As part of our Twenty for 2020 series, COURIER is sitting down with freshmen members of Congress to get a better understanding of what their first year on the Hill has been like. Rep. Cindy Axne (D) represents Iowa’s third district, which covers an area in the southwest part of the state.
Axne is a native Iowan, and before heading to Capitol Hill she was a small business owner and a community activist. She began her advocacy work in 2016, after her older son started kindergarten and she realized that not all children in Iowa had access to full-day kindergarten. That moved her to get involved, and she spent a year talking to principals and officials on the school board.
Axne then worked for the state, helping agencies to deliver government services effectively for taxpayers. She was elected to represent the people of Iowa’s third district in 2018. To date, Axne has introduced legislation aimed at holding corporations accountable, lowering healthcare costs and improving safety in agriculture among others.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
COURIER: What has your first year been like?
Cindy Axne: It’s been a very busy first year, we started in a government shutdown and as soon as that was resolved, I had a disaster in my district with the flooding on the Missouri River, which we’re still continuing to work on, and ensuring that people are receiving the funding that they need to get their lives back in order. We’ve dealt with a trade war that has absolutely impacted the agriculture sector which means Iowa was hit directly as a result of it. And then this administration has issued multiple waivers out of the small refinery exemption for our renewable fuels, which has also hurt agriculture.
So needless to say, it’s been a busy year out here in general working on so many things like lowering the cost of prescription drugs and making sure everybody has affordable, quality health care. But at the same time, there’s been a lot happening on the ground in the district that I’ve been addressing and making sure that Iowans get what they need as well.
COURIER: What is an average day on the Hill like for you?
Axne: My days are filled with running here, there, and everywhere, essentially. Usually I start out with a Caucus meeting and then move to a hearing in financial services or agriculture on a specific issue that we’re facing. Since I’m on two subcommittees within each of those committees I’m usually running to some type of hearing or markup. Then I’m off to votes, or multiple constituent meetings and I usually end up spending some time at the very back end working on campaign issues because when you’re in a seat for only two years, you can’t ever drop the ball if you want to be able to win. So I spend all my time working on tasks on the Hill and then in the evenings I might pick up some campaign work that I need to get done.
COURIER: Can you talk about your work with prescription drugs? I’m curious what form that work is taking.
Axne: Listen, I can’t go anywhere in Iowa without somebody voicing concern about the cost of prescription drugs. We have so many terrible stories of folks who are taking half of their prescriptions just to make it last. They’re foregoing food so that they can get the medical help that they need through the prescription.
So, what’s really important is that I’m listening to people’s stories. We have a survey out right now for folks to go online and answer a few questions about the difficulties that they’re facing in their family. I’ve been able to address multiple health care issues as a result of listening to Iowans at over 60 town halls that I’ve held so far. That’s helped me write health care bills, whether it’s dealing with lowering the cost of prescription drugs or ensuring that rare diseases are covered by the insurance company. It comes from those stories that I’m hearing from Iowans, and that’s why it’s so important to be out listening to them.
COURIER: You are a Democrat in a swing state and and a district that has flipped between the parties, how have you been working across the aisle? Has it been difficult?
Axne: Well, I’ll be honest, nothing out here is easy. We’re in a really divisive time in this country, in a divided government. So, it does take effort to find opportunities to work across the aisle. But I’ve had success at it. And as a matter of fact, I’ve had folks on the other side who’ve come to me to ask me to be on bills as well.
My earliest bipartisan bill that recently was signed into law is the GREAT Act, which creates transparency and ease of use for our grant programs so that smaller local communities can have access to help improve their community. Right now, that’s a really difficult process if you’re not a big nonprofit or you’re not working for a city, it’s usually a volunteer who’s trying to get a grant. So this will help get more money into smaller communities.
So, have been able to find opportunities to work across the aisle. They tend to come around agriculture, health care and certainly holding the government accountable. I’d say those are three areas where I’ve been able to find the most bipartisan support.
COURIER: What work are you most proud of from your first year here on the Hill?
Axne: I’m extremely proud of the disaster funding bill we put together especially considering I’m a freshman!
COURIER: Finally, the Hill isn’t all work and no play– have there been any fun moments for you in your first term?
Axne: You know, certainly I’ve had some opportunities to get together with some of the other members and really get a chance to kick back a little bit and celebrate some birthdays. That’s been fun.
I’ve also got a great core group of girlfriends that I formed, mostly frontline members. We really rely on each other, we share things with each other and when we do have a bit of time to get away, that’s where we go, to each other. It’s nice to really have somebody that has so much in common with us that we can really just be ourselves around. That’s been a really great thing to have out here, as we started to figure out how to become the best Congress People that we can be.