Honoring Congressman Jim Ramstad

By EVAN RICE, REP’s Minnesota State Coordinator

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Evan made this statement directly to Congressman Ramstad at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge on August 24, 2005.


What a spectacular morning on this wonderful spot!

As I stand here, it strikes me that in many ways, this is precisely what those of us in the “environmental community” are working so hard for — the dedication and preservation of those elements of our natural world that transcend the crass and prosaic and add a certain measure of ineffable beauty and inspiration to our lives. As Minnesotans, we would be remiss if we did not take the time periodically to relish these spots, consider the inspiration they bring us, and reward the political leadership that makes them possible.

It’s always a pleasure for me to speak at events such as this, but that’s particularly true when the event is to honor the work and commitment of a person like Jim Ramstad.

Now I must admit to you that Jim is very easy for me to like, and I’ve always had a soft spot for him for at least three reasons.

First, my wife Heidi and Jim share a common birthplace, Jamestown, North Dakota. Now in deference to Heidi, and in order to preserve matrimonial harmony, I can’t concede to Jim the distinctions of “Jamestown’s Favorite Son/Daughter” or “Most Wonderful Product,” but I’ve always liked that small connection.

Second, I also continue to admire Congressman Ramstad for a personal episode he no doubt does not remember. In the summer of 1993, I had just arrived home from sub-Saharan Africa, where I’d spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. At that time, I had the privilege to join my family in Washington, DC, for a White House Rose Garden event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Boys’ Nation Class of 1963. Now Jim and President Clinton (as well as few arguably less accomplished men, such as my old man) were members of that class, and the reunion of participants and their mature families was really a special weekend. With that background, my point is this: Although he could easily have demurred as the primary organizer and co-host of the event, when Congressman Ramstad learned that I was a newly-returned Peace Corps volunteer, he took the personal time to pull me aside, put his big paw on my shoulder, and ask earnestly about my experiences, the conditions in my host country, and so on. To me, his willingness to reach out in that unpretentious human way (which I know is the way that he interacts with others in the whole of his political life) has always endeared him to me.

Finally though, my affection for Congressman Ramstad is informed by the reasons that we’re here today. His leadership on environmental policy and protection has been truly remarkable. That leadership has spanned many years and many political seasons, but one important example is his recent work to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Jim deserves great and specific credit for his forthright political courage in opposing drilling in the refuge. In our present political climate, that type of principled backbone is — sadly — increasingly uncommon.

But Jim has had the foresight to recognize that the proposed drilling (in addition to exploiting a reserve that Congress has long seen fit to protect) does nothing to change the fundamental demand elements that are driving world oil markets. On the contrary, drilling in the refuge presents a distraction from the genuine reality that — for the good of our economy, our defense, and our environment — we must focus our national efforts on the conservation of existing resources and the development of clean, efficient, alternative energy technologies.

In a more general way too, as a Republican, we know that Congressman Ramstad also plays a vital role as an example to illustrate the decisive importance of our ongoing efforts to make environmental protection a truly bipartisan objective. To succeed in establishing a sustainable energy and environmental policy in this country, we must do more to articulate what I call the “Business Case for the Environment.” This is the idea, which is catching on, I assure you, that environmental protection is not only the right thing, but it is, and will be, the profitable thing as well. While we have much more to do in this regard, leaders like Jim are crucial to the success of this movement.

By these measures then, Congressman Ramstad is a continuing example of what’s right in American politics and American life.

For that, Jim, and for your continuing good work, we all say thank you.