After several years of endorsing Erik Paulsen for Minnesota’s Third Congressional seat, the Star Tribune, in a surprising and welcome turn, finally announced it would pull their support. Noting that Paulsen is heavily financed by out-of-district special interests, unwilling to engage with voters, as well as his positions on health care and transit, the Strib called for change. While also citing Paulsen’s decision to air what the Strib refers to as “one of the worst attack ads of this election cycle," the Strib otherwise just scratched the surface of concerns, failing to fully outline the reasons Paulsen should be replaced. We will do that here.
Let’s start with Paulsen’s character. While there are a myriad of ways to assess a candidate’s character, our close observation of Paulsen and our growing dissatisfaction with his votes have led us to identify key character traits essential for successful representation that we find lacking in Paulsen. These are honesty, courage, leadership, and transparency.
While politicians are often reviled for their ability to bend the truth to fit their audiences, Paulsen, fearing a narrow window to repeal Obamacare, didn’t just spin the GOP repeal and replace plan to make it more palatable, he flat-out lied. Paulsen, who once said he was cut from the same cloth as Paul Ryan, was a key player in the deceptive Ryan-led GOP public relations campaign, appearing in interview after interview touting the plan. With a smile and a nod, he enthusiastically claimed that under the AHCA health insurance would be more affordable for everyone. This claim was not true and millions would lose coverage under the plan. With a mere 17% approval rating for the plan from the public, Paulsen had to have known that his own constituents would not support the plan, yet he voted for it anyway. What we know about Paulsen now is that he’s willing to lie repeatedly to advance a GOP agenda not endorsed by his own constituents.
Paulsen followed up his shameless participation in selling the GOP health insurance plan with a massive campaign to sell the GOP tax plan that would not only raise taxes for many Minnesotans while giving the majority of the tax cuts to the wealthy, but also balloon the debt and the deficit. Under Obama, Paulsen claimed to be deeply concerned about deficits. But while selling the tax plan, he insisted that the economic stimulus provided by the tax plan would make up for the cuts. As we approach the November 6th election, however, the deficits are clearly growing, not shrinking. Either Paulsen willfully ignored tax reform math to support the GOP agenda to give tax cuts to the rich, or he lacks the capacity to skillfullly interpret all the available data. Neither explanation is acceptable for a public servant.
While Paulsen’s ability to shamelessly mislead the public on critical issues of public policy is alarming, there is another smaller act of deception that should concern his constituents. When asked why he refused to hold town halls, Paulsen said he’s held “hundreds of town halls. The problem is, there is no evidence what-so-ever to support this obviously false claim. In fact, for a period of more than six years, he did not hold a single public, open town hall forum. While Paulsen has held many robo-calls, these calls are not announced in advance, and constituents can never know whether they will get a call at all. Callers are screened, with no opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Paulsen’s lie about holding hundreds of town halls belies his desire to create the appearance of accessibility, while holding constituents at arm's length. Minnesota’s Third District deserves a representative who will do more than create the appearance of accessability. We deserve a representative who is truly accessible.
As Paulsen nears the ten-year mark of service, he’s been able to maintain a stunning moderate, nice-guy facade through the manipulation of his image. His ability to create the appearance of being a moderate, responsive voice has been a key to his success. But a close look at Paulsen’s votes reveal that his votes support the Trump agenda nearly 98% of the time. Any member of Congress who supports the Trump agenda 98% of the time is not a moderate voice in Washington.
One way Paulsen has tried to appeal to the ticket-splitting moderates in his district has been to use Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) as a talking point. While professing his love for the BWCAW and canoeing for the camera in his campaign ads (which were actually filmed in Chaska, not the Boundary Waters), Paulsen has failed the leadership test in this area as measured by his lack of power to influence his colleagues to protect Minnesota’s wilderness treasure. Paulsen knows that it is easy for Minnesotans to conflate his love for the BWCAW with his environmental record. But the League of Conservation Voters knows better and gives Paulsen a lifetime score of just 16% on environmental issues.
Paulsen demonstrates his willingness to mislead the public on key policies, but this year, he’s also demonstrated that he’s willing to take the low road in his advertising, revealing his true colors and shattering the little that was left of his nice-guy image. As the Strib notes, Paulsen’s campaign and the political action committees supporting him have distributed millions of dollars in misleading ads supporting his reelection. One misleading ad accuses Paulsen’s opponent of covering up sexual harassment as a board member of Allina. The ad has been widely rebuked, importantly by the victims of harassment, and their attorney. If this ad weren’t bad enough, a second ad by Paulsen was so egregious (and won’t be reviewed here) it was even rebuked by Politifact.
