Meet Justin Amash (R-MI), the coolest congressman that you’ve never heard of. He doesn’t grab headlines the way Michele Bachmann, Nancy Pelosi, Ron Paul or some of the other more notorious members of Congress do, but in his short time as a U.S. congressman, Amash has done a lot of things that– agree with his positions or not– most Americans would probably agree are just plain cool.
Swept to victory for his first term in the U.S. House back in 2010 with the support of the Tea Party movement, Justin Amash isn’t the “old, white” guy clinging to his guns and Bible portrayed by many of the Tea Party’s critics as exemplifying the anti-tax protest movement that started in 2009. A second generation Arab-American of Palestinian and Syrian descent, when he assumed office, Justin Amash was also the second-youngest sitting U.S. Representative, clocking in at 31 years old. Amash was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1980. Think about that. This man was born in the 1980s and he’s a sitting member of Congress. I’m only 25-years-old and it boggles my mind to consider that I hang out with people Justin Amash’s age. They’re my peers. Amash is among the first of my generation to make his way to our nation’s capitol, and as someone with high hopes for my generation, that inspires me.
As one of the nation’s youngest legislators, it should come as no surprise then, that Amash is fluent in social media and uses it in innovative ways to connect with his constituents and create a dramatic level of transparency surrounding his seat and his votes. As a state representative in the Michigan House of Representatives, Amash did attract national attention as the first legislator to use his Facebook page to explain every vote he took and discuss it with his constituents. It’s a practice he’s continued as a member of the U.S. Congress, taking to his Facebook page to record each and every vote (including for motions and amendments), explain what he’s voting on, announce how he voted, and give his reasoning.
Here’s a recent example from March 10th:
Here’s the roll call for the Capps of CA Amendment 16 to H R 3606, which requires the SEC to study the increase of IPOs that result from this bill. I question whether the federal government has the ability to determine that figure. Regardless, I don’t see the point of another study. I voted “no.” It failed 172-236.
FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 108
That status update had 43 likes and 10 comments. One of the commenters, Ryan, wrote: “I think you folks should take Saturday off. You’ve done enough this month!” Seven minutes later, Rep. Amash replied, “Ryan, we’re not in session. I’m just catching up with some of my vote explanations from this past week.” Transparency. Access. Openness. It didn’t take a new set of House rules or new law to achieve. This congressman just started doing it. Yours might too if you and enough of your fellow constituents bugged him or her about it. He even linked to the roll call vote on the House’s website so his constituents or anyone reading wouldn’t have to hunt for the results on Google. Whether you agree with his votes themselves or not, it’s hard not to agree that the fact that he uses Facebook to share them, explain them, and discuss them– is really cool.
In the offline world, Amash frequently holds town hall meetings in his district to connect with the people he represents in Congress, contending that most elected officials don’t interact often enough with their constituents. At one such town hall meeting earlier this year, Amash proudly pointed out that he was one of only 12 representatives that didn’t miss a single vote last year. Again, not only did he not miss a single vote, he logged every single one onto his Facebook Wall, justified his position, and took questions.
Probably the coolest thing about Justin Amash, however, is that he is objectively, statistically-speaking, the most independent member of the House GOP. Last year, The New York Times noted that Amash, “has not voted with the majority 25 percent of the time, the most of any House Republican.” When he’s not posting his votes to Facebook, he’s using it to snipe at his colleagues for their lack of independence from the party line. Just this Saturday, Amash posted a link to a New York Times article entitled, “G.O.P. Freshmen Not as Defiant as Reputation Suggests.” The article reported a statistical analysis of votes proving that this cycle’s freshmen Republicans have mostly been bulwarks of the status quo, not crusading, independent reformers.
Along with the link, Amash wrote this: “Some of us came to Congress to save this country from a government-induced collapse. Others came for a good time.”
There’s a lesson in all this. Americans don’t have to be unaffiliated to be independents. They just have to love their own party more than they hate “the other” party, and they have to love their party enough to call it out for its mistakes and lovingly disagree with it when they believe, as a matter of principle, that it is wrong. If more and more Americans and the politicians they elect would put principles ahead of party, solutions ahead of partisan saber-rattling, and integrity ahead of smooth-talking personalities, America could very well start to heal from many of its wounds and dysfunctions without anybody changing one single policy position. The beauty of a representative democracy is that we don’t all have to agree on policies. But the one thing we must agree on is the necessity of character, consistency, and a truly independent mindset. In many ways, freshman congressman Justin Amash exemplifies these ideals.
Though with all these other characteristics, it never does hurt to be a bit of a policy nerd, which those who know Justin Amash well can certainly tell that he is. But these days, “nerdy” is cool too.