The day I became a political prop

That’s me in the top left picture (I’M GOING BALD?!), sitting down for a civil discussion with Representative Erik Paulsen. Later, I appeared in a tweet about his meetings with his constituents in a way that makes it look like I support him. In this picture, I’m telling him how his vote on health care was harmful to my family, and I’m telling him why I’ll be working hard for his opponent, Dean Phillips.

Let’s back up a bit. Our blog isn’t political in nature, but it is about Minnesota and this place we love. Please allow us this blip of vulnerability in hopes others will join us.

On Wednesday, August 23, I was on a mission to get fair tickets and a rotisserie chicken.

I walked into Cub Foods in Eden Prairie, and there was a guy sitting at a folding table. As I walked past, I saw the pop-up poster and recognized my Representative, Erik Paulsen. He was right there. In the flesh!

I kept walking because I was on a mission to get fair tickets. While in line, I tweeted the sighting. We live in a district where the only way you can get face-to-face time with our Rep is to randomly come across him out in the wild. Or, if you own a multi-billion-dollar medical device company.

I then called my wife, Becky.

She encouraged me to repeat what we had said in our first ever calls to a politician in the spring. “Go be awesome” she said. I got my fair tickets and headed back to the Representative.

I’m an awkward, non-confrontational person at the core of my being, every atom. The anxiety and nerves were streaming through me, and my hands were shaking.

There were two staffers nearby. The person in front of me started talking to the staffers, so I figured this was the line. Paulsen was sitting alone. As I waited patiently, the person in front of me left, never even speaking to Paulsen. I waited some more, and then the staffer noticed me standing one foot away to her right and facing her (for some reason my big, 6-foot-2-inch frame one foot away was invisible to her) and said to go ahead. By then, another woman had walked past the Representative, paused, turned around and came back to chat.

I listened to the woman as four more people lined up behind me. The woman told Paulsen about her health problems and how the ACA made it so her employer would have to provide health benefits she desperately needed. “I’ve had one heart attack without insurance, I’d rather not do that again,” she said. She also pointed out that any time she hears “tax cuts” she thinks “money for rich people.” He said that’s not how that works, but she replied it was how it seems to work in her world.

Meanwhile, the staffer took my name and address because, “Paulsen likes to write thank you letters.” She looked like a recent college grad intern type person. Perhaps too young to understand how amazingly crappy our health system was before the ACA.

The guy behind me in line started talking to the staffer: “I suppose by the time I get up there, he’ll have to leave.” She shrugged. He continued to press her on the lack of availability of our Representative to hear his constituents and how they never announce these things. She said they send out emails about them. He said “I’m on every list you have, and I don’t hear about anything.” I wanted to high-five him.

One of the four people behind me gave up and left.

The woman talking to Paulsen got up and began to head out. I patted her on the back in solidarity and said thank you.

For the following, I’m not going to use direct quotes because I didn’t record this or take notes, so I want to be careful about overstating anything. I will paraphrase to the best of my ability what I heard. For my section, I was so nervous that I will italicize the things I was thinking but not saying.

I sat across from Rep. Paulsen. I started to talk, but he wanted to know my name first. I said it, then began to tell him about my in-laws.

My mother-in-law got sick several years ago, Christmas of 2014. Really sick. To the point she required two months in the hospital then another 13 in a nursing home until she was well enough to return home. My father-in-law drove 105 miles one way to see her at the nursing home four days a week that entire time. He was also wrapping up his 40 years in ministry, not the most lucrative of careers. Without the Medicaid expansion as well as other Obamacare provisions, they would have been financially slaughtered just as they were reaching retirement after a career of serving the needs of others.

I told Paulsen how much his voting to get rid of these provisions was abhorrent to me and put my loved ones and many others in jeopardy.

He said he didn’t do that.

I blinked. This was unexpected. Flat up saying he didn’t vote to make health care unattainable for 20+ million Americans, to remove $800 million in expanded Medicaid funding.

He said he wanted to ensure that programs like Medicaid went to those who truly needed it and not to those who were able bodied.  This implied that many recipients of this assistance shouldn’t get it. I’m not sure what he meant by able-bodied, because there are lots of reasons I can think of that, even with an able body, people wouldn’t be able to support themselves. Down Syndrome and Autism for instance have been on my mind with friends, coworkers and a colleague of Becky’s all touched by these diagnoses. I used to work with teens at a group home that had various levels of ability. I still think of them years later and wonder what became of them when they aged out of the system.

What about kids with autism?

He said he agreed with provisions like pre-existing conditions and allowing kids to say on their parent’s insurance until they are 26. I asked why he voted against these provisions. He said he didn’t. I said he voted to repeal Obamacare, he said he didn’t. I asked how he figures he can vote to take away $800 million from Medicaid, he said he didn’t.

I had entered a bizzaro world where just saying something makes it true. I changed tactics.

I said if you agree that these provisions for pre-existing conditions and so on are good, then FIX it. Don’t repeal it. Just work to fix the problems.

