U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne became one of the first women to represent Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives when she, alongside former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, was elected in 2018. This interview was conducted by email and the responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
It’s hard to celebrate being first, when I reflect on the fact that seven years ago, Iowa had no women in its federal representation. But when I got to Washington and got to work, I remember meeting my new colleagues who were newly elected women from other states – and that was a special moment for all of us. The women of the class of 2018 are some strong, smart, thoughtful and tough cookies. And getting to know all of them made being the first from Iowa that much more special.
I didn’t set out to be first – because in my view, electing the first women to the U.S. House in Iowa should have happened long before 2018. My first year in office marked 100 years of women having the vote. When you’re breaking a glass ceiling after 100 years, it doesn’t always feel like that’s something to celebrate. It feels like we should be saying, “It’s about time.”
Being “first” never really occurred to me when I was running for Congress. The impact of that wasn’t as important to me as trying to get some new leadership for a district that I thought was being misrepresented in Washington – with votes that were betraying the values of the Iowans who lived in central and southwest Iowa.
From the moment I decided to run, I encountered a lot of skepticism – even from those who think of themselves as evolved progressive thinkers. I worked in state government for a decade, I own a small business – credentials that would qualify any man to throw their hat in the ring for public office – but when I announced, people would raise their eyebrows and say, “Are you sure you want to do this?” or “Maybe you should start with something smaller like city council.”
When I won, and when I broke that glass ceiling with my friend and colleague Abby Finkenauer, I think it dawned on both us the thing we had done when we came to Washington and got to be a part of a historic class of newly elected representatives – including a record number of women from all across the country and all walks of life.
Even when I was chosen by Iowans to represent them, I would still find people who didn’t think I could do the job. When you’re a woman in a position of power, you’re always having to prove to people that you’re capable, that you’re smart, that you can keep up. Even when you’re reelected, like I was last fall, there’s still no convincing some people.
I know I won’t be the last – but the best way to guarantee that, I think, is to do my job and do it well. I’m fighting for Iowans every single day – and if people still think that a woman can’t do this job, then I’m hoping to slowly prove them wrong.