MANKATO — Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-day series on the race for the 1st District U.S. House seat. On Saturday we published a story about challenger Allen Quist, as well as a summary story about key issues of the race. It can be found on mankatofreepress.com.
Congressman Tim Walz spent nearly four decades in schools, as a student and as a teacher, and he knows the current crowd he’s hanging with is definitely not the popular clique.
For three straight elections, members of Congress have been getting seriously snubbed by their fellow Americans. First it was Republicans tossed out in uncommonly high numbers by disgusted Americans in 2006, a wave that helped the Mankato Democrat topple veteran Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht.
In 2008, voters slammed Republicans again — giving Democrats control of the White House, along with even larger majorities in the House and Senate.
Two years of that, and another wave election came with House Democrats getting the boot from power by voters disgruntled with the stagnant economy, a controversial health care reform and skyrocketing deficits.
Even after all the changes, approval ratings for Congress sank to dismally low levels — 9 percent in one survey earlier this year.
But when Walz is asked about the throw-the-bums-out mentality that seems increasingly common, he says what one might expect an incumbent to say: “What I would argue people do is look at the individual, look at the body of work that they’ve done.”
But Walz also says what one might expect a social studies teacher to say, maybe because that’s what he was for nearly two decades before his surprise victory in 2006.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to start restoring some faith in democracy,” he said. “... Skepticism of government is healthy and truly American. Cynicism is not.”
Representative government can work if the representatives have the right attitude, stop assuming the worst of their opponents and quit pretending that compromise is a dirty word, according to Walz.
Taking the politics out of congressional redistricting and reforming how campaigns are financed are probably needed, he said. A constant approach of tossing-the-bums out en masse, however, isn’t going to work.
“What I’m afraid of is their next step after voting against all incumbents is to just not vote,” he said. “And that’s where danger lies in the democracy. They’ve lost faith in big business. They’ve lost faith in banks. They’ve lost faith in the media. They’ve lost faith in their government.”