You don’t need to demolish a house because you don’t like the wallpaper in a few rooms, after all. (Awesome zinger I thought later, but didn’t say at the time.)

He said he had also heard from ministers who have been unable to get health care because of Obamacare. I loved how he didn’t want to listen or empathize, just tell me there are other sides I’m totally sure exist for real and that the fact my in-laws were saved by Obamacare doesn’t mean anything because others were not. He saw my minister and raised me “many ministers.” The fact my mother-in-law slid over into the promised land of Medicare coverage in June doesn’t remove the terror we lived with (not just for our personal loved ones, but millions of others in the same position) throughout the spring when Congress thought ripping away Obamacare without an actual plan in place was an honest-to-God good idea. It still remains a threat our friends and coworkers with vulnerable children live with because we’re not out of the woods yet.

I continued, I’ve never been much of a political person. I’ve donated maybe 30 bucks to politicians in my 39 years of life. I’ve never volunteered for one. But because of this health care vote, I’m going to be investing as much money as possible, volunteering and working this year for your opponent.

I don’t remember what he said, if anything, to that. But it’s true. I’ve never even been to a caucus except to report on one many years ago for the newspaper I worked for. I may be in marketing now, but the thought of cold calling anyone or talking to strangers about politics makes my skin crawl. However, doing nothing makes my soul crawl.

Knowing three more people were waiting, I said I didn’t want to take up any more time so he could talk to them. I got up and went out to my car.

I got to my car, no chicken in hand. I turned around to go back in when I saw two of the three people who were behind me in line coming outside.

“He already left?” I asked them.

“Yup,” said one.

“And you didn’t to talk to him?”

“Nope.” He shrugged, as if to say, What can you do with a representative that isn’t really interested in hearing from constituents. It was the saddest shrug I’ve ever seen.

The next day, I checked the Twitter feed. A lot of pics of Paulsen looking like he’s listening. But be assured, not everyone in political pictures meant to show “listening” are actually being heard.

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26 thoughts on “The day I became a political prop

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I too live in Paulsen’s district. I have become very active since the election. In my mind, I refer to him as the Wascally Wepwesentative. He’s awful. I met him in person once, and he is beyond clueless. If you’re on Facebook, I’d be happy to connect you to the CD3 Indivisible group, which is working hard to get him out of office next year. You can email me your Facebook username, and I can add you to the group. It’s a great bunch of people, working really hard.

  2. Hey there, thank you for being so brave and speaking up. Even more, THANK YOU for writing about this experience and sharing it with the world. COYC events with Erik Paulsen are elusive, as you mention, so this insider account is stunning to read.

  3. Thank you. If you work for a candidate, your communication skills will be extremely valuable. You’ve put into words the reaction that I felt after my one-on-one meeting with Paulsen. I couldn’t articulate it near as well.

  4. Hey guys! Very nice. Like you I had a similar experience with Erik Paulsen when I corresponded with him about healthcare. He saw my one roommate and raised me many…he’s a jerk. Thank you for posting this. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who’s gotten the brush off.

  5. Your story speaks volumes for what many people in Paulsen’s district experience – the frustration in having a rep who is unwilling to represent all people in his district, the insult of lying about the effects of the GOP legislation, the use of your happenstance visit as propaganda. Thanks for sharing. I hope many people will read it.

  6. Thank you for this post. Paulsen needs to go. I too have spent most of my life not being politically active, that has had to change. Keep up the good fight!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, I really enjoyed your writing. It’s nice to read a first-hand encounter of Paulsen’s stealth Congressman on Your Corner. It isn’t surprising he denied his vote. I’m not sure he even read the final bill since versions were appearing quicker than mosquitos at Minnesota dusk. And thank you for telling him your family’s personal experience during the unknown limbo of repeal/replace. He needs to know that policy in DC has real consequences for people in MN03.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience. Your use of the world bizzaro world sums up how I feel about today’s political climate, locally and nationally. Lying and re-creating reality seem to be the norm. It is bizzare.

  9. Thank you. I had the same discussion in his office with a representative as Paulsen was ‘not available’. It was in regard to my sister who was ill.
    Got the same response “it’s the fault of the ACA”. When I interjected that it was not the ACA but a broken healthcare system that needs fixing, I got the brush off.

  10. Awesome. I also have had a meeting with Paulsen. He believes he is a good guy, and is truly perplexed when someone is angry toward him. But he has a very closed mind. He does not listen to learn, he waits until you are done talking so that he can say his piece, in his gentle, good-guy way. He wants you to believe that he would never vote to hurt people, and I actually think he believes that, but he doesn’t allow himself to take in the stories that are contrary to what he believes. Amy (above) is correct. He is clueless. He may be a nice guy but he is not the leader that we need in this political time.

  11. My husband met with him in DC, and felt he doesn’t really listen either. He called my husband’s electric car a “coal car” despite being told we also have enough solar panels to offset nearly all our energy needs. He’s out of touch and only cares about funding.

