My junior year I took a United States Congress class at CMC. The first paper we had to write was on the website of our US Representative’s website. At the time my parents were living (and I was registered to vote) in Mount Pleasant, MI. That put me in Michigan’s 4th, represented by Dave Camp.
Representative Dave Camp’s Official Website
Government 101, Professor John Pitney
Congressman Dave Camp, first elected in 1990, represents Michigan’s 4th Congressional District, spanning 14 counties in the mid-to-northwest Lower Peninsula. Upon visiting his official House website, visitors are greeted by a banner image superimposing the Capitol Building, an American flag, and a portrait of Dave Camp. Also present (in addition to regular navigation links) are a note, signed with an image of his signature; a list of recent press releases; and links to his photo gallery.
If you visit his website’s “About Dave Camp” page, you find that “Dave” sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and is (in the only reference to his party affiliation) the third-ranking Republican; in 1996 “play[ed] a crucial role in the passage of the historic welfare reform legislation;” “has pushed” to “lower tax rates across the board;” works on legislation in adoption, and “has earned a reputation for paying close attention to the needs of his constituents.” Press releases are primarily on economic matters, espousing the value of lower taxes and Camp’s votes on them, worrying about the state of Michigan’s economy. Also present: releases on the Peru Trade Promotion Act, discussing the numerous agricultural and machinery trade tariffs that have been dropped and the expected increase in Michigan exports; and the Water Resources and Development Act, “critical to protecting Great Lakes, rebuilding aging sewer systems, and renovating Traverse City Harbor.” Other pages provide means to “Contact Dave” and obtain constituent services — flags, Capital tour information, casework, and more.
The “District Profile” page describes Michigan’s 4th in glowing terms: a combination of “lush green forests, fertile farmlands and scenic shoreline” with “summer hunting” and “winter skiing;” “small towns dot the landscape and sugar beets, red tart cherries, corn, [and] potatoes grow in the fields.” But what does all this mean to the voters in Michigan’s Fourth?
First, let’s get a picture of the district. It’s almost completely white (most counties are over 98% white, although Mecosta dips to 92% and the partially-included Saginaw is about 20% black) and largely rural; Wikipedia lists 5 “Major Cities” in the district — the largest consists of about 42,000 people and they total about 110,000 people out of 510,000 in the district.3 This author remembers his middle school offering after-hours classes in gun safety for hunting, and popular pastimes among students including driving through the fields and woods on their “quads.” Predictably, the area is politically conservative — the 4th’s Representative has been Republican for over 30 years; in 2004 only Isabella and Saginaw counties went for Kerry.
The labor force is diverse, but farming makes up a significant portion in many areas: it hovers around 1% in many counties but soars to 8% in Missaukee County. These numbers may mislead you about agriculture’s importance, though: Traverse City, “Cherry Capital of the World,” holds a cherry festival that brings the area $26 million per year and many of the district’s most noticeable businesses sell farming equipment. Manufacturing creates many jobs: it employs up to 30% of the population in some counties, and no less than 10% in others.3 Importantly, Michigan as a whole has been experiencing profound economic troubles for many years — in fact, it’s still in the middle of a three-year-long recession. Job creation rates are miserable; there’s an even higher home-foreclosure rate than among the rest of the nation; poverty is rampant.
In all this, Representative Camp works hard to appeals to his voters in many ways; the website is one. Beginning with the typical friendly appeal about accessibility (“always tried to be accessible;” “better serve constituents;” “keep me informed”) on the site’s homepage, Camp’s site attempts to show qualification, identification, and empathy on every page. The structure of his “About Dave Camp” page is revealing: It first touts his legislative prowess; in the midst of this it also makes a tie back home by mentioning his hometown of Midland (a part of the 4th District) and his reputation for “close attention to the needs of his constituents.” Camp’s time as a lawyer is mentioned only as a lead-in to his work for adoption and foster care — a genuine work, apparently, given the wide approval for his Adoption and Safe Families Act (P.L. 105-89). He also takes credit for the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (which he cosponsored along with 51 other people) and the Adoption Promotion Act of 2003 (which he wrote). Government groups and publications are explained throughout the page. In short, on this page he attempts to convey both qualification, by means of his successful bills and quotes of press coverage; identification by means of pointing to his roots in the district; and empathy by means of his work with foster children.
The other main way on which Camp presents himself to his voters in an interesting fashion (beyond merely asking and affirming “aren’t we a great district?”) is in his press releases. He places himself near authority figures to obtain authority by proximity. He conveys identification through frequent reference to Michigