Congresswoman-Elect Cindy Axne

Nov 9, 2018  | 27 min  | Ep 4611 | Podcast | Transcript


The 2018 midterm election was one for the history books here in Iowa. New female officeholders are part of the story and one of Iowa's first-ever Congresswomen joins us. It's Cindy Axne on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.


For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Now celebrating more than 40 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, November 9 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.


Yepsen: Iowa voters sent some mixed messages during Tuesday's historic midterm elections. Iowa's first female Governor, republican Kim Reynolds, won and became the first woman elected to that position. But democrats were especially competitive across four congressional districts, flipping two of them to the democratic column and making history by electing Iowa's first female members of the U.S. House. One of them is Cindy Axne of West Des Moines, who will represent Iowa's Third Congressional District, and she joins us today at the Iowa Press table. Congresswoman, welcome to Iowa Press. Congratulations on your victory.

Axne: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.

Yepsen: Thanks for being with us today. And across the table, Barbara Rodriguez is political reporter for the Des Moines Register and Kay Henderson is News Director for Radio Iowa.

Henderson: Prior to the 2014 election, Iowans had never elected a woman to federal office. Now if you look at the six-member delegation it's three women and three men starting in January. Why did that happen?

Axne: Well, those numbers sure sound pretty good to me, it's about time. I think it really was about women stepping up to the table and saying we want to make sure that our voices are heard out in Washington. Certainly we believe a lot of this election for me was won on suburban women and swing voters and I'm really grateful for that, that they truly believe in having representation that they think stands up for their community and their family and their family's opportunity. And I believe that they got behind candidates that they think would support those agendas.

Henderson: So do you think you got slightly more votes than you might otherwise had because you were a female democrat as opposed to a male democrat?

Axne: Well, what I think is that the message we were putting out there really resonated with Iowans and that was really about kitchen table issues. And certainly as a woman who is a small business owner and a mom of a couple of kids in our public school system, I think that message helped me relate to other women whether they were republican, independent or democrat. And the fact that I am here facing those same struggles that our Iowa families are facing makes that relatable and people really want to see somebody out representing them that they think understands their concerns.

Rodriguez: I'm curious what you think about voter turnout though. 5,000 votes separated you and David Young. What do you think that says about the electorate though?

Axne: Well, what it says is people were inspired to get out and vote. We had such high midterm turnout, I think that's just fantastic, it's about time and I'm glad that Iowans stepped up to understand that these elections are important and no matter which way they voted that this was an important election. We really felt that we had done a lot of work in our rural communities as well as here in our metro area and in Council Bluffs to make sure that we had reached out to as many people as we could, independents, republicans and democrats alike, to let them know about the choice that they had in this race.

Rodriguez: You won Polk County but you lost the other 15 counties in the district. What are you going to do to bridge the divide between urban and rural voters?

Axne: Sure, well and that quite honestly is to be expected because there's more republicans in those areas than there are democrats. And so I'm going to reach out as much as possible to ensure that every single person in this district understands that I'm supporting them. I have already said I want to sit down with Congressman Young so that we can make sure that we pass on a seamless transition. We're already planning a 16 county tour before I head out to Washington and certainly making sure that I'm reaching out to those supporters of mine throughout this district who are republicans and independents so I can reach further into those communities and make greater in roads with people in those areas that we might not have before. But it's incredibly important for me to make sure we're representing this entire district and we're going to keep doing what we did during the primary and through the general election, which is meet-and-greets across this district in people's homes and sitting down and talking about those issues. I'm bringing everybody with me to Washington, it doesn't matter if you've got an R, a D or an I behind your name.

Henderson: I'm wondering how you interpret these results? President Trump went to a rally in Council Bluffs and called Congressman Young up on stage and said a vote for David is a vote for me. Many democrats considered this election nationally a referendum on President Trump. What are your thoughts in terms of your election and what mandate you now have?

Axne: Well, I truly believe that people are frustrated with what is happening out in Washington. Decisions aren't being made, there's gridlock and I think that they want to send somebody out there who they believe can bust through that and certainly someone who has worked in both democratic and republican administrations here, worked on complex issues and is willing to collaborate and negotiate with people to find those outcomes. That message resonated.

Henderson: So it wasn't a referendum on President Trump?

Axne: I think it was a referendum on what is happening out in Washington or lack thereof in making good decisions for the people here in Iowa and that is to blame on both sides. But certainly with the issues that are happening in Washington right now with this administration Iowans aren't happy with that and we need to make sure that our voices are heard out there and push back on the things that aren't helping Iowans.

Rodriguez: There is a reality though that there might be some voters in your district who think you're going to go to Washington to impeach the President or to at least seriously investigate him. What are your thoughts on that? Do you intend to impeach the President?

Axne: That has never been anything that I talked about on the trail, it's not even anything I've been thinking about. Here's the deal, we need to ensure that Mueller's investigation continues to go through and reach its conclusion to see where we're at. One of the things that we're missing out in Congress right now and in Washington in general I believe is that we need people who are going to stand up and support our democracy and the structures and processes within it and not just work for political party leadership. And so I'm always going to side on let's make sure that due process takes its course, let's ensure that our democracy is protected. This is not about political party leadership, this has always been out Iowans to me and I think we have elected people across, I certainly know in the state and across this country, that believe that same thing and I hope we change that trajectory in Washington.

Rodriguez: You brought up the Mueller investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just been fired and his, the acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, there are some members of the House and the Senate who are already calling for him to recuse himself. What do you think about that?

Axne: Well, I'm hoping that we move forward with an appointment that actually understands the bipartisan nature necessary for this investigation. Listen, we can't be too quick to jump and say this person needs to be recused, this person shouldn't have a chance. We need to ensure that due process is taking its course. We'll see, I think we would be able to quickly see if there was any reason for him to be recused. But I think in this case we just need to move forward and then see how it's going and make sure that there isn't any, that we're not blocking any intentional democratic process that will ensure that we move forward in the right direction with this.

Rodriguez: Democrats have already raised the point that there is legislation to protect the Mueller investigation. Would you support that?

Axne: I would support any legislation to protect the Mueller investigation.

Henderson: The President has sort of issued maybe an olive branch and suggested a willingness to work with democrats in the House to craft an infrastructure bill. What sort of form of infrastructure bill would you support? And what would be the financing mechanism you would vote for?

Axne: Well, I'm grateful for some of the things that President Trump has said that he wants to work with in a bipartisan fashion including the infrastructure bill. He has said he wants to lower the cost of prescription drugs, that is another piece that we really need to address. So, the failure of this last infrastructure bill that was implemented was because the majority of the cost would be pushed down on local government and that's something that we can't have. We absolutely have to address infrastructure here, it's the baseline for economic growth in our community. So that is not just our roads and bridges, it's certainly out water and sewer systems that are ripe for failure and of course cellular and broadband. So these things are not insurmountable, they really just take the right resources to support them. One of the things I oversaw at the state of Iowa was Reinvestment and Recovery Act money under President Obama's Act to help with infrastructure issues. That was a Band-Aid, we didn't take that far enough. Any infrastructure bill that we have needs to make sure that we fix the problems that we're seeing within our infrastructure, not just Band-Aid them over for a period of time. And so I want to make sure that we have the resources to do that. One of the things that we need to do is make sure that corporations and wealthy who got a big cut in this latest tax bill start paying their fair share. The debt load that we're seeing on our country is increasing at a dramatic rate. We need that revenue to ensure that we can support things like a good infrastructure bill. Those companies, those wealthy people benefit from our infrastructure, we need to make sure that they're paying their fair share.

Rodriguez: I want to circle back on something that you were asked a lot about on the campaign trail and that was whether you would support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi if she sought the Speakership. And at the time you wouldn't commit. But since then there's reports of her already making phone calls to members of the House. What is your position on that now?

Axne: Well, it's only been 48 hours and my position hasn't changed yet. Here's the deal, I've said all along I will vote for a leader that best represents Iowa. I don't think we have seen who is going to step up for this yet. So that’s how I'm going to look at everything when I go out to Washington, let’s get the full picture, let's make the right decision as it helps Iowans. So, I'm not willing to commit to an answer at this time when I don't know who is stepping up and what they might bring out with them to work best for the people here in our state.

Henderson: Have you talked to her?

Axne: I have not talked to Nancy Pelosi yet. She called me the night of the election and congratulated me but that was it. I haven't received a phone call like the ones you're talking about.

Yepsen: Let's switch gears and talk about some of the specific issues that are going to be coming at the next Congress. Health care is a big issue in the campaign, particularly what we do about pre-existing conditions. What do you expect to see happen, in light of the election what now is doable? What do you expect to see happen with that?

Axne: Well, I truly believe we can move forward with protecting people with pre-existing conditions. We saw across the board that of course myself and other democrats are saying this is a priority. Then we saw republicans say it is for them too. So, that message is loud and clear that covering people with pre-existing conditions should be something that we move forward with in a bipartisan fashion. So I truly believe that there is opportunity. Health care has become the biggest issue for every single state and the cost that people can't afford. And so I believe we can fully move forward to ensure that within the Affordable Care Act that people with pre-existing conditions can't be charged more for the services that they receive, they can't be charged more for premiums and I think we'll be able to shore that up within the Affordable Care Act and cement that in stone.

Yepsen: You mentioned the national debt. Given the size of the national debt, how do we pay for a big new health care initiative in this country?

Axne: Well, first and foremost, again we need to go back to a tax bill that actually provides the revenues that we need here in this state and in this country. I'm not running on raising taxes, I'm running on a tax bill that actually gets us the services that we need. We all know here in Iowa that if our, we need to have money coming in to pay for our things like food, our housing costs, electricity and when we don't have enough revenue coming in to support those services then we don't have what we need. And so the first place we're going to look is to redact those pieces within the tax bill to make sure that, again, the top 1% and corporations pay their fair share. 83% of the provisions within the GOP tax bill went to the top 1%. And so we don't have enough revenue coming in to cover those expenses.

Yepsen: But republicans still hold the Senate. They're not going to go along with that?

Axne: Well, here's what I think, I really believe that this election proved to the people who are in elected positions that the people in this country have a say in what is going on, the people have said they want to make sure that everyone has affordable, quality health care and I believe that we're going to have public support to push this through.

Rodriguez: You said the word redact though and for some people that might mean you're going to raise taxes. This is exactly what David Young said she would do. And I just want to make sure it's clear, what is it that you mean when you say that you're going to attempt to make changes to the federal tax cuts because in some ways it was very popular with a lot of voters?

Axne: Absolutely. So here, and I've said this all along, I want to keep the provisions within it that help working class families like expanding the child care tax credit. I believe that should actually be increased. As a parent I understand those costs and our families are struggling and so we need to make sure that those who have children have opportunity. We absolutely need a tax rate like we have right now for some of our working class families that has put more money back in their pockets. But that certainly did not help every single working class family, it didn't help a lot of our small businesses, in particular entrepreneurs and those who aren't categorized essentially as LLC's, that's a lot of young people who are starting up businesses. So we've got to expand in those areas. But what we do need to do is go back to a tax rate for the top 1% and for corporations, which was in our previous tax bill, where they were paying a fair share. That is where we need to go back to.

Rodriguez: I've got some other questions on other issues but since we're on this topic right now I just want to make sure it's clear, we have a growing deficit and a lot of people haven't pointed to the federal tax cuts as part of that problem. But ultimately how do you address the national debt while trying to protect Medicaid and Social Security? Who and how are we going to pay for everything?

Axne: Well, first of all, our Social Security is a completely different tax bucket than the rest of it. So what we're seeing right now is GOP administration -- top leadership saying, well we need to dip into those hard-earned benefits, Medicare and Social Security, because of this tax bill. So they're saying right now we have created an issue with this GOP tax bill where we're not bringing in enough revenue, and by the way, to cover that up now we're going to make sure that we don't hurt those that we gave a major tax break to, we're going to help them continue to grow. What we're going to do is we're going to take this off the backs of hardworking Iowa families by dipping into Social Security and Medicare That's unacceptable. Those are hard-earned benefits that people in this state deserve, they work for those, we should never look to those pockets to shore up bad decisions that are being made with our tax bill.

Henderson: It appears that the lame duck Congress will not be addressing the Farm Bill and it will be pushed into 2019. The fight has been over whether people who receive SNAP benefits, what some people call food stamps, should be required to work? How will you resolve this impasse? Because, again, as David mentioned, previously you'll have a republican-led Senate and a republican President who supports that provision.

Axne: Well, the Senate was able to come forth with a bipartisan bill for our Farm Bill that really looked good and addressed those issues. So I think there is opportunity with this new Congress that we're going to be able to make this happen. The majority of people who receive those SNAP benefits either are already working or they have some type of disability where they can't work. I don't think it's appropriate that we have left our farmers in a lurch so that we could, so that some members of Congress could stand up to say essentially we need to have a work requirement for people when in reality the majority of people receiving those benefits are already working. So I think there is opportunity to overcome that. I find is shameful that they did leave without signing off on a Farm Bill, our agriculture community depends on that, and we're going to make it a priority.

Henderson: You told me in October that you wanted to be on the Ag Committee. Do you know if you are?

Axne: I don't know yet. I do want to be on the Ag Committee. I think it's incredibly important for Iowans to serve on that and I think there is so much opportunity for our farmers to improve their yields and do better for us from an economic perspective but move us forward in a direction so that our agriculture community is sustainable for the long run.

Rodriguez: You talk about the agriculture community and it also makes me think about immigration. There's a lot of issues around immigration but I am curious what you think about the guest worker Visa's. It is a key issues for many agriculture businesses. So what is it you think should be done there?

Axne: Well, absolutely if you look at our farmers and our agriculture sector, guest worker Visa's are very beneficial and so I think that's something that we need to ensure that we look at and make sure that it's working here for Iowa farmers and our community and move forward in a direction that allows us to have those guest workers here in a program that protects our country as well.

Rodriguez: Some would say it's not working though. So are there more specifics at this point about what you want to do?

