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This year, much has changed.

In the spring, we didn’t gather in Pella to celebrate the town’s Dutch heritage at the annual Tulip Time festival. This summer, we didn’t stuff our faces with fried food on a stick or take our picture with the famous Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair. And this fall, we couldn’t attend the annual Cy-Hawk football game.

Like everywhere around the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced our state to put many of the annual traditions we cherish on hold as we work together to defeat this virus.

But pressing pause on these gatherings is minor compared to the hardship folks in Iowa continue to face. When Iowans are struggling—and even when they’re not—they expect their leaders to step up and show up. That’s why I made sure we would continue at least one of my traditions: the 99 County Tour.

At a time when our small business owners are anxious figuring out how they are going to pay their employees and bills, when our farmers and biofuel producers are seeing a drastic drop in fuel consumption and supply chains disrupted, and our families and unemployed Iowans are facing difficult decisions about how to put food on the table, it’s even more critical that I’m visiting directly with Iowans in every corner and county of the state to hear how I can best support them.

Now, with the pandemic, this year’s tour looked a little different. We wore masks and practiced social distancing, and used more hand sanitizer than ever before—but these hurdles did not deter me from connecting with Iowans in all 99 counties. Our senior senator, and my friend, Chuck Grassley, set the standard for this annual benchmark forty years ago, and he too, understood the importance of getting out and meeting face to face with our constituents during these challenging times.

The 99 County Tour is all about making sure I am connected with the people I’m elected to represent. I don’t just step into a county to check the box. I spend time in these communities and hear from business owners, farmers, manufacturers, health care workers, and everyone in between, and then, of course, visit with local press.

There’s truly no better way to do my job than to hear from Iowans. For six years in a row, I’ve made it a priority to get out and listen to my fellow Iowans. Every stop, in every county. The 99 County Tour reminds me what a privilege it is to be your senator and to fight day-in and day-out to put Iowa first.

Joni Ernst

Author: Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.