Months ago I interviewed Congressman Jared Polis about activism related to congressional politics. Although he replied promptly, I delayed in publishing his answers until yesterday. (Sorry!) Because Polis now faces a challenger for his seat, Kevin Lundberg, I thought it was appropriate to ask Lundberg a comparable set of questions. His answers follow.
Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings. (Nor does this interview imply I agree with Lundberg’s positions.)
Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.
Ari: In general, how much do members of Congress tend to bow to party politics, and how much to they tend to make up their own minds based on their independent research and ideological convictions? How do you intent to deal with party pressures should you win the seat?
Kevin: My experience is at the state legislative level, and that is enough to know that the normal trend is for legislators to go with most of the flow. I have spent ten years resisting that trend. It is not a good idea to be a lone ranger, for all legislative issues require a lot of group effort, but one must find likeminded people to help withstand the pressures of establishment politics. In Colorado I helped found and run the Republican Study Committee of Colorado to provide a viable alternative to the establishment trends that inevitably grow more government. In Washington I intend on joining the Republican Study Committee, and similar alliances. I also have learned that it is essential to know what is negotiable, and what are non-negotiable principles, and stick with those principles.
Ari: By the time somebody gets to Congress, many of his or her views and commitments are already set. To what degree is it worthwhile for somebody trying to advocate a set of ideas and policies to interact with members of Congress? Should they instead focus on educating other activists, the general electorate, and lower-level candidates still formulating their worldviews? Obviously you have expressed strong convictions on various matters. How to do plan to weigh the views and advice of constituents in light of your established views?
Kevin: It is always a balance between one’s personal ideals and the district’s overall needs and opinions.
The best way to influence elected officials is before the election. I am honest and forthright with the voters before and after the election, but that is not always the case for every candidate. Before this election is over I trust careful voters will examine my principles for good government and weigh it against the values of my opponent. Remember, now is the time for this conversation.
After the election I will not change my tune. I intend to listen as carefully as I can and then cast my votes according to that information I have gathered and the principles of good government I have clearly outlined during the campaign season.
Ari: How do you plan to interact with constituents?
Kevin: Even as I have tried to do in Larimer county with my state legislative duties, I need to spend as much time here in the district and not in D.C.. I also will make constituent services a high priority for my staff.
Ari: What are the best forums for somebody to interact with a member of Congress? Town halls? Letters? Phone calls? Fundraising events? What are the best ways to interact with you now and should you win the seat?
Kevin: Town halls, and other public meetings are the most effective, but letters, calls, and to a lesser extent, emails all have an impact. I have attended a Monday morning breakfast in Larimer county just about every week of the year for all of my legislative career. It was the event Congressman Bob Schaffer started when he ran for Congress. He attended most weeks while in Congress. I hope to continue that tradition. In addition, I know I must conduct town halls all around the district, and keep an open door policy, even as I have as a state representative and state senator.
Ari: What approaches and arguments work best with a member of Congress? Which ones prove ineffective?
Kevin: For me the most effective arguments are: Is it constitutional? Will it really be in the best interest of the people in the district? Will it reduce government and enhance liberty? Telling me that some big contributor wants something is about the last thing I want to hear and has little effect on my opinion.
Ari: “Public Choice” economics talks about the problem of “concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.” How will you distinguish between special-interest appeals (at the cost of everyone else) and policies truly in the best interests of the country as a whole? How do you hope other members of Congress do that? Or is the problem intractable?
Kevin: From my vantage point I cannot judge other members of Congress, but, as I answered in question five, special-interest appeals do not hold much weight with me. Ask any full-time lobbyist in Denver, they can confirm that I do not bend to accommodate some special interest if it is not first, and foremost, the best choice for the people in my district.