North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer held the most town halls among members of Congress in 2016 — 164 to be exact.
So how does someone whose district is halfway across the country from D.C. accomplish this? He goes on the radio.
“It’s been fun because I get to listen to people’s questions and concerns. But what’s really fun is it’s been a three-year civics lesson on how Congress works because it’s unedited,” Cramer said. “When I don’t have an answer I’ll say, ‘I’ll get to you next week and I’ll look it up.’”
For an hour on Wednesday mornings, the congressman joins Scott Hennen, a conservative radio host, on radio station KFYR, which reaches Bismarck, Fargo, Tioga, and Dickinson. Cramer is on station KNOX in Grand Forks, and KHND in Harvey, for a half-hour each on Thursdays.
He’s adding a fourth station on Feb. 15, and will go on WDAY in Fargo for a half-hour on Wednesdays.
“All of this sounds very nice and neat and cut and dried, but it gets blown up every week by my schedule,” he said.
Cramer said consistency is important, and finding another hour of time is hard, so he tries to make it work wherever he is.
“On hearing days, I’ll step out and do it on my cell phone,” he said. “Especially if it’s a markup or something, I’ll literally go in and out.”
Sometimes he even calls in from votes.
“What happened to that is it’s become part of the show where people are getting a blow-by-blow, play-by-play analysis of me voting,” he said. “I say, ‘Listen, I don’t know if you can go to a commercial break yet or you can stall for a second — I’ve got to run in and vote.’ They’ll hear me yell, ‘Aye.’”
And, he’s called while driving several times, too.
“It’s part of the intimacy of it,” Cramer said. “It’s just me in the car and they know that because that’s part of what we talk about. Unless I absolutely can’t, I’ll do it just about in whatever situation.”
He started doing radio as a public service commissioner in North Dakota. When he was doing a show as a candidate for Congress in 2012, the station general manager asked if it could become a regular thing if he got elected.
“I said, ‘Hey, yeah, we could call it like talk-radio town hall.’”
The relationship between Cramer and his constituents has evolved over his three terms in Congress.
“The first year, people called in mad,” he said. “I would say eight out of 10 calls were angry people. Mostly angry conservatives, and I know they were skeptical that I would keep doing it. They were skeptical of the motive behind it.”
He added, “Now, eight out of 10 people might call with a problem or angry about something but they say, ‘Thanks for doing this.’”
Cramer’s office ends up with a lot of casework as a result.
“Some people call and say, ‘What do you think of Betsy DeVos,’ right? Or somebody else calls in and says, ‘Congressman, I have a son who’s got Down syndrome and we’ve had this issue,’ and it becomes very personal,” he said.
He will tell the person to stay on the line for a caseworker.
Cramer said he laughs when the host asks him beforehand what they should talk about.
His usual response: “You and I aren’t going to determine what we’re talking about today — the first caller will.”