CEDAR RAPIDS — Whenever she has visited Washington, Ashley Hinson tried to see the city as a tourist.
“We’ve gone to see the Constitution, the Portrait Gallery,” she said about trips she’s made to the nation’s capital, usually with her husband, Matt.
That started to change when the Marion couple sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and made the decision she should run for Congress.
On Nov. 3, voters in Iowa’s 1st District approved of that decision and she’ll be sworn in Jan. 3 as Republican U.S. Rep. Hinson.
However, her work has started. Last week Hinson was in Washington for freshman orientation with other incoming members of Congress. She’s hired staff for her offices in Washington and the 20-county Northeast Iowa 1st District, and Thursday received her office assignment.
Before she went to Washington, Hinson was “home-schooling” while she was in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. She participated in freshman orientation remotely with her sons, Max and Jax, at her side doing their schoolwork.
She also used that time to prepare them for what’s ahead. During her four years in the Iowa Legislature, Hinson’s family has grown accustomed to her being away during the week.
“I guess you could call that a dry run for what it’s like to have Mom gone,” she said.
A couple of years ago, she did her own Facebook version of The Schoolhouse Rock video, “How a Bill Becomes a Law.”
“And I said, ‘You know, boys, Mommy’s going to go through the same thing, except in Washington, D.C., and represent a few more people,’” Hinson said. “They think that’s really cool. I think they’re very excited to say, ‘Hey, my mom’s in Congress.’”
Hinson has been meeting remotely with groups in the district as well as with other incoming members of Congress. She often is at her kitchen counter with the boys on either side of her. When they overheard her on a call about agricultural issues, they started asking about the food supply chain.
“It’s a real-life home-school,” Hinson said.
A former television news reporter and anchor, she believes her communication skills will help her represent the 1st District, which includes not only some of Iowa’s larger cities — Cedar Rapids, Waterloo-Cedar Falls and Dubuque — but also rural counties. Hinson thinks her skill set will help her “to ask questions, to do that extra little bit of digging” that Iowans expect from their representatives.
“I think that’s where I’ll be able to utilize platforms, whether it’s social media and my websites, however it looks, Zooms, tele-town halls, I think I’ll be able to use those platforms to effectively communicate that added context about why things are happening, why I’m supporting things or why I’m not,” she said.
Hinson is excited to be among at least 17 Republican women who were elected in November. That will give the GOP 26 women in the House — the most the party has ever had, and double its current numbers.
“I’m so proud of the other people who put their name on the ballot and stood up and fought and won,” she said. The diversity of the women in the incoming class is impressive, Hinson added, noting some have served, like her, in Statehouses, some are immigrants, women of color, gun rights activists and newcomers to elected office.
During the campaign, Hinson often referred to herself as a “minivan-driving Mom.” She believes her communication skills and willingness to go everywhere and meet with anyone helped her bridge the differences between her suburban Iowa House district and rural voters more likely to be driving pickups and sport utility vehicles.
“Moms drive whatever gets the job done for their families,” said Hinson, who logged more than 60,000 miles on that minivan during the campaign. Voters, she said, were looking for someone “who’s willing to work hard, and who values their family and hard work.”
She understands that voters can be fickle. The voters who elected her had replaced a Republican with Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer in 2018, who Hinson then beat in November.
“I’m going to make sure that I’m doing what I said I would do, which is fight for taxpayers,” Hinson said. “I talked a lot about issues that were really important to small businesses, to transportation and infrastructure, to families, to making it easier to have a family and providing flexibilities.”
Although as a Republican she will be in the House minority, Hinson thinks those are issues where there is room for bipartisan work.
“I know that there are other members who have that as a priority, both in the minority and in the majority. So there are so many issues that our district cares about that I know we’ll be able to find common ground on and move forward,” she said.
Although Hinson will be spending her weekdays in Washington, her family will remain in Marion where the boys attend school. Her husband is co-owner of a business in Waterloo.
“I learned through my time in the (Iowa) House how important it was to prioritize FaceTime get-togethers at night with my family, and that’s not going to change,” she said. “We’re a family that’s going to make this work.”
In her previous role in television news, Hinson told stories about northeast Iowans, “but I got tired of talking about it and wanted to do something about it.”
“I spent the last year-and-a-half campaigning and now I’m ready to go to work,” Hinson said.