Ed Schafer: Heidi Heitkamp Could Learn a Lot From Teddy Roosevelt


The news filtered in to North Dakota with a story about U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) getting together for breakfast to talk about their bi-partisan work.  As I listened to the broadcast it became clear to me that they came together with the bipartisan effort to derail Republicans’ efforts to respond to the people’s initiative through election to rid ourselves of a socialistic direction for health care for our citizens.

It is also clear that the current debate is about those who believe in Government control and those who don’t.  And the people spoke loud and clear in the Presidential election that we are not interested in having government run their lives.

The disastrous Affordable Health Care for America Act is back in the news as Republicans attempt again to reverse this public policy that has only caused financial pain for the insured and restricted proper health care for the very millions of people the Act was trying to help. Call it Obamacare, call it the unaffordable health care act or call it stupid—our policy making branch of government needs to take corrective action before the system totally collapses and millions people are left without a way to pay for their health care needs.  And if we don’t repeal that law now, we likely will be burdened with this government monstrosity for the rest of our lives.

As a Republican, I have been majorly disappointed in the members of my party whose braggadocio and political pandering for years told us they would repeal and replace “Obamacare” if elected.  When the people did just that, our Republicans responded with a great big thud!  Voters put Republicans in the arena and they couldn’t even muster enough members of the team to take the field.

Middle America sits and wonders why we even bother to send people to the Capitol when they just get absorbed into the system and don’t produce much that is worthwhile to help improve the lives of our citizens.  We see the east and west coasts try to influence public policy by generating popularity contests for elected officials. Populist politicians succumb to public opinion so they get backslapping, high-fives and atta-boys showing approval of their actions.

I was reminded of this a couple of months ago when I saw Sen. Collins return to Maine after she was one of three Republican senators who torpedoed the attempt to get a piece of legislation on the floor of Congress so the work could begin to craft solid, affordable and workable health care coverage for our citizens.

When the Senator stepped off the plane, she was greeted with applause from fellow travelers in the airport.  She responded by saying, “It was an extraordinary, heartwarming and affirming moment!”  How nice; I suspect she slept well that night.  I didn’t!

When I was elected to serve our citizens as Governor of North Dakota, one of the tenets we had in the office was, “do the right thing.”  This reminder was adapted from comments made by one of our most successful presidents, Theodore Roosevelt.  He had proposed legislation that was widely panned because many forces turned public opinion against his efforts.

His response is one that we should demand from our elected officials today:

I do not represent public opinion; I represent the public. There is a wide difference between the two—between the real interests of the public and the public’s opinion of those interests. I must represent not the excited opinion [of some], but the real interests of the whole people.

Today, we see public opinion generated by talk show hosts, hysterical university professors and shallow Hollywood luminaries.  Public opinion that has no reality with doing the right thing for the future of our country and our citizens.  I pray every day that Republicans would take Roosevelt’s words to heart and live up their promises.