Paulsen’s willingness to utilize the Trump playbook in his advertising, that involves repeating untrue statements over and over again as if they are true and until they stick, is both disgusting and alarming and a reason to replace him on November 6th.
If Paulsen fails the honesty test, he also fails the transparency test. Over the last two years many constituents have called Paulsen’s office to learn more about his views. These constituents would often be told that Paulsen has not issued a statement on that particular topic. Paulsen’s failure to disclose his positions as well as his general approach to legislating even earned him the nickname “Cowardly Lion” in article published in the City Pages. He has refused to state his positions on key topics such as health care, internet privacy and gun safety, and often won’t disclose how he will vote on key bills.
Paulsen’s predecessor and mentor, Jim Ramstad, was supposedly a more moderate voice for Minnesotans in Washington, but ten years in, Paulsen isn’t following in his footsteps. Instead he is bathing in special interest money, ranking fourth in the total amount taken by any member of Congress and is firmly under the thumb of Trump. Either fearful or in agreement with Trump’s disturbing, violence-inciting rhetoric and harmful, discriminatory policies, Paulsen has done little in the way of standing up to Trump to protect our democracy. Failing to sponsor or support any of the bills in Congress that protect the Special Counsel investigation, or to reform Presidential tax disclosure laws, it’s clear that Paulsen won’t be a voice for Minnesotans who care deeply about truth and justice for all.
Paulsen’s had five terms in office to show us what he can do, yet he has only sponsored two bills that have become law and holds no leadership positions on any committee in the House of Representatives. In the same time period Amy Klobuchar has sponsored twelve bills that have become law and is a ranking member on both the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration as well as on a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. By now Paulsen should be generating high quality legislation and moving into leadership positions. His lack of achievements are a marker of his inability to influence his colleagues and are surely a sign that he lacks the necessary leadership skills to be an effective member of Congress.
It's time for a change. We must replace Paulsen on November 6th.
To learn more about Paulsen's votes, click this link.
Our democracy depends on the ability of its people to rigorously debate ideas, to outline values, and to develop policies that will be in the best interests of citizens and future generations. When we elect our representatives we entrust them to engage their best thinking skills to solve our biggest problems. We are often grievously disappointed when our legislators act in vacuous ways to make partisan votes and work in their own self-interests. We know that many don’t even read the bills they vote for, but simply vote with party leadership.
While rigorous debate is essential to a democracy, many career politicians have developed the ability to stick to talking points to avoid addressing difficult issues. Indeed, Rep. Erik Paulsen is one of those whose rehearsed talking points are so slippery and genuinely spoken that those who aren’t listening closely are often fooled. Paulsen’s easy grin and folksy speech even earned him the nickname “Opie” in the Minnesota legislature where his participation in the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) taught him that the conservative elite can do all of his thinking for him and he is simply a tool to be used to advance the conservative agenda.
We wonder, what does it take to get to a place where the skill of using talking points to deflect from a genuine discussion is considered a badge of honor? Is it just a matter of time? Or does it take a special set of immoral instincts to deliberately steamroll over the critical issues of the day?
And steamroll, he does. If you pay close attention to Paulsen’s techniques, his easy dismissal of serious problems will take your breath away. He rolls right over them. For example, in a recent robo-call, when asked about whether he would support legislation to protect the Mueller investigation, he claimed that that “the average person that you talk to doesn’t talk about Russia or the Mueller investigation.” Really? No one cares? While advancing the American Health Care Act, he delivered interview after interview about how everyone would save money in premiums as a result of the plan. Non-partisan analysis indicated that was not true, and that the plan, in fact, would make health care unaffordable for many older adults and millions would lose coverage. When advancing the GOP tax plan, Paulsen used his GOP talking points to avoid discussing the impact of the bill on the debt and deficit, and to this day continues to ignore data that does not support his agenda. Not only does he ignore data, but he has become a pitchman for scam sending dozens of tweets and publishing articles in newspapers touting the benefits of the tax plan while ignoring the real harm it will do to the American economy in the long run.
But how can Paulsen, with the boyish grin and Opie charm, sell policies based on a bunch of half-truths and lies? What should we call that kind of behavior? Can you say that someone who deliberately ignores the available data to make false, misleading, or incomplete claims about legislation is an honest man?
We don’t think so. While some may dismiss Paulsen’s deflections and misrepresentations as politics as usual, we see his speech as evidence of something more sinister. His willingness to misrepresent policies for personal and partisan gain is evidence of a serious moral failing. The fact that he does it with a smile and a nod is even more disturbing.
Minnesota’s Third District deserves honest representation in Washington. We will replace Paulsen on 11-6-18.
Minnesotans for Real Representation is a grassroots organization in Minnesota's Third District with the goal of replacing Erik Paulsen in 2018.