During my senior year of high school, I participated in the Close Up program to learn about government at the federal level (and to take a week-long trip to Washington DC in the middle of the school year).
As part of that trip, I had a chance to meet with both Senators from Minnesota (Rod Grams and Paul Wellstone at the time – I suppose that dates me a bit) and my district’s representative, Jim Ramstad.
A little background on my political lens in high school: a few weeks before the trip, I had sent $5 to the Republican National Committee to help with Bob Dole’s run for President. If you wanted to hear GOP talking points at my high school, I was one of the people you could find. During the trip, my friends and I made it our goal to get Congressional passes (the little cards that get you into the chambers) from each of the Republican heavyweights at the time – Dole, Gingrich, etc (some day I will write about getting chased out of Newt Gingrich’s office by a secretary).
That said, I was least impressed with the visit with Rod Grams. He repeated some Republican talking points, acted irritated that he had to talk to a group of high school students, and maybe took a question or two before leaving after maybe 10 minutes total.
Our Senators at the time couldn’t have been more different politically or personally. After waiting about 40 minutes for Wellstone, he came marching in with about a half-dozen staffers behind him, gave us a quick, impassioned speech about how we (youth) were America’s most precious resource, answered a few questions, then lost a game of good-cop bad-cop with one of his staffers who explained that “the Senator is very busy and needs to be moving on now”.
As an aside, Wellstone had the gift of woo, and it was even apparent in the short time that I saw him in person. I understand how he became such an inspirational figure to a lot of people, and I do think that he was genuine.
Back to the story, the final person we met was Ramstad. It was a smaller group, about five of us, and he asked each of us our names and why we came to Washington. Upon learning that we were interested in getting into politics, he told us how he got his start, and gave us suggestions to get involved.
All I knew about Jim Ramstad before the visit was his reputation for moderation. I learned that day why he was so respected among his peers. There was nothing phony about him, and you wouldn’t have guessed from our conversation that he was even a politician. He certainly didn’t seem to belong in Washington. We sat in his office and chatted for a good 45 minutes before we had to leave for our next event.
Though my personal politics have shifted a few times since, I was proud to be able to vote for Ramstad in several elections. My family has since moved, and was a little sad that I wouldn’t be in Ramstad’s district anymore.
Now, during his ninth term, Ramstad is calling it quits. It is certainly a loss for Congress, and Minnesota’s third district.
He said he has grown tired from the relentless physical grind of service in Washington and weary of being a lonely centrist in an increasingly polarized legislative body.
“After 17 years of getting on a plane every Monday and coming back every Friday, I’m burned out,” Ramstad said at a news conference Monday. “I’m tired. I still have a passion for policy and a passion for politics, but I want to be home.”
Similar to Terry Ryan, it sounds as though Ramstad is just burned out. It is not all that surprising, and he even discussed it a decade ago with a few high school students in his office, and I could sense that it was wearing on him, even then. In that regard, I am glad he can step away on his terms.
The congressman called himself one of the last of a “dying breed of Republican moderates.” He has increasingly called on Washington politicians to “work in a more bipartisan and pragmatic way,” as he put it Monday. “People need to put aside the harsh rhetoric on both sides of the aisle.”
You hear that a lot from politicians, usually when they want someone to stop arguing and vote for their issue. It seemed different with Ramstad, and his voting record seems to be evidence that it is.
I would like to think that there will be others like him in elected office in our country: thoughtful, honest, not beholden to a strict party line – I just won’t hold my breath waiting.
Update: Turns out it was Alfred Anderson who lost his shoe, my apologies to Dozier. Here is the meltdown in question, from this site. I might actually care about the Vikings if Burnsie was still doing post-game interviews.
One of Minnesota’s beloved back up catchers.