here for PDF format
of Meeting with Jim Ramstad
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, November 29,
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay (by phone), Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul
Gilje, Jim Hetland, John Mooty (by phone) and guests Justin McCoy and
Lance Olson, aides to Congressman Jim Ramstad
Congressman Jim Ramstad
Welcome and introduction
Paul welcomed and introduced Rep. Jim Ramstad, Minnesota 3rd
congressional district. Ramstad was first elected to Congress in
1990. He is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Health
Subcommittee and Oversight Subcommittee. In 2005, Ramstad was named
“Leading Light for Seniors” by the American Health Care Association, and
in 2006 he received the “Disabilities Rights Award” from the American
Association of People with Disabilities. He is a former Criminal
Justice attorney. Prior to his election to Congress, Ramstad served
three terms in the Minnesota Senate, where he was Assistant Minority
Comments and discussion
Ramstad's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus, the following
points were raised:
1. Problems in the Congress
--Congress is characterized today by a lack of comity, a lack of
collaboration, and increased polarization that is leading to paralysis,
Ramstad said. By September 30 of each year, Congress should
have completed work on its 11 appropriations bills. As of today,
only one of those bills has been signed into law. No action has
occurred on such importation legislation as transportation funding and
children's health insurance.
In years past, he said, many members of Congress from opposite parties
worked with one another in a bipartisan fashion. He mentioned
how Bill Frenzel, his predecessor from the 3rd District, was probably the
hardest worker on trade legislation. Frenzel, a Republican,
worked successfully with Democrats.
The situation has changed rapidly over the last two decades, he said.
Some new political people came to Washington
with the objective of appealing narrowly to one's base of support, rather
than seeking a broader consensus. Every possible action was analyzed
as to how the action would play to the "base". They made no attempt
to reach consensus, but simply to gain politically by playing to their
The far right and the far left have controlled decisions.
There's a moderate group of Republicans known as the Tuesday group, and a
moderate group of Democrats known as the Blue Dogs. While these
groups hold the balance of power, the far left and far right are
under a lot of pressure not to work with the moderates. Thus, the
result is more polarization.
2. Pork barrel politics seems healthy
--Ramstad agreed with a member's comment that members of Congress are
able to get their favorite projects inserted into legislation.
Ramstad said it took him awhile to learn the game. "Earmarks",
the specific projects for a member's congressional district, get thrown
into a 600-page bill in the dark of night. Members vote on the bill
the next morning and then two weeks later they learn from the press that
something like "a bridge to nowhere" has been inserted.
Members all know that if they don't agree to vote for an appropriations
bill that their own perks will be deleted. In effect, if a
member has a project in the bill, the member is required to vote yes.
3. Do away with precinct caucuses
--Ramstad recommended that open primaries in the state should replace
precinct caucuses. When you add together attendance at all precinct
caucuses in the state, for all parties, the total attendance is less than
the number attending a Vikings game at the Metrodome on any Sunday, about
62,500. Open primaries would encourage politics to be
Political parties in some states endorse more than one candidate for a
given office, with voters then making the choice in open primaries, he
4. Advance the date of the primary
--Ramstad supports moving the primary forward from September to June.
He never could understand why only five or six weeks separates the primary
from the general election.
5. A drop in support for political parties
--Ramstad said he wish he could have a dollar for every time a
constituent of his has made a campaign contribution with a disclaimer to
the effect that "Here's my dollar. But I'll not do anything
for the party."
6. Improve redistricting --The
group discussed the fact that the states draw the boundaries for U.S.
House of Representative districts as well as for their state legislatures.
Ramstad said he thinks it would be better if the courts, not the
Legislature, were responsible for redistricting. A member replied
that he'd prefer some kind of non-partisan, not bi-partisan, commission.
The member cited the fact that some judges have been every bit as partisan
on redistricting as the Legislature. Ramstad said he agrees
with the member that a non-partisan commission would be preferred.
7. Better disclosure of campaign
--Ramstad said he supports immediate, complete disclosure of campaign
contributions. The House has agreed to make available electronically
the quarterly reports to the Federal Elections Commission on campaign
contributions, but the Senate has not agreed. Ramstad is
opposed to public financing of campaigns. To help show they are
worthy for public office, candidates need to generate their own support,
he said. A member said public financing would provide more benefits
to incumbents than challengers.
8. Combating negative advertising
--More involvement of the electorate, better education of the people,
and holding candidates accountable are ways to reduce negative campaign
advertising, he said. You can't legislate against something
that has first amendment protection. He expressed great
distaste for certain negative ads, including one that questioned the
patriotism of Max Cleland, a close friend of Ramstad's.
9. Potential of ranking candidates by
preference --Ramstad was asked whether candidates might be
discouraged from attacking opponents so strongly if they had incentive to
appeal to opponents' base of support, too. He was asked about
whether the concept of instant runoff voting (IRV) would have some
potential. With IRV the voter ranks candidates in order of
preference. To attract some support from voters who back other
candidates, even as a second or third choice, a candidate might ease away
form negative campaigning, a member said. Ramstad said this is
the first he's heard about the potential of IRV to reduce negative
A member suggested that with IRV political parties would be stimulated to
find additional candidates to enter races, to attract second and third
Later in the meeting the group briefly discussed the possibility of
whether political polls might start asking respondents to identify their
second and third choices, not just their first choice. Ramstad said
some pollsters already do that. The question arose whether
public pollsters are as inclined to asking such questions as are the
10. Why Ramstad isn't running
--Asked why he has announced he won't seek re-election in 2008, Ramstad
said he is tired of 18 years of commuting to Washington. He
said he should have followed the advice of this predecessor, Bill Frenzel,
and moved to
He said he is not discouraged with being in Congress. He's exploring
the possibility of teaching at a university.
11. Change in the media
--The decline in newspapers and the rise of the Internet is
revolutionizing American politics, Ramstad said. The young don't
read newspapers. Even the newspapers themselves are reporting what
blogs on the web have to say. The group briefly took note of a new
non-profit on-line newspaper started by Joel Kramer, former publisher of
the Star Tribune.
12. Growing role of legislative
caucuses in financing and running campaigns --A member pointed
out to Ramstad that since he left the Minnesota Legislature some 18 years
ago that the majority and minority caucuses of the House and Senate have
dramatically increased their role in financing and running campaigns.
13. Selection of judges
--Asked about the need for changing the system by which district judges in Minnesota
are selected, Ramstad said he likes the present system, which he
characterized as a hybrid of appointment and election. The
Governor usually makes the initial appointment, because judges usually
resign before their terms have expired. Then judges run for
election when the unexpired terms end. He said he intends to
read the report issued by the Quie commission that recommended a
merit-based appointment system.
14. Support for a presidential
primary --Ramstad said he favors a presidential primary in
Minnesota. He believes it would energize people to become more
involved in politics.
15. Compensation for federal judges
--In response to a question about the compensation for federal judges,
Ramstad said that a proposed pay increase for judges is part of the same
bill that would give members of Congress a raise. He believes
it is likely that the pay increase for judges will be placed in a separate
bill and be passed, but that the pay increase for Congress is not likely
to be approved. Federal judges are calling him monthly to
inquire about the status of their pay increases, he said.
16. Thanks --On behalf of the
Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Ramstad for visiting with us today.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.