Politics Is Messier Than My Minivan
by Katie Porter
Crown, 2023. 284 pages.
Review written August 8, 2023, from a library book.
Okay, reading Katie Porter’s book made me a Katie Porter fan, similar to the way reading Elizabeth Warren’s book years ago made me an Elizabeth Warren fan. What both women have in common? They have both studied bankruptcy and fully understand that financial trouble does not imply moral failing.
One of her early stories is of studying mortgage law — and learning that banks were breaking laws, to the detriment of consumers, when they foreclosed, time and time again.
As a mortgage holder, you do what the banks tell you. You assume they’re following the law. Well, Katie Porter checked. And they weren’t. She began to get attention on that as a professor.
While I had started to change minds and get people in power to see that mortgage companies made mistakes and misbehaved, I did not want to be right. I wanted things to be right. Banks used the law to try to collect every penny; we should expect them to follow every rule.
And she decided to run for office to try to make things right.
This book has plenty about running for office and the challenges of being a single mom in Congress and commuting to the other side of the country. (She and her kids tried living in Virginia, but it didn’t work out.) It tells about her background growing up on a farm and the difficult end of her marriage. But my favorite part was where she describes her work in Congress.
As I see it, the real work of Congress is civic education. Democracy only functions if voters know what’s going on in their government and elected representatives know what’s going on in their communities. As a congressmember, that means teaching and learning, respectively.
The American people set the nation’s agenda every two years with House elections, and every four years with presidential elections. They cannot decide if they support a government policy without first knowing what the government is doing (or not doing). Representatives should be teachers, with constituents as our students.
At the same time, we should also be students, learning from our constituents. Without knowing the challenges and ideas of the people we represent, congressmembers can only substitute their own views for voters’ views. While that may happen, it is not how representative democracy is supposed to work. Getting the facts, doing the research, and gaining experience are moments of learning that help me make the best votes for my community.
Teaching and learning are the exact work I did as a law professor, before I ran for Congress. I loved that, and so not surprisingly, I love Congress work.
And yes, using a white board is a fundamental approach to teaching. Visual aids always help!
This concern for people — trying to make government better for actual people — can’t be faked. May Katie Porter continue to serve in this way for many years to come.
Oh and Hooray! When I checked her Twitter account (@katieporteroc), I see that she’s running for Senate in 2024. And she’s got a tagline on her profile: “I did not go to Washington to learn how to play by the rules. I went to Washington to rewrite them.” This book goes into the reasons why she cares about people and wants to make lives better by making government better.
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.
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