The cover of North Carolina Congressman David Priceâ€™s new book sums up American politics today: dark storm clouds looming over the gleaming Capitol dome.
Published before the January 6 mob attack on the Capitol, Priceâ€™s book describes the dangers our democracy faces. But he charts a hopeful course for the future, suggesting that â€œthe patriotism our country needs is neither uncritical love nor loveless criticism but a posture of love and loyalty combined with a determination to repair and reform.â€
This is the fourth edition of Priceâ€™s study, â€œThe Congressional Experience: An Institution Transformed.â€
No one can guide us more expertly than the former Duke University professor and 17-term congressman. Heâ€™s a politician and a political scientist, a scholar and a senior leader in Congress, a battle-tested campaigner and an insightful student of government.
A Democrat, he has represented North Carolinaâ€™s Fourth Congressional District since 1986, except for two years after he temporarily lost his seat in 1994. He has a powerful position on the Appropriations Committee.Â Heâ€™s the dean of the stateâ€™s House delegation. And heâ€™s a skilled policy entrepreneur.
He knows how to make the levers of government work, a talent that is underappreciated and denigrated in todayâ€™s polarized, hyper-partisan politics.
Price traces Congressâ€™ dysfunction to â€œour broken electoral system,â€ including â€œextreme partisan gerrymandering; the dominance of unaccountable, unlimited big money in elections (and) widespread voter suppression.â€
He says â€œmainstream Democrats need to overcome factionalism for the sake of the larger goal of defeating Trump and Trumpism, forming a workable governing coalition and taking the country in a positive direction, internationally and at home.â€
Heâ€™s interested in accomplishments, not attention-getting. He has to his credit a new headquarters building for the North Carolina National Guard and a new EPA research facility in Research Triangle Park.
He has worked on wide-ranging issues: border security, Raleigh-to-Richmond rail service, expanded housing, higher-education affordability, Teaching Fellows, home-equity loan disclosure and Veterans Administration prosthetic research.
Three long-time initiatives are making private security contractors working overseas subject to U.S. criminal law, requiring standardized reports on income and spending by college athletic programs, and replacing hog-waste lagoons with new technologies.
He always has pursued campaign reform. HR1, House Democratsâ€™ reform bill, includes four ideas he champions: â€œEmpower small donors, shine a spotlight on dark money, crack down on candidate coordination with Super PACs and boost transparency for political ads.â€
He and his friend Mac McCorkle of Duke University pioneered â€œStand By Your Adâ€ laws that require candidates to appear in and assume responsibility for their campaign commercials.
Some of his reform ideas are counter-intuitive: He would restore congressional earmarks. Eliminating earmarks, he writes, â€œhas neither reduced spending nor rendered funding decisions less â€˜politicalâ€™; it has merely shifted the locus of project-level decisions from legislators to agency officials.â€
Priceâ€™s book is deep and detailed, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Itâ€™s a serious study of how government works, doesnâ€™t work and can work better. Itâ€™s not the fodder of Twitter chatter; itâ€™s the grueling, unglamorous work that affects peopleâ€™s lives.
His work reflects his faith; he has a divinity degree. In a chapter about religion and politics, he writes that our traditions â€œcounsel a kind of religious humility, a sense that our own strivings are always subject to Godâ€™s judgment.â€
It says a lot about our world that we donâ€™t hear nearly as much about David Price as we do about, say, Madison Cawthorn, the newly elected congressman from North Carolinaâ€™s 11thDistrict.
Politics might be better, and Congress might work better, if we paid better attention to David Price.
“The Congressional Experience, An Institution Transformed” by David Price