At the time Congresswoman Cindy Axne was sworn in as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the federal government was in the midst of a partial shutdown.
Then, in mid-March, her district was hit with historic flooding.
Now, for the first time since the late 1990s, Axne is one of 228 representatives to put their support behind an impeachment inquiry.
“I honestly don’t feel like a freshman at this point,” said Axne, in a recent interview with Starting Line. “When you come in during a government shutdown, right after that ends, into a disaster in your own backyard, you really have to have a team and you have to be ready to take on anything.”
Wasting No Time
Axne, a small business owner and former leader in state government, said she came into Congress with the same “get stuff done” attitude she has employed throughout her professional career.
When the 3rd Congressional District, in central and southwest Iowa, needed disaster relief funding after devastating flooding along the Missouri River, Axne was texting the chair of the appropriations committee at midnight. Typically, a freshman legislator is expected to go through a series of channels for such a request of a high-ranking member.
“It’s been really interesting; I feel like I go against the grain of what people think is normal protocol out there,” she said. “What I do is what I’ve always done. I go to the top, whoever’s in charge, and I say, ‘This is what we need.’ Why would I do it any other way? I don’t have that kind of time, nobody does. I’m not going to piddle around trying to make my way to the person that makes the decision. I’m going to go straight to the decision-maker.”
Axne’s approach paid off in a big way for her constituents. She secured $3 billion in the House disaster relief bill, not including the $1 billion in amendments to the legislation aimed at flood recovery in the Midwest and and tornadoes in the South.
Back when she worked in the Iowa Department of Management, Axne got to know the inner workings of state government and how to implement policy across multiple administrations, knowledge that has come in handy as a congresswoman coordinating constituent services at the state and federal level.
“I’m one of those folks that, when it needs to be done, there is no option other than getting it done, and I’ll do everything it takes to make that happen,” Axne said. “I think that’s helped us a lot with this flood recovery, because if you don’t have that attitude, you can be very much overlooked from the funding perspective.”
Frontline Of House Majority
Axne was among the 101 new House members elected in 2018, and is one of 44 in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program for swing district representatives. She unseated the incumbent Republican by about 2 percentage points.
In 2020, she likely will face a rematch with former congressman David Young. So far, Axne has out-raised the Republican, bringing in $475,786 in the third fundraising quarter and carrying $1,198,084 in cash-on-hand. Young raised $329,540 and has $564,639 in cash-on-hand.
“I’ll be honest, these frontline jobs are the toughest, most time-intensive congressional seats that you can hold,” Axne said. “You don’t have an ounce of time to spend on anything that doesn’t move the agenda forward.”
When Axne ran for office, she was concerned about the future of the Affordable Care Act as Republicans worked to dismantle it and was appalled President Trump intended to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. She wanted to address income inequality, improve public education and fight for women’s reproductive rights.
Despite the daily drama of life in Washington, D.C., with Trump as president, Axne has remained focused on the needs of her district.
In August, Starting Line tagged along as Axne spent a day in her district with health care professionals, farmers and volunteers at the Iowa Aviation Museum. Over the summer, Axne was noted as the most accessible freshman in Congress, having held 16 town hall meetings between January and April. Since then, she has held town hall meetings in every county in her district, increasing her total.
‘The Times Have Found Us’
On Sept. 24, the day Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of the impeachment inquiry, Axne introduced the “Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act,” authorizing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to hire more agriculture specialists to prevent an outbreak of African Swine Fever in the U.S.
Last week, a bipartisan majority of the House passed Axne’s “Outsourcing Accountability Act” aimed at protecting American workers “by holding corporations accountable for outsourcing U.S. jobs overseas.” The legislation requires publicly-traded companies disclose where employees are located by state and country in an annual report.
At a town hall meeting this month in Waukee, Axne was confronted about her support for the impeachment inquiry. Though she was willing to discuss why she supported it, Axne also stressed to her constituents the impeachment process would not affect her daily work in Washington.
“I can do multiple things at once,” she told Starting Line. “I’m not on the Intelligence Committee. That’s what they’re doing. I stay informed and I make sure that I’m involved in the caucus conversation around this, and when the time comes that I will have to make a decision to move forward in any way, then I will dedicate my time at that point. But, I can do this job well and that can go on at the same time.”
Though Axne did not expect the level of turmoil she has faced in her first term, she remains undeterred by the challenges.
“I did not expect this at all, but I think that I’m the kind of person that is good for this moment,” Axne said, describing her past professional work, experience in urban and rural communities, and personal attributes that make her an effective congresswoman.
“As the Speaker likes to say, ‘The times have found us.’ And I think she’s probably spot on about that.”
By Elizabeth Meyer