The freshman Democrat explains his strategy for his first year in Congress.
COURIER is sitting down with freshman members of Congress to get their take on what their first year was like, what they wish they knew when they started, and what surprised them most. Rep. Jared Golden (D) represents Maine’s 2nd district, which covers most of the region north of Portland and Augusta.
Golden is a Marine veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After returning home to Maine, he worked for a U.S. congressional committee led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins. He was elected to the Maine House of Representatives in 2014 and rose to the rank of assistant majority leader.
In 2017, he unseated two-term Republican incumbent Bruce Poliquin by narrow margins to win the election for Maine’s 2nd Congressional district. We spoke with Golden in January, as he was entering his second year as a U.S. Congressman.
As of the date of this interview, he had introduced 12 pieces of legislation across a variety of subject matters. Two of his bills have made it through the House. If he keeps pace, he’ll end his first two-year term with nearly twice as many bills introduced as members of the majority party in the last Congress, according to data from the Center for Effective Lawmaking.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
COURIER: What’s your secret sauce when it comes to materializing legislation or moving legislation through the process?
Jared Golden: We’ve put a big emphasis on prioritizing our efforts, as an office, on things where we think we can actually progress. In a divided Congress, that means prioritizing things that you can get Republicans to sign on to, or even to have a conservation with you about … It’s a matter of accepting the reality of the environment you’re working in and prioritizing [bills that have a chance of success in a polarized climate].
In your early days on the Hill, were you surprised by how many punches you were taking from both sides of the aisle?
No, I haven’t been that surprised by it, to be honest. I’ve often entered into those types of endeavors knowing that I was probably going to get lumps from both the left and the right. And it’s not like I’m antagonistic or searching for those opportunities, but when I see [an opportunity to work with both parties] and I think it’s the right thing to do, I’m willing to do it.
How do you initiate that process of building bipartisan consensus?
For me, it starts with my approach and style … I’m not someone who tends to throw bombs or light the other side on fire. Sometimes that can frustrate people within my own party. But I think over time it pays off when Republicans view you as someone that’s not here to just fight the good fight against them on all things. It increases your reputation as someone that they want to work with.
… It’s also built around the idea that I want to show respect to my constituents, even the ones who don’t support me.
… Too many times I’ve seen people try and take the approach of engaging in debate that’s mental, like pressuring the other side [and] using sheer force to get them to vote for something out of fear of political cost.
In very few instances have I seen that be successful. It can be. But mostly, only one public opinion is already on your side. Right? And so I’ve found it a better approach, usually, to engage in debate that is more focused on a positive pitch … rather than a strategy that’s meant to attack the other side.
If you could go back in time to just before you were sworn into Congress and give yourself one piece of advice as you were headed into your new job, what would you say?
I would encourage myself to enter into the year with a lot of patience. I came in very eager to get things done … I got very bogged down with the lack of progress, whether here in the House, or within our own caucus, or just the simple fact that we’re passing a lot of good policies out of the House knowing that they are likely to not even get a debate in the Senate, let alone a vote … You can’t get overly frustrated with that. You have to stay focused on continuing to try to build coalitions around important priorities for your constituents. I think it’s easy for some people to fall into the mindset of ‘What’s the point in trying to be bipartisan or build coalitions working with Republicans if this is just going to die in the Senate?’ I think that’s besides the point. It’s a longer game approach in Congress.
Is it tough to explain that to your constituents, that consensus building and lawmaking — this policy process — is difficult?
Often that kind of a discussion sounds like excuse-making to people who are looking for change and looking for effectiveness. Right? But it’s something that I do engage with people about and help them understand … I find that my constituents appreciate that we take a very thoughtful approach to things. We’re process oriented at times, but we don’t just hide behind the process. We talk about it.
Do you think the country is as divided as its portrayed in the media?
I’ve got good anecdotal evidence back home that as much as this feels like a really divisive time in the country — and I would argue that it is, and that [some] political leaders in particular are leading with very divisive language and following processes that are meant to divide rather than pull people together.
But I find that back home, large groups of people are still very much interested in unity and tired of all of the negativity and attacks. I think they’re hungry for people who are willing to lead by example, rather than just blaming the other side for being part of the problem.