Last month, Ron Kind found himself in the uncomfortable position of supporting an economic rescue plan that would authorize the government to buy up to $700 billion in bad assets from failing Wall Street investment banks.
The bill, though it passed with bipartisan support, including that of the president and both major party presidential candidates, was deeply unpopular at home. Kind characterized the calls to his office as split — between “no” and “hell no” — and his vote drew the ire of both his opponents and constituents.
But Kind, who has a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, was unapologetic. Economists were warning of recession, and credit was freezing. The bill, he said, was key to staving off job losses back home.
“It’s understandable that people back home wouldn’t be happy,” Kind said, noting that western Wisconsin, with its relatively low foreclosure rate, bears little blame for the crisis. “It just wasn’t a good time to wet your finger and see which way the wind was blowing.”
Kind, 45, learned long ago that a politician can never please everyone.
A former quarterback for Logan High School and later Harvard University, he likens the job to football: half the people are always cheering for you to get creamed.
Nevertheless, the six-term incumbent has routinely won re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote.
In a relatively conservative district, Kind’s centrist tendencies play well. He is vice chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of self-proclaimed pro-growth legislators. He has the highest score (albeit low) of any Democrat in Wisconsin’s delegation from the American Conservative Union, and the National Journal rates him 63.5, a little left of center, on its liberal scale.
His voting record has at times earned him criticism from the left — most notably his support of the Iraq war resolution bill — a vote he now regrets.
“It was the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reason,” he said.
Of course, Kind is no darling of the right. He earned an “F” — as did all of the state’s Democrats — from the conservative National Taxpayers Union and low marks from anti-abortion groups.
“You’d never mistake him for a Republican,” said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim. “But he does deviate enough that you notice.”
Kind said he has learned to value the views of those he disagrees with. He counts Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, one of the more conservative members of Congress, as a friend and has advisers — including his father, Elroy — on the right side of the political spectrum.
A former La Crosse County prosecutor, Kind was first elected to Congress in 1996, where he earned a reputation as a friend of the environment, particularly the Mississippi River.
Heim credits Kind’s popularity in part to the high profile he maintains in the district.
Kind still lives with his wife, Tawni, and their two boys on French Island. He doesn’t keep an apartment in Washington, staying instead with a friend when Congress is in session.
While critics — including Kind’s opponents — decry career politicians, seniority has its benefits. When Democrats took control of the House in 2006, Kind’s influence rose considerably. Congress.org now ranks him in the top 100 of the 435-member chamber.
A self-imposed moratorium on earmark spending could diminish the benefits of that power back home.
Though his Republican challenger has criticized Kind for adding nearly $44 million in porkbarrel spending to the 2007 budget, Kind said he’s often criticized for not doing enough to bring home the bacon.
As for the lessons learned during a dozen years in Washington?
“There’s way too much polarization in Congress — and back home,” Kind said. “It all comes down to listening to each other.”
THE KIND FILE
- Party: Democrat
- Age: 45
- Home: La Crosse
- Current job: U.S. representative
- Political experience: U.S. House, 1996 to present
- Education: Bachelor’s degree, Harvard University; master’s degree, London School of Economics; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School, 1990
- Web site: www.ronkind.org