Rep. Cindy Axne defends ad attacking Sen. Zach Nunn on Adventureland ties

By: - July 1, 2022 4:31 pm

Rep. Cindy Axne speaks to reporters at a DMACC event. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)

As the family of an 11-year-old boy who died at Adventureland amusement park goes to court against the park, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne has attempted to make the accident a campaign issue.

The Democratic representative, who seeks re-election in Iowa’s 3rd District, released two campaign ads in June tying her opponent, Iowa Sen. Zach Nunn, to the park death. The ads criticize Nunn for taking campaign donations from the owners and executives of Adventureland, as well as for support of legislation which lowered the minimum age for amusement park ride operators from 18 to 16 because of workforce shortages.

“A tragedy that could have been avoided,” the Axne campaign ad said. “But Zach Nunn took money from Adventureland CEO, then sponsored legislation to loosen amusement park safety rules.”

Nunn’s campaign called the ad “dishonest. Deceitful. Dishonorable.”

But Axne said this week the advertisement showed a link between Nunn and Adventureland which needed to be addressed. Nunn’s congressional campaign received about $34,000 from the Krantz family, which owned Adventureland until 2021, according to campaign finance reports.

“A lot of people have said ‘good for you, for making sure that the public knows that this is, this is a guy who has put himself before Iowans,’” Axne told the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “And that is exactly what this ad is intended to point out. This is a guy, who even after multiple, dozens of violations at Adventureland, took funds from the owners and the key executives.”

While the campaign finance claims are accurate, some say the legislation in question is unrelated to the death at Adventureland. KCCI investigative reporter James Stratton said the bill had “virtually nothing” to do with the death, and Politifact rated Axne’s ad “mostly false.”

The 11-year-old boy from Marion drowned when the raft his family was on overturned in the park’s Raging River ride in June 2021. A lawsuit filed by the family Thursday claims negligence – specifically, that Adventureland rides do not follow proper maintenance and safety protocols.

The Iowa Division of Labor found Adventureland violated 17 safety standards in connection with the death, The Des Moines Register reported. The division did not fine the park, but did require Adventureland make 11 changes to the ride before it could reopen.

However, none of the workers at the Raging River ride during the accident were impacted by the legislation Nunn supported. The ride operator during the amusement park death was over 18 years old.

“Cindy Axne’s verifiable lie exploits the loss of a child for her own re-election prospects,” Nunn’s campaign manager Bryan Kraber said in a statement. “Iowans see through Axne’s false, DC-style smear job and are disappointed.”

The Adventureland ads came soon after Nunn won the Republican 3rd District primary. Axne has held the district since 2019, after defeating incumbent Rep. David Young. The election landscape is different this year, as redistricting has changed the boundaries of the 3rd District, adding more rural counties to an area which already went for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Election handicappers Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed their predictions for the district to “leans Republican” following the June primary. But Axne said she remains confident in her chances for re-election come November.

“They can put me at ‘lean left,’ whatever, I’ve already done that before,” Axne said. “I took a race the first time and won when nobody was even looking at this, in an R +3 district, and it’s still an R +3 district. So I intend to win this election because Iowans deserve to have somebody who will stand up for them in Washington.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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