Axne: Well, we need an immigration reform bill. That's it. We need to make sure that we protect our country, keep our borders safe, but we need to do so in a way that ensures that we don't lose out economically as well. I've got to get out there and make sure that I'm working with the right people on moving this agenda forward. These are plans that we're working on. I believe that we truly can make this happen. I look at every issue as we can find solutions for everything, we just need to make sure that we're getting the facts out there and that we have the right people willing to compromise and look at opportunities. So I have no doubt that we can make this work and make it work for Iowa families and protect our country at the same time.

Henderson: Speaking of working with people, there are a number of issues on which the Iowa delegation works together. On what issues do you think that democrats and republicans in the Iowa delegation can advance and push an agenda? Name one.

Axne: Well, absolutely infrastructure. We all know how important that is here for Iowa. So that is something that I think we can come together very quickly around and make sure that we're pushing that forward.

Henderson: What about working with the lone republican in the delegation, Steve King? Has he talked to you? Have you talked to him? Are there issues on which the two of you agree?

Axne: Well, we haven't spoken yet. As a matter of fact, when I got up this morning in my head I was, I need to make sure that I reach out to Governor Reynolds, certainly reach out to Representative King. I spoke of course with Abby Finkenaur yesterday and Dave Loebsack as well. So I truly believe that there is opportunity there. There are many things of course that I do not agree with Representative King on. He votes with this current administration about 96% of the time. And so there are issues that we're going to have to work through with him. But I do believe that we can find solutions to the Farm Bill, agriculture growth in general, infrastructure, health care, making sure that we shore up resources for our public schools, trades programs back in greater force here in Iowa so that we create a good skilled workforce. Those are all areas that I think we can all find a way to move forward on.

Yepsen: You have mentioned a lot of issues. A member of Congress has to specialize in something at some point. You can't be an expert on everything. Are there issues you know now that given your background and your campaign that you know you're really going to want to put a big focus on?

Axne: I think government accountability and ensuring that we're transparent and that the decisions that are being made are in the best interests of the people here in this country. I spent a decade rooting out waste and holding governments accountable and finding better ways to deliver services through going in and understanding the processes behind policy implementation and ensuring structures and resources were in place to reach those performance outcomes. That is the type of mindset that we're missing right now out in Congress and I think having the ability to understand not just at the front end when policy is created but how we make sure that that happens so that it has a good benefit for the people here in this district and in this state. That's something I'm really looking forward to digging into. Efficiencies, for example, little things that people don't even think about. We talked about saving money earlier, right here in Iowa when I was at the state we were able to save millions of dollars by consolidating cellular phones, for instance. That is expected to save $400 million out in Washington. Why are we not moving forward in the direction of those quick, I call that low hanging fruit. I've spent a lifetime working on strategy and helping organizations perform better. These are easy things to do, they just take people who understand that we can find opportunity in details and that is what I want to take out to Washington.

Rodriguez: There are some who say that, at least for Iowa democrats, it was sort of a mixed bag on election night in terms of some wins on the congressional side of things, but some limitations on the state level. I'm curious what you think your role is in the Democratic Party to ensure that the issues that are important to democrats move forward despite maybe some of those limitations?

Axne: Well, of course I would have liked to have seen some more wins the other night, but I'm glad with what we did see and some incredible people that now will be in Senate and House seats here in the state of Iowa. I think one of the things that I will be doing as one of the leaders within the Democratic Party is making sure that we understand we're working for every single person in this district. We have a lot of democrats in our metro areas, but we have a lot of republicans and independents of course in our rural communities. And so making sure that we're consistently working on the issues that affect every single person in this district is something that I want to make sure I'm always bringing to the forefront.

Rodriguez: That question was more focused on the state level. What about the Democratic Party as a whole? What is your role there?

Axne: The Democratic Party for the state of Iowa?

Rodriguez: Just in general.

Axne: Across the country? Listen, I think it's about making sure that we keep those kitchen table issues first and foremost with our party, making sure that we have jobs that put enough money in our family's pockets so that they've got opportunity to send their kids to school if they would like to, to save money for retirement, that our health care costs are reasonable and provide quality health care. Those are the things that matter most to the people here in Iowa and I think it's important for us to keep that in mind at a national level. I truly believe it's going to benefit our country by having a Midwestern democratic female's voice out in Washington. It's a different point of view that we haven't had out there to represent the Midwest and in particular here in Iowa for quite some time.

Yepsen: Congresswoman, we're out of time. I have to leave it at that. I know, it goes fast.

Axne: It's always so quick.

Yepsen: We appreciate you being here and good luck to you in Washington.

Axne: Oh, thank you so much.

Yepsen: Thank you. And thank you for joining us. We'll be back next week with another edition of Iowa Press as we sift through the aftermath of the midterm elections. You can catch Iowa Press at 7:30 Friday night on our main Iowa PBS channel with a rebroadcast Sunday at noon. There's another broadcast Saturday morning at 8:30a.m. on our .3 World channel. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. And thanks for joining us today.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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