought.

“The United Nations has imposed this upon us, and as a U.S. senator, I would say, ‘No more. No more Agenda 21,’” she said earlier this year. “Community planning – to the effect that it is implementing eminent domain and taking away property rights away from individuals – I don’t agree with that…. We don’t want to see a further push with Agenda 21, where the Agenda 21 and the government telling us that these are the urban centers that you will live in; these are the ways that you will travel to other urban centers. Agenda 21 encompasses so many different aspects of our lives that it’s taking away our individual liberties, our freedoms as United States citizens.”

A couple of months prior, during her U.S. Senate candidacy, Ernst argued that Agenda 21 could lead to “moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers, and then telling them that you don’t have property rights anymore.”

I can appreciate how easy it is to become inured to over-the-top rhetoric, especially from far-right candidates, but let’s not brush past this too quickly: Joni Ernst publicly railed against a conspiracy theory that the United Nations might take Iowans’ farms and move them involuntarily into cities.

And she’s a U.S. Senate candidate.

And she might actually win.

Of course, wacky ideas from Glenn Beck aren’t the only area of concern surrounding her candidacy. As Rachel noted on the show in June, Ernst has also said she would ban abortions and many forms of birth control; she would privatize Social Security and abolish the minimum wage; she would back an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution; she’s open to impeaching President Obama for unknown reason; and she believes there’s secret information that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction.

Since then, we’ve also learned Ernst believes states can nullify federal laws they don’t like and the war in Iraq shouldn’t have ended.

Roll Call had an interesting report about the Iowa race this morning, noting that it ultimately comes down to “Personality Versus Policy.” Rep. Bruce Braley (D), the argument goes, focuses on the latter, while Ernst’s strength is the former.

To be sure, this isn’t an unfamiliar dynamic in a campaign. But the fact remains Ernst’s truly bizarre worldview warrants an explanation before voters head to the polls.

Postscript: I should note that Ernst seems to be backing away from the Agenda 21 comments she made publicly just a few months ago. “I don’t think that the U.N. Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers,” Ernst told Yahoo News.

“I think there are a lot of people that follow that issue in Iowa. It may be something that is very important to them, but I think Iowans are very smart and that we have a great legislature here, we have a very intelligent governor, and I think that we will protect Iowans.”

I suppose the natural follow-up question is, protect Iowans from what?