Someone has kidnapped Matt Evans and written this column under his name. Evans, you see, is a tireless critic of government. He has no tolerance for politicians who don’t say what they mean. He is ready to throw anyone under the bus the moment they vote contrary to the way they’re supposed to. He likes hyperbole; he likes to shakes things up and make a point. He’s a reformer from the outside and he’ll steamroll anyone who gets in his way.
I, on the other hand, am going to tell you something different.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”I like Kevin Cramer. Rob Port recently reported that Kevin Cramer holds more town hall events than any other congressman in the US. I’ve gotten to talk with him on many occasions. I usually like what he has to say. I ask him hard questions and he gives me good answers.”[/mks_pullquote]
I am friends with a number of people who really seem to dislike Congressman Kevin Cramer. Indeed, I’m friends with plenty of folks who seem to dislike most politicians. They make accusations about the methods, the motives, and the competence of the whole bunch – from the mayor on up to the President.
I’m friends with folks who insist that the Republicans are the most evil ever, or that the Democrats are the most evil ever. Some people say that the two parties are actually identical – not just in terms of how evil they are — some even say that there is in fact no difference at all between the two, so we ought to be uniformly bitter no matter who wins on election night.
Well, I’m sure, at some point, the real Matt Evans has agreed with all of the points my friends made up above. He probably even made a few of them himself.
So I’ll be a bit contrarian here and tell you something surprising: I like Kevin Cramer. Rob Port recently reported that Kevin Cramer holds more town hall events than any other congressman in the US. I’ve gotten to talk with him on many occasions. I usually like what he has to say. I ask him hard questions and he gives me good answers. He’s done a special QA session at my company, and I thought he did a good job talking about the federal policies that were pertinent to our business. Some of my non-political co-workers agreed – he did a good job and they were glad he showed up to talk to them.
Cramer wasn’t my choice when he won the Republican primary, but that’s not because he rubbed me the wrong way; it’s because I liked somebody else better. I’m glad he ended up winning, and there is no doubt in my mind that he is doing a better job that is more aligned with my interests than his Democratic opponents would have had they won instead.
I think North Dakota can be a difficult place to really stay cynical about politics, because politics in North Dakota is actually pretty good.
Let me explain.
Because of our low population, each of our citizens has some of the best federal representation in the country. That is, Congressman Cramer has one of the lowest numbers of constituents of any congressman. Simultaneously, he is one of the most personally accessible. I’ve had good luck getting answers from him and his office. I’ve asked a question on one of his Facebook posts, and got a response. While I think Rep Justin Amash (Of Michigan) sets the gold standard for connecting with constituents over Facebook (he rather famously explains all of his key votes with FB posts), the fact that Cramer’s Facebook page has any aspect of two-way dialogue is rare amongst Congress.
So my challenge to folks who are upset with Cramer is simple: Have you tried talking to him? Have you asked him to explain his vote? Have you told him why you disagree with how he voted, what he said, or what he did?
If you haven’t, you’re missing an opportunity, because as I said earlier, as a North Dakotan, you have one of the largest “representation ratios” in government, and one of the most accessible Congressmen in the whole nation.
[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”I think North Dakota can be a difficult place to really stay cynical about politics, because politics in North Dakota is actually pretty good.”[/mks_pullquote]
You may not be satisfied with his answer. You may think you would do a better job in his position. You might! Have you tried?
This brings me to my second point: What have you done to improve local politics?
In the 2014 election, I saw some of my own friends win state congressional seats. People that I know are now part of the state government. That’s amazing!
These folks are, universally, normal people. I won’t say average, because they aren’t. I think they’re exceptional– all of them, successful business owners. They demonstrate leadership, integrity, and hard work in their professional lives, and I expect the same once they’re sitting in Bismarck. But the point is that they are normal in the sense that they aren’t part of some set aside class of career politicians – they are like you and me. They weren’t born into political power, and they didn’t go to Ivy League schools.
This is another great feature of North Dakota politics – our legislature can actually be made up of people who still have real jobs in the real world. Our legislature only meets for a few months out of each two year session, and so it is truly possible to run your small business AND represent your district in Bismarck. Thomas Jefferson imagined that the People’s House would be made up of yeoman farmers; folks who left their day jobs only part of the year to do the important business of government. While that hasn’t panned out for the federal government, that is exactly the case for many members of the North Dakota state legislature.
If you still feel like your state legislature is too distant, too incompetent, too corrupt, or whatever, what have you done to show them a better way?
I’ve been going to district Republican Party meetings for a few years, in two different North Dakota districts. There have rarely been more than 10 people at any of these meetings. It turns out that finding good candidates for local elections is difficult. Getting money and volunteers to get them elected is difficult. I know that there are many more than two districts, and not everyone will have the same experience, but my experience has been: the people who are the backbone of the local political party in your area are desperate for your help and involvement. If you help them, they will listen to you. They are happy to include you. And sometimes, you can find yourself suddenly thrust into the position of being part of the local party leadership. You quickly see that it is a job that is thankless, requires responsibility, and that few people want to do year after year.
North Dakota is one of the cheapest places in the US to run for local office, and one of the least disruptive to your normal life if you get elected. In many districts in the state, all you need to do is show up to start affecting the process of who gets elected and how they shape state policy in Bismarck.
So, in summary – instead of staying cynical about politics in our state, please make sure you’re willing to help and get involved. You are fewer steps away from sitting in Bismarck than you think. But, make sure you’re ready to work hard. Make sure you’re a person your community could and should look up to and respect. Make sure you’re willing to shoulder the burden of representing your friends and neighbors. Make sure that you’re prepared to answer the hard questions that cynical people like you will ask.
There is a tension between being a reformer on the outside – someone who can remain critical, cynical, and visceral in their criticism of policies and politicians – and being involved on the inside – someone who sees first-hand how the sausage is made, someone who has the “opportunity” to be in the hot seat, and to face the consequences of what they say and do. It’s difficult to remain an angry reformer when you’ve had face time with the people in power. It’s difficult to retain your fire and conviction when there are real people in the room with you who all are doing the best job they can.
We probably need activist reformers who stay on the outside, and who provide clarity with harsh words about what they want to be different, but at some point, you need people like you on the inside of the political establishment if you want actual real change to happen. This is a state where you can make it happen – if you’ve got the dedication and the talent.
So, do you want to remain an outsider, who never has to face any consequences or angry constituents?
Or, are you ready to get involved and shake things up?