    1. FYI “Representative” Erik Paulsen has sponsored HR1 (aka its been since 1986 that Congress has reformed the tax code).
      The GOP proposal would end the tax credit for electric cars … as well as many other provisions impacting solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

  12. Thank you so much for posting your story. I understand exactly how you feel, putting yourself out on the line in telling a complete stranger about something traumatic/agonizing that you or a loved one lived through. It takes a lot of bravery and when they don’t listen, or worse, when the engage in one-upmanship, it feels like a kick in the chest. Paulsen and his staff are really big on spinning and pivoting. It’s impossible to have clear conversations with any of them because they are so focused on “winning” and manipulating the conversation. I tried so hard to make them hear me, but it was just stressful and exhausting. I finally realized that nothing I could say or do would change Paulsen. He would never hear me. Now I spend my energy on things that I can control, like getting him out of office. Thank you for taking a stand for what is right. It’s hard and painful but it’s the only way that we will ever beat them. If you want a little emotional/tactical support, I would totally recommend Congressional district 03 Indivisible page. They’ve been a huge help for me, and I finally feel like I’m making a difference in the world. Here’s their Facebook page:

  13. Thank you for taking the time to document your unfortunate experience with our representative Erik Paulsen. I personally commend you on these sentences. It is going to take everyone to bring about change. Stepping outside of our comfort zones is required.

    I may be in marketing now, but the thought of cold calling anyone or talking to strangers about politics makes my skin crawl. However, doing nothing makes my soul crawl.

  14. Thank you for your eloquent and compelling first hand account. Reading your story made me feel like it was MY story. I’ve never been able to find my Rep. Paulsen to speak with him even though I’ve called many times asking for a schedule. I’ve passed him shopping in Costco in the past; maybe I should get up enough nerve to stop him and ask a question there. You’ve inspired me.

  15. This is a great post. I had seen photos on Erik’s Facebook page about this meet and greet opportunity. What a sham! I’m a fan of your MN Orchestra reviews, but this is a worthy departure from your typical entries. If you have not already done so, please join IndivisibleCD3!

  16. Would you mind if I tweet about this without mentioning your name? This is my twitter feed @ResisteMN if you want to see what I’m up to. Feel free to say no; I would understand perfectly. If you a agree I will pass it by you for approval before I tweet anything. Thanks

  17. thank you so much for sharing your experience. i have been so inspired to see the activism alive in our district in the past several months. can’t wait to elect a representative who is worthy of the people who live here.

  18. Thank you for sharing our story. I know you well enough by now to believe you when you say, “Doing nothing would make your soul crawl.” I wish we lived in MN so I could express my opinion about him with my vote!

  19. Thank you! You may not have been “heard” by your Representative, but you were heard by us & you will have definitely inspired more people to join our cause to replace him!
    I met with him with a MOMS Demand Action group & he purposefully wasted our 20 minutes by “acting” clueless about the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill sitting in Congress right now. We had to explain a bill that he should have been able to explain to us! We then could not get his commitment to oppose this dangerous bill because he “has to look into it”. He knew he was meeting with us. Like you, I thought about what I wish I would have said – that I assumed he would have brushed up on this before our meeting. We were way too nice. We know he is beholden to the NRA, & that he will vote for their interests – not his constituents, nor his conscience. Just as he is beholden to the Medical Insurance Industry.
    For those of you reading this: Please call his office & ask him to oppose the CCR Bill. It’s one thing to not want to work to make our gun laws safer…but to make them MORE lax couldn’t be more wrong. To clarify…Erik Paulsen is proving over & over again just how Wrong he is for Minnesota on many issues.
    Thank you.

  20. I don’t have a way of sending you an image. But the text is as follows

    The Erik Paulsen News

    Paulsen’s COYC “town hall events” are photo set-up scams

    CD3 constituent X shows up at the Eden Praire Cub to
    buy MN fair tickets and rotisserie chicken. X sees Paulsen
    at a folding table. After getting his tickets X decides to
    get in line to talk to Paulsen. X explains how ACA had
    helped his family with an illness a few years earlier. He
    then asked Paulsen why he voted for ACA repeal. To X’s
    astonishment Paulsen denied that he ever did. Adds
    “ministers” tell him they can’t get insurance because of
    ACA. As X leaves, he asks people who had been waiting
    in line whether they got to talk to Paulsen. “Nope.”

    A few minutes later, Paulsen tweets the photo at right,
    intended to suggest there’s widespread support for this
    kind of public engagement. “Folks like this” he keeps
    repeating when pressed on why he doesn’t have real
    town halls. X never agreed to use of his photo.

  21. Erik Paulsen’s good-guy facade isn’t fooling anyone. I saw him this spring at a local fire department fundraiser. The irony is that he voted against extending the Zadronga act, which provided health coverage and compensation to affected 9/11 first responders. So– Paulsen will come for the pancakes and the photo op, but he won’t back our brave men and women first responders. Paulsen’s staff also refused to provide me the town hall schedule when I called to request it this spring. If he isn’t going to represent our district, he has to go. Kudos to you for having a conversation with him!

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