The first 96 hours of President Trump’s tenure have been filled with claims, counterclaims, accusations of bias, outright falsehoods and lots of other things that make people hate politics, politicians and everything about Washington.
It’s enough even for me — a political junkie through and through — to wonder what we are even doing out here. It all feels terrible, unwatchable, nauseating.
But not all of politics — or all politicians — operates like this. There are lots of politicians doing it — by and large — right, working to represent their constituents and views with a modicum of humility and humor, not to mention a commitment to finding solutions, not just calling out problems.
It does the heart good to read about these folks. So here are a few politicians who should make you believe, again, in public service — even in these tempestuous times.
* Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.): Murray is, simply put, the most underrated Senator. And it’s not close. She has successfully led the organization aimed at increasing the number of Democratic senators. She has played a central policy role within the chamber. And, again and again, she demonstrates a willingness and an ability to get things done even amid the worsening partisan roar. Murray, along with Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — he wasn’t speaker yet — crafted the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which ended the financial brinkmanship of Congress. It also served as a sign that, yes, bipartisan compromise was possible if both sides were willing.
* Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.): Graham is the rare Republican politician who has successfully navigated the rise of the tea party over the past decade. Despite claims from tea party types that they would take him down for his alleged moderation, Graham has coasted to reelection. He continues to unapologetically represent the hawkish wing of the Republican Party and is one of the biggest skeptics about the motives of Russia and Vladimir Putin. Graham does all of this with a self-deprecating nature and a terrific sense of humor.
* Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.): Bennet was never supposed to survive his first race. He was appointed to fill the seat of then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2009, when he was a total unknown in the state. But Bennet won his first race in 2010 and then won again in 2016. He’s on the quiet side and doesn’t seek tons of national press — a rarity for a successful politician from a swing state. But Bennet is smart and serious, and the Democratic Party would do well to study his formula for victory as it tries to remake itself at the congressional level.
* Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Mass.): Massachusetts is one of the most Democratic states in the country. And yet Baker, a Republican, is one of the most popular governors in the country. How? Baker has cast himself as a relentlessly positive force for change, a businessman committed not to blowing up the government but simply to making it work better. He has also shown — by necessity — a willingness to work with the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature in the Bay State.
* Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.): I talked to lots of politicians in 2016 about the state of politics and where we need to go from here. None impressed me more than Hickenlooper. He has had his ups and downs as governor of Colorado but was in the final three to be Hillary Clinton’s vice president. Hickenlooper is refreshingly open and transparent — about his successes and failures — and brings a much-needed small-businessman’s perspective (he founded a brewery before running for office) to the Democratic Party. They should be listening to him more.
* Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.): Lots of political types remember him only for his two failed presidential candidacies, his trademark red and black flannel shirts and the exclamation point that was his campaign slogan (Lamar!). But since being elected to the Senate in 2002, Alexander has distinguished himself as someone committed to making actual policy and willing (and able) to fight the ideologues in his party. Of late, Alexander has been outspoken in favor of the GOP having a replacement plan in place before moving ahead with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
* Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.): Coons wasn’t even supposed to be in the Senate. He ran in 2010 as a sacrificial lamb against uber-popular Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle. But then Castle lost the GOP primary to Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell, and suddenly Coons was a member of the Senate. Since then, Coons has shown he’s no fluke. He has emerged as a thoughtful senator, one governed more by his beliefs than by the power of party and partisanship.
* Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.): Kinzinger, like many of his fellow House Republicans, was first elected in the national wave year of 2010. In the intervening years, he has shown that he’s among the best of that group. Kinzinger beat longtime Republican Rep. Don Manzullo in a redistricting-forced race in 2012 and then, two years later, defeated an ideological primary challenge funded by the conservative Club for Growth. Kinzinger, has also been willing to openly criticize Trump when he feels it necessary. He blasted Trump for a tweet praising Julian Assange and has been a vocal skeptic of Trump’s openness to a new relationship with Russia.