“Always stand up if you see an injustice in your community, whether it’s something that directly impacts your life or not.” — Cindy Axne
Cindy Axne’s parents raised her and her sisters to speak their mind and take on tough fights — and she’s been doing that all her life. Like when she moved back home from Chicago to find her son’s new school district could only offer him half-day kindergarten. Axne knew she was not the only working parent impacted by this schedule, so even though changing the system wouldn’t directly benefit her, she mounted a campaign. A year later, the school district began offering full-day kindergarten for all kids. Or when she ran for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District as part of the Blue Wave of 2018. Iowa had never voted a woman to the House of Representatives but that year this fifth-generation Iowan defeated a Republican incumbent and (along with Abby Finkenauer) made history.
If it’s not right, you fix it,” she told Mike Jefferson of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. “That’s the way I’ve always lived my life.” And for the past two years, Axne has brought that principle to her role as representative. In fact, that’s one of the reasons she got into the race back in 2018, after spending 10 years working in Iowa state government doing strategic planning: “I want to make sure that Iowans have a voice out in Washington and I’ll be working for Iowans.”
In less than two years in office, Axne has already faced serious challenges. Two-and-a-half months into her tenure, the Missouri River experienced its worst floods in a lifetime. Then the COVID pandemic hit, followed by the derecho in August, which was one of the state’s most destructive storms — but it hardly drew a whisper of national attention for a week. Through it all, Axne has remained confident of finding solutions. Speaking of the pandemic she said, “But I can tell you one, thing this isn’t the first time in the 15 months I’ve been in this position, that we’ve been really hit hard and had to come together . . . and had to go against some insurmountable issues.”
Other than these disasters, Axne has focused on several key issues that reflect the needs of her voters. She is the only Iowan to serve on the Agriculture Committee, where she is able to lift the voices of farmers and rural residents. Farmers in her district have been hurt by the Trump Administration’s trade wars, and they also face a shortage of workers. Axne supports allowing more migrant visas and expanding legal opportunities for people to enter the country. She also believes that incoming migrants should have the chance to build their futures so she wants to provide a pathway to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants and supports the DREAM Act for those already in the country.
Among her top priorities are protecting and expanding health care. This issue is personal for Axne and her husband. As small business owners, they had to purchase private insurance in the pre-ACA days, but the cost for maternity coverage was $1,000 a month. When they were expecting their second son they “had to sell personal items on eBay” to get by. Now she wants to improve the ACA and add on a public option so Iowans can buy into Medicare.
Before the pandemic, Axne held more than 60 town halls with her constituents and has stayed connected through Zoom panels and tele-town halls. To Axne, talking with Iowans is the best way to find out what the local people need. “They’ve told me straight out what the issues are, and I take that information back with me and I push for new [policy] ideas. . . .” she told Jefferson. She has pushed for COVID relief, and her COVID-19 Response Tracker records more than $11 billion coming to Iowa, including $1.5 billion in much-needed aid to her district. On October 13, she also pushed federal agencies to work more quickly on forgiveness applications for small businesses that had taken PPP loans.
But Axne has also taken on some tough votes around the pandemic. She bucked her party leadership and voted against the HEROES Act last spring because it was “bloated” and included too much money for people who were not hurting. When Congress revisited COVID relief this fall, she balked at a vote “to make people feel good.” Instead, she has continued to ask House leadership to revise and simplify the COVID relief package into one that can actually pass the test of bipartisanship, which “means sitting at the table and getting the damn deal done.”
Now Axne faces another challenge, a rematch with her former Republican opponent, David Young. Iowa 03 has almost an equal number of voters registered as Democrat as Republican (34% vs 32%) and the rest (27%) with no party affiliation, meaning many votes are on the table. Axne and Young have engaged in three debates, and she recalled her shock at hearing that President Trump had called off pandemic relief talks via Tweet. She was dismayed by his “[d]eciding that it was more important . . . to push something off until after the Election instead of helping the American people put food on the table, make sure that our health care providers had the PPE . . . and get our economy back up and running.”
The final debate showed that Axne is still eager to fight. With COVID rates sharply on the rise and an impending Trump campaign rally in Des Moines, Axne spoke up for what she knew was right: “By the president coming here to the state, what he shows me is the carelessness and recklessness toward the people that I care for in our state.”
Photo courtesy campaign Facebook page.
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