A politician’s post on Facebook is often a lazy attempt at propaganda. Take an entry by Pat Miles, a Democrat running in Michigan’s 3rd congressional district. “You can watch Pat in last night’s Democratic Primary Debate tonight at 9:30 pm on WGVU,” it reads — indicating that Pat doesn’t write his own material.
Compare that to a post by Miles’s Republican opponent, Justin Amash: “[I] just voted no on HB 4627, which adds multiple unnecessary regulations to the sale of annuities in Michigan. . . . The legislation makes the seller responsible for all of the decisions of the prospective buyer. We voted on many bad bills today, but none worse than this one. It passed 97-7.”
It is, as Reason’s Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote, a “strangely beautiful sight.”
Amash, a 30-year-old state representative, has over 9,000 fans on Facebook, more than any state politician in Michigan besides the governor and attorney general. He hopes to replace retiring congressman Vern Ehlers in November, and given the district’s reddish tint — it was Gerald Ford’s in his day — he is expected to win.
Throughout his tenure in Michigan’s legislature, Amash has never missed a vote. And for each roll-call, he’s put the result on Facebook and Twitter, telling constituents what he voted on, how he voted, and why. He got the idea one day while languishing in the legislature. “We were dealing with budgets, and I decided, ‘Maybe people at home would be interested in knowing what’s going on here, minute by minute,’” Amash tells National Review Online. “I started posting things on the floor and how I voted on a few things and people loved it.”
Amash votes against any bill he hasn’t read. Although a bill must be introduced five days before a vote, thousands are offered, so he reads only those put on the agenda by the legislative leadership. Sometimes, however, the leadership brings a bill not on the agenda to the floor. If Amash doesn’t have time to read it, he votes no.
And he occasionally gets in trouble for it. On July 1, Amash wrote on Facebook: “[I] just voted no on HBs 5043, 4469, and 4468, which have something to do with the permanent revocation of the license of a physician who has been convicted of criminal sexual conduct. Unfortunately, we were given only seconds to read these bills, which were not on the agenda. I do not know the details of the legislation ( . . . and neither do my colleagues). Each bill passed 106-1.”
The response was mixed. “Are you saying you voted to ALLOW physicians who have been convicted of criminal sexual conduct to continue practicing[?]” Bill Murphy commented on the post. “Please tell me you didn’t do that, Justin!”
Amash, ever accountable, responded: “Bill, I voted no to oppose the immediate passage of legislation that legislators were not given a chance to read. If the legislation is important, then we should be given the opportunity to analyze it.”
Every now and then, a constituent persuades him to change his vote. “The legislature was going to ban the reuse of single-use medical devices and this vote went unanimously. I supported it, and when I got home, one of my constituents who saw how I voted — a doctor — let me know the bill provided no guidance to doctors. So I regretted that vote and when the Senate version of the bill appeared in the House, I [voted to oppose],” says Amash.
In an age when federal legislation can run longer than War and Peace, Amash plans to continue his scrupulous approach in Congress. “I would push for a system where constituents are able to follow their members of Congress as they vote and receive explanations on every bill,” he says. “And I would fight to put rules in place to ensure that members of Congress have time to read the bills before they vote.”
It’s a novel idea in this era of big government, but not so breathtaking for Amash. A lawyer who studied economics in college, Amash praises the work of Friedrich Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat — which is one reason he enjoys tea-party support. And as a fiscal conservative, he likes much of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Roadmap for America’s Future: “I think his notion of reforming Social Security and Medicare is extremely important. We need to have a system that is different for people who are younger and to phase that system in. And I agree with [Ryan’s] views on the tax code that we need to simplify it and do away with the deductions and credits.”
Conservatives have hailed Amash as the kind of innovator the Republican party needs. “I ran for Congress a couple of times and everybody talked about the Internet,” says Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth (which has endorsed Amash). “But he’s really in the first generation of candidates who’ve figured out a way to use it for good government.” For good government, yes, and to build trust among voters at a time when politicians as a class are reviled — and, Amash hopes, to get elected to Congress.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.