The hopeful signs in the first 100 days of a freshman congressman
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Much virtual ink is currently being spent by political pundits across the country, all of whom are attempting to dissect President Trump’s first 100 days in office, in the process offering predictions for what his actions (or inactions as the case may be) hold for the remainder of his presidency.  Let me offer a different “first 100 days” analysis. For those not satisfied with Trump’s start and frustrated with the inaction from the Article I branch, there remain hopeful signs.

In November, Northeastern Wisconsinites elected to Congress Mike Gallagher, a 32 year old former Marine Corps officer. Gallagher had impressively won the GOP primary against a long-time state senator and easily dispatched his Democratic opponent. Gallagher seemed destined for Congress from the start – he possessed the backing of a prominent and successful local family, a distinguished military record, and multiple degrees from Princeton and Georgetown. So it would have been acceptable, maybe even expected, for Gallagher to have quietly settled into his congressional perch, surveying the lay of the land and deciding how he was going to spend his next 30 years in office.

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Instead, Gallagher’s first 100 days have been refreshing and may portend the type of congressional vision offered by a new class of millennial leaders. Gallagher appears intent on offering bold reforms to address key policy concerns that have the potential to unleash American ingenuity, while at the same time taking the necessary steps to secure the homeland.

And in an era where “drain the swamp” means different things to different people, Gallagher has offered a simple and clear-eyed vision – commit to changing the tone of Washington and don’t view service in Congress as a career appointment.

One of the first acts Gallagher took following his swearing-in was to join the Congressional School Choice Caucus.  Gallagher noted “every child in America, regardless of their zip code or income, deserves access to a quality education that equips them with the skills they need to succeed in today’s increasingly competitive world.”  Outside of Green Bay, Gallagher’s district is largely rural.  So his decision to join the caucus is remarkable for several reasons.

First, it shows the depth of the choice movement in Wisconsin.  As the home of the first private school vouchers, Wisconsin boasts some of the highest performing choice and charter schools in the country, as well as national leaders in the education reform movement, such as my organization, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, and School Choice Wisconsin.  But it’s more than that.

As one of the youngest members of Congress, Gallagher, and others like him, could provide the momentum to blow the education reform doors wide open.  Millennials want choice.  And in Wisconsin, our education reform leaders, including many prominent legislators and Gov. Scott Walker, advocate for an all-of-the-above approach to education.  Allow students to open enroll in the public school of their choice, allow districts to partner with local businesses or universities to create charter schools, allow parents to use vouchers to attend a private school of their choice, invest in e-learning, and allow parents the freedom and flexibility to homeschool their children, without any cumbersome and unnecessary reporting requirements.

In addition to education reform, Gallagher has left little doubt he intends on being a leader on national security.  At a time when debate rages over the proper role of the federal government, all should agree that the federal government is uniquely positioned, and constitutionally required, to keep the homeland safe.  Gallagher serves on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.  By Feb. 1, he was questioning General Petraeus (who he previously served under) on Iran’s Nuclear Program and the use of safe zones in war torn nations such as Syria.

By the end of February he was named chairman of the Task Force on Denying Terrorists Entry into the United States.  Gallagher recognizes the threats to the homeland are real.  The data generated by the Homeland Security Committee should make the hair on one’s neck stand at attention.  Over the last 12 months, 36 homegrown jihadist cases have been identified in 18 states, including Wisconsin.  And most recently, Gallagher took to the House floor to condemn Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression, a promising sign that he will not allow the acts of strongmen to go unnoticed.

In addition to the above specific policy positions, maybe most promising has been Gallagher’s early moves to take on the unenviable task of changing the tone and tenor of Washington.  It’s safe to assume Gallagher doesn’t think he’s going to actually accomplish these tasks overnight.  Instead, he is likely viewing his position as a newly elected (young) congressman as an opportunity to introduce ideas that are unfortunately foreign to long serving members of the “swamp.”

In February he joined 45 freshman members of Congress in signing a Commitment to Civility.  Not to be confused with an abandonment of principles, the commitment is rather straightforward.  Among other things, the members committed to the following principle, one that many Americans yearn for a return to: “We believe that a leader can be cooperative and conciliatory without compromising his or her core principles, and we will remember that our political rivals in Congress are not our enemies – but rather our colleagues and fellow Americans.  We also believe that maintaining a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation will help make government work more efficiently and effectively, help build consensus and restore the public trust, and, ultimately, serve as a positive influence on society at large.”  Maybe the statement is nothing more than a testament to the new members’ naiveté.  But it’s worth committing to.

In an even bolder move, on March 1 Gallagher introduced a term limit bill.  In keeping one of his own first 100 day commitments, Gallagher explained “Congress should not be a career; rather, individuals should serve for a time, doing everything they can to work together to fix problems before returning home to civilian life.  Our government should be for the people and by the people, and with that as our guiding principle, term limits are something that both sides of the aisle should be able to agree on and unite behind.”

Gallagher understands the key rationale behind term limits.  Contrary to the trolls on twitter, not all politicians are evil or subhuman.  In fact, many, if not most, public officials enter service for the right reasons.  But when individuals become embedded in D.C. (or even state capitols), they far too often lose sight of the guiding principles that fueled their initial run, become beholden to special interests (particularly those that cater to their committees) and become comfortable with the perks of incumbency.  Gallagher fundamentally does not believe “that politicians who spend decades in the nation’s capitol can change Washington before Washington changes them.”  The proposal would limit members’ service to 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate.  Most would agree that if one can’t accomplish what they set out to do in 24 years, it’s time to allow somebody else to take a shot.  Gallagher’s bill offers an actual policy solution to ambiguous demands to “drain the swamp.”

If Gallagher’s term limit proposal wasn’t proof enough that he is willing to take steps to change the way Washington does business, he took to the floor at the end of March to urge his colleagues to cancel the upcoming two week recess.  In impassioned remarks, he noted “distrust in government is at an all-time high and it is easy to see why. Our federal debt is approaching 20 trillion dollars. A child born today in this country will inherit a crushing burden of debt, part of an inter-generational crime without consequence. Meanwhile the middle class is being hollowed out, if not disappearing, entirely. We have a seven million man strong-army that has simply opted out of the labor force entirely. And finally, our foreign policy is in crisis. Threats continue to rise abroad as here at home we continue to wreak havoc on our own military through mindless defense sequester and, by the way, our veterans still are not getting the care that they deserve.  This is unacceptable. And despite this, despite the fact that Congress by any metric we might devise is not doing its basic job, [will] in ten days… adjourn on a two-week vacation.”  He queried, “in what other job would you grant yourself a two-week vacation if your failed to do that fundamental job?”  A fair question, one that hasn’t been asked of Congress of late, especially by its own members.

If you’ve been frustrated with the administration or Congress’ lack of accomplishments during these first 100 days, don’t despair.  The platform adopted by Mike Gallagher is one that could (and should) be replicated across Congress – be willing to embrace bold reforms, don’t ever lose sight of the federal government’s main responsibility to protect the homeland, and take real steps to change both the tone and character of Congress.

Jake Curtis is an Associate Counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s Center for Competitive Federalism.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.