A morning news anchor at KCRG-TV9, the ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Ashley Hinson capped her final day on the job by taking up her violin and playing it on air for all the news junkies at home.
For Hinson, a classically trained musician and onetime member of the Des Moines Symphony, and who had often accompanied musical guests who appeared on the show, it was a poignant way to bid farewell to a profession she loved.
“I had to leave my career in journalism in 2015 to make the announcement that I was running for the Iowa state house,” Hinson who now represents Iowa’s 1st congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives explains. “In many cases at a state legislature, you can continue to do your job and be a representative. But in journalism, there is a different standard. A journalist can’t hold an elected office.”
Hinson put 60,000 miles on the minivan as she crisscrossed the state of Iowa. The minivan became her emblem.
Hinson handily won her race for the Iowa House in 2016 in a district in which Hillary Clinton had narrowly prevailed over Donald Trump. Hinson won a second state house race in 2018. In her two terms in the state legislature, Hinson pushed lower taxes, cutting irresponsible spending and was an advocate of making childcare more affordable to help working families. She was chairman of the infrastructure committee, which reported out an overwhelming number of bipartisan bills. Hinson also helped scale back the public unions’ bargaining power.
Hinson put 60,000 miles on the minivan as she crisscrossed the state of Iowa, campaigning for Congress. The minivan became her emblem. “I’m the mom with the minivan and a mortgage.” Hinson explains to IWF. “I could understand the challenges that Iowa families face every day. And I think that’s what people want in Washington right now. They want someone who’s like them, who can relate to making ends meet, going grocery shopping, having a full-time job, trying to figure out still what you’re going to feed your family. Oh, shoot. Now I’ve got to home school, my kids too, right?”
The minivan was, in effect, the Hinson campaign’s headquarters. “It’s a great mobile office,” Hinson recalls. “It was my family vehicle. It was great for hauling yard signs. And there were times when we had a couple hours in between events, and we could put the seats down in the middle and fan out in the very back and work on our computers. So, it ended up truly being the perfect vehicle to run a campaign through the district. I was actually surprised that it made it all the way through the campaign. It’s got 170,000 miles on it now, and it’s still truckin’. So that’s good. It might have another campaign yet in it. ”
Driving around Iowa in the minivan, Hinson vowed to bring a “dose of Iowa common sense to Washington” and highlighted the “chaos and dysfunction” in Congress. “For years, I reported the news,” Hinson told voters. “Today, I can’t even let my kids watch it. Washington politicians yelling, attacks on police, socialists tearing down anyone and anything they disagree with.
“America has challenges,” she went on, “but we are still the greatest country in the world, and it’s not even close. America is worth fighting for.”
“For years, I reported the news,” Hinson told voters. “Today, I can’t even let my kids watch it.”
The message resonated. It was a hard-fought race, and in the end, Hinson won by 51 to 49 percent, becoming one of the women in the GOP’s unprecedently large class of new female Members. “I think, ultimately, why we came out on top in this race in a very, very challenging year,” Hinson says, “was that we were everywhere all the time. Putting 60,000 miles on a vehicle shows that I’m willing to go anywhere and talk with anyone. And I think that made all the difference this year.”
“It was a challenging year” she adds, “not only with the pandemic, but we had a derecho here in Iowa, which was a crazy-hurricane-type windstorm, 140-mile an hour sustained winds. So, the amount of damage that was done right here in the first district was incredible. And it changed the dynamic of the campaign, too.” Hinson volunteered at a storm center in Cedar Rapids.
The weekend after the election, Hinson tested positive for COVID-19.
At first, she thought she was exhausted from the campaign but decided to get tested. “I was lucky,” she recalls. “I had an incredibly mild case of Covid. I know many others did not. My husband also had it, and we isolated at home with our kids. Our kids were out of school for more than two weeks, with the Thanksgiving holiday.” Hinson participated in the first part of congressional orientation virtually.
