SIOUX CITY | After moving from an upbringing in a tiny Monona County town to earning three degrees to serving as a top college official, Cyndi Hanson is now undertaking the formidable task of trying to unseat a Republican congressman who has won eight straight victories.
"It is the old Zig Ziglar (saying), people want to know if you care, and I do. Putting yourself out there has a lot of risk, but I care. Northwest Iowa has a lot of great people and they need to be represented," Hanson said in an interview.
That's why Hanson, who lives in Sioux City, is running to oust Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King, who is a blunt-spoken political juggernaut from Kiron. Hanson readily admits she is an underdog with little name recognition, but she's ramped up her campaigning since January arrived, since a Republican party primary June 5 will determine whether she or King moves to the Nov. 6 ballot.
Hanson, 45, was raised in Castana, which now has a population of 147, and graduated from Maple Valley High School. She worked in the human resource management field for 15 years after getting a degree from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City.
She then shifted gears and got two additional degrees, including a doctorate from the University of South Dakota.
For the last year, Hanson has served as executive director of the College Center in South Sioux City, an academic center operated jointly by Northeast Community College and Wayne State College. That came after four years in an administrative role at Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City.
Hanson said education has been a great second career, because she likes helping people as they are figuring out their roles in the world.
"It is a good job to combine my creativity and my passion for growth," she said.
At the College Center, Hanson leads a team of 13 employees and is confident her leadership has been a boon for the college. Hanson said the programs to pick from are plentiful and beneficial to new or nontraditional students who prefer not to travel to Northeast's main campus in Norfolk.
"I've moved us in a direction that would not have happened if I had not been there," she said.
Helen Jacobe first met Hanson about 15 years in a community club, and they quickly became friends. Jacobe said Hanson showed great organizing and people skills when helping set details when Sioux City was the host site for a Toastmasters International state event.
"She is very driven," Jacobe said. "She is very studious, she is a proactive person and I have noticed she gets the job done."
Hanson is a single mother to her 9-year-old daughter, Bradey Hanson. Away from work and her busy campaigning, Hanson likes to have dinner with friends, watch movies at home and scrapbook. She said she has the ability to connect well with people, which would help in representing people as a lawmaker.
"I am just who I am. I don't put on airs. I like to listen to people, because I am a learner at heart," Hanson said.
Hanson said she has shown in her professional life that she understands complex issues, and could readily transfer those abilities to addressing public policy as an elected official. She said the inability of lawmakers to solve major national problems shows the time is at hand for compromise by the two political parties.
"The best solution is not usually this or that, but in the middle of this or that...It comes back to collaboration and finding middle ground," Hanson said.
She cited President Abraham Lincoln as a political role model in that regard.
"He wasn't always interested in being right. He wanted the best outcome, and it didn't have to be what he initially thought," she said.
Hanson said she's been variously registered as a Republican, Democrat and independent in her adult life. She said she's changed her affiliation depending upon certain candidates she wanted to support in party primary votes.
She said the nation will benefit from more fiscal responsibility ("We have to stop spending more than we take in"), which means some program cuts must be made, but not too deeply to social programs, she added. Hanson said the government funding set through short-term continuing resolutions must be set aside for a longer-range set of funding bills.
Hanson announced her candidacy in December. In campaign finance disclosure reports that covered the last three months of 2017, she reported raising $5,771. During the same period, the incumbent King brought in $87,543.
In late January she began setting plentiful public campaign events in the 4th District, and has now visited all 39 counties. She's doing that on nights after work and weekends, but eventually may take some leaves from her job to do more.
Hanson said voters have told her they want assurances that health care can become accessible and affordable, a sound balance of agriculture and environment, immigration reform and opportunities for a good education. She said people ask if she has legislative experience -- she doesn't -- but said they don't dismiss her candidacy once she answers.
Hanson said Iowans deserve a better representative than King, since they tell her of dislike for some of his "inflammatory" comments.
"After (King) being in there 16 years, it is time for someone new," she said. "There is a perception that he is more interested in being on TV than representing the people of Iowa, and my interest is in representing the people of Iowa."