Blast From The Past: So Long Erik Paulsen

I’ve had enough day job and freelance work to keep me more than busy as of late, so I haven’t really been in the mood to blog in my precious free time. During my blogging drought, the mid-term election results left the Congress without anyone who has met me in person (this demographic was overlooked by the media in favor of covering the large number of females elected to office in the redux of 1992’s Year of the Woman).

I wrote the following in 2008 while covering the Minnesota House of Representatives:

Stepping Down: Seizing an unexpected opportunity

Published (5/2/2008)
By Brian Hogenson

When U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) announced he would not seek reelection in 2008, leaving the race to represent Minnesota’s third congressional district wide open for the first time in nearly two decades, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Eden Prairie) was not chomping at the bit to run for the seat. 

“I had no interest at all the first couple of days,” said Paulsen, a former Ramstad aide. “But the more people talked to me, I realized it was an opportunity I should not pass up.” 

Confident that he would do a good job, Paulsen said that serving in the U.S. House would be an “exciting opportunity to represent my district.” 

Something he hopes take with him to Washington D.C. is an ability to build relationships with members of the opposing party. 

During his four years as House majority leader, Paulsen said it was important to get his caucus moving in the same direction, but also found it important to build relationships across the aisle. 

That is one of the most important things he offers as advice to his successor. 

“Be true to your constituents always. Remember that they were the ones that elected you,” Paulsen said. “Be a good listener to all points of view and build relationships with your colleagues.” He credits his ability to get legislation passed while in the minority to having good ideas and because of the relationships he has forged by reaching across the aisle. 

Paulsen adds that it is also important to maintain balance and stay rooted with your family in order to keep everything in perspective. 

According to Paulsen, the people of Minnesota don’t want legislators to compromise their principles, but they do want them to be pragmatic and solution-oriented to facilitate getting things done. 

Reflecting on his 14 years in the House, Paulsen says that in addition to keeping up with all the new faces, a change he has noticed is the expanding scope and vision of legislation. “When I got here it was about making Minnesota competitive with our neighboring states. Now it has shifted to global competition. 

“Making Minnesota competitive in a global economy is an important issue for me. I’ve tried to have a long-term and international vision.” 

Paulsen said that, unfortunately, with two-year election cycles, members tend to look for short-term solutions and “govern by sound bites.” 

Two of the international initiatives Paulsen is proud of are his work in bringing an India Center to the University of Minnesota and an initiative to introduce the Mandarin Chinese language to Minnesota students. 

Other legislative accomplishments that Paulsen looks to fondly are legislation to give organ donors an income tax exemption to cover the expenses that go along with their life-saving act and bringing more fairness to suburban school funding. 

The latter earned him an award as a “Friend of Public Education,” something Paulsen said typically would not be associated with being a Republican. 

One thing that Paulsen has not been able to completely wind through the legislative process is bringing ballot referendums and initiatives to Minnesota. Paulsen introduced the legislation during his first term and has carried the legislation ever since. It has passed the House several times but never made it any further. 

Paulsen hopes it will someday come to fruition, as it will give “voters more of a say in the democratic process.” 

The Affordable Care Act Was A Real Game Changer

I have political opinions like anyone and, in general, you can find mine by checking out my Twitter account. I've made a conscious effort to keep this blog free of politics, unless there is a point of view I am not seeing effectively expressed elsewhere. 

The post-election discussion about the fate of the Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare", has left something out that I think will be important as history judges its success or failure. 

Politics is covered in the moment as a zero-sum, winner-takes-all game. You win by being elected and/or having legislation passed, and you lose by losing elections and/or having your legislation vetoed or repealed. 

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, I don't think this approach will suffice when determining the ultimate impact this historic - but likely to be short lived - program has on our country. 

In the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act (2009 to early 2010), the debate centered on whether the government should have a role in health care markets beyond the established programs (Medicaid, Medicare, and coverage for our veterans through the VA). 

In the years that followed, with divided rule in Washington, the debate was between Democrats who wanted to preserve and expand the Affordable Care Act and Republicans who wished to repeal it, followed by a shift in message to "repeal and replace". 

As the specter of one-party Republican rule approaches, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act has been treated as a given. The question being bandied about is "what will replace it?"

The fact that opposition has gone from "repeal" to "repeal and replace" to a tangible discussion about what the replacement will be, is extremely important. Rather than an assumption that we can go back to a time where government had no role in the individual and family insurance markets, government having a role is being accepted as we look for alternative means of covering those who have been covered by policies purchased in the Affordable Care Act's exchanges. 

Policy discussions on health care operating from a starting point that the government has a role in providing coverage will be a legacy that lives on long after the Affordable Care Act has been laid to rest.