Iowa’s new congressional representative could just as easily have had a career in music. She grew up in Des Moines, where her father was a financial adviser and her mother was a teacher involved in the arts.
Hinson is a classically-trained musician and onetime member of the Des Moines Symphony.
Everybody in the family loved music. “I had a very analytical father and very artistic mother,” she says. “And they actually met at the Des Moines Symphony. So that, you can get a sense of where the music came into my life, for sure. My grandparents were both in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony. My grandpa played the oboe, and my grandmother played the cello. I started piano when I was five and violin when I was seven and have played my entire life. I love it and at one point I think it could have very well been a career path for me. But I got the journalism bug.”
Hinson’s brother, Blake Hinson, who served as principal bass of the Grand Rapids Symphony for two seasons, before he joined the New York Philharmonic in 2012. Their sister, Piper, is a song writer and founder of a web sketch comedy group. “I think what I learned from music was how to be competitive, how to work hard, and that sense of accomplishment that you get when you work towards something and achieve something,” Ashley says.
“Music, inherently, is a good training ground because you have to learn how to succeed as an individual, but you also have to learn to succeed in a team,” she continues. And, so, I think that’s where my experience in orchestra and my experience individually in competitions really helped me to grow and develop with that competitive spirit, but also that spirit of teamwork.” Hinson still plays whenever she can, often lending her talents to the Antioch Christian Church in Marion, Iowa, where she and her husband Matt Arenholtz belong.
After graduating from public high school in Des Moines, Ashley went on to the University of Southern California, where she became a fan of the Trojans and learned about the news business as an intern at a local TV station. “I went into journalism because I’m naturally curious, and I loved just knowing what was going on. The now. That’s what I think I loved about live TV. It’s what’s happening right now. And so, I think I really liked the immediacy of the career path. And I also really liked being able to tell stories and ask questions. So, I think the real reason I went in was because I enjoyed people. I enjoyed telling their stories and I enjoyed the now,” she says.
Hinson landed a job with an ABC affiliate in Grand Junction, Colorado, where she worked until moving back to Iowa to join the team at KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids.
In an alumni profile of graduates of the Annenberg Media Center, Hinson was asked what advice she would give to young journalists. “Do anything/everything whenever/wherever when they first ask you to. It is what will help you not only to pay your dues, but give you great opportunities to succeed,” she replied. Although Hinson worries that lack of balance is now becoming “pervasive” in her old business, she clearly enjoyed her career in journalism. She honed her writing skills and, before anchoring, covered such human interest stories as people who had unusual weddings (like the couple who married in a grocery store, or the woman who blew up her wedding dress after the divorce became final.)
She met her future husband, Matt Arenholtz, a transportation expert, when a relative arranged a blind date to a wedding. “I left the wedding thinking that I really liked that guy, and I didn’t have his number. I Googled him and sent him an email. Yeah, he likes to joke that I stalked him on the internet, but I just say I just used my sleuthy journalism skills to find him again.” They have been married 15 years and have two sons, Max and Jax, and a wire-haired fox terrier named Bogey.
Matt and Ashley first mulled over the idea of her running for higher office on a trip to Washington. “We sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial two years ago,” Ashley recalls. “We had this conversation about what it would look like if I ran for Congress. We knew it would be on a different scale when you’re running in a big congressional district versus a smaller legislative district. Matt was 100% on board, 100% supportive. And I couldn’t have done it without him.” Just a historical note: Matt sometimes accompanied her in the minivan and was quick to respond whenever anybody wanted a Hinson yard sign. Since Hinson has been in Congress, she has voted twice against the bloated trillion dollar plus legislation that Democrats fondly describe as a COVID rescue bill. She has long advocated infrastructure improvements, and noted her willingness to work across the aisle on a targeted package.
In other words, Hinson is a classically trained musician who will never allow the big spenders to call the tune for her, and will always put Iowans first.