Ramstad Raps GOP for Moving Away From the Center

Posted September 3, 2008 at 2:17pm

Sounding a discordant note during the Republican National Convention, Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) — who is retiring this year after a long career as one of a dwindling band of GOP moderates — criticized his own party Wednesday for moving to an ideological extreme and eschewing bipartisanship.

“I know I would not win a popularity contest in the House Republican Conference,” he acknowledged, “but let me just say this: Minnesota has a rich tradition of progressive Republicans, and I am proud to be part of that tradition.”

He added, “My hope now is that the party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and John McCain can restore the balance of moderation that informed our debates. I hope Republicans see the day when litmus tests on social issues disappear and fiscal responsibility with a social conscience will once again return to center stage.”

Ramstad’s comments came at a forum on “Minnesota’s Progressive Republican Tradition” at the St. Paul College Club. He appeared on a panel with two former Republican governors of Minnesota, Al Quie (who served from 1979-1983) and Arne Carlson (1991-1999). The event was sponsored by Growth & Justice, a progressive, nonpartisan group based in the Twin Cities.

Ramstad said he was proud to be at or near the center of Congress in most vote ratings, enabling him to win simultaneous endorsements from such groups as the Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, Citizens Against Government Waste, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.

“That’s what Minnesota is about — working in a pragmatic, common-sense way, not espousing a rigid ideology like a debating society,” he told a packed lecture hall of approximately 100 attendees.

Among the 17 bipartisan bills he’s sponsored this year, Ramstad touted his mental health parity bill — which has cleared a House-Senate conference committee and is now awaiting action by both chambers — as a rare example of constructive bipartisanship in Congress today, and one that was more than a decade in the making. The bill has been a personal priority for Ramstad for years, in part because he has lived for several decades as a recovering alcoholic.

Ramstad also touted legislation to rebuild school buildings that he is co-sponsoring with House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) — a figure who more than once has been spotlighted by national Republicans as an example of how liberal the Democratic Party is.

Ramstad said that when President Bush was elected in 2000, he hoped the new president would help restore comity in Washington, D.C. But Ramstad said he was disappointed.

“Instead of being a uniter,” he said, Bush “followed [GOP strategist] Karl Rove’s playbook too often. He followed ‘base’ politics and got re-elected — but how many times did I hear, ‘We have to do it for the base’? It became a mantra of the House Republican Conference in too many areas.”