Iowa state senator and US Senate candidate Joni Ernst (who we’ve written about before) is a very busy person these days. On top of her current legislative duties and all that time talking to voters on the campaign trail, she has to keep track of her opponent, Congressman Bruce Braley. This may be a more challenging task than usual, given his rather strange obsession with chickens. But that’s a story for another day.

We were quite fortunate that Joni took time out of her schedule to handle a few questions for Hot Air’s readers this week. And here’s how it went.

Hot Air: Thank you for talking to us, and also thank you for your service to our country. On the subject of military service, President Obama still seems to be on track to either end our presence in Afghanistan next year or significantly reduce it. Do you believe that a residual force of Americans and our allies in that nation is in our best interests, and if so, how large should that force be?

Lieutenant Colonel Joni Ernst: As a soldier and combat veteran, I believe American military forces should only be used in the defense and furtherance of our nation’s vital interests. When we do go to combat, it should be with a defined mission and a plan for withdrawal. As a U.S. Senator, I would demand answers to the following questions before supporting foreign military action:

• Has the administration given us a thorough explanation as to why U.S. military force is being requested, including actionable intelligence that supports the call for arms?
• Has the administration presented a clear, well-defined mission? In other words, what exactly are we asking our troops to accomplish, what will it take to get the job done effectively, and how long will our men and women in uniform be in harm’s way?
• Do our military leaders have the assets, manpower and logistical support required to accomplish the mission?
• Have we been given guarantees, and have funds been appropriated to back them up, that once the mission is accomplished and our troops are headed home, that the welfare of our troops, and their families, will remain a priority?

HA: Bruce Braley has recently been making the case that you oppose a federally mandated minimum wage. Just to clarify for our readers, what is your position on the minimum wage, either federally or at the state level?

JE: I grew up working for the minimum wage at Hardee’s and knows first hand how important the minimum wage is. I support a state based minimum wage so every state can set their own minimum wage based on their cost of living. . What’s right for New York or California, is not necessarily right for Iowa.

HA: I think anyone with a sense of humor enjoyed your widely publicized campaign advertisement about cutting pork. But cost cutting in the federal bureaucracy is a serious matter. While we need to watch every tax dollar carefully, the biggest drivers of future deficits are entitlement programs. How can Congress approach this challenge when all previous attempts at serious entitlement reform have failed?

JE: We need to preserve programs like Social Security and Medicare for our seniors of today and tomorrow. But we need to strengthen both Social Security and Medicare to make sure these programs are still available for future generations. It will take hard work, but doing nothing on Social Security, for example, simply makes sure the system will go broke. It’s time to make some reforms.

HA: If Republicans retake the majority in the Senate this fall, it will the first opportunity in some time to send serious legislation to the President’s desk. As a Senator, where would you like to see the priority set for new bills?

JE: We need to repeal and replace Obamacare. It is the largest tax in U.S. history, has proven to be a job-killer, and has driven up the cost of healthcare. Healthcare should be about market driven solutions, not government mandates. We need to balance the budget and force Washington to stop spending more than it takes in. And as a veteran, I believe we have a responsibility to take care of all our men and women who have served – and I will fight to fix the crisis at the Veterans Administration caused by negligent leadership in Washington.

HA: Every election cycle we hear speeches from politicians about the need for tax reform, yet once the election is over the subject seems to disappear. How would you reform the nation’s tax system if elected?

JE: In the Iowa senate, I helped pass the largest tax cut in state history – returning over four billion dollars in savings and putting more money back in the pockets of hard-working Iowa families. In the U.S. Senate, in the short term we need to reduce the tax burden on hard working individuals, families, and small businesses. Over the longer term, we need to work toward a pro-growth tax code that is fairer and simpler than what we have now. Anything that meets those criteria is going to be better than the failing and dysfunctional tax code we have today.

HA: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. In closing, what are the issues most important to the people of Iowa that you’ll be focusing on for the duration of this campaign?

JE: Healthcare costs are rising due to Obamacare. Our farmers are worried about the impact of new rules proposed by the EPA. Iowans are feeling the pinch of a big federal government, and elected officials like Bruce Braley keep championing the over reaching bureaucracy. Iowans know what is best for Iowa more than Washington politicians and bureaucrats do. Here in Iowa, as a state senator, I have worked hard to find solutions that work for our state and as a result we’ve reduced taxes and lowered the unemployment rate. We have done that through hard work and sticking to our Iowa values. In the final months of this campaign I’ll be asking voters to send me, and those Iowa values, to Washington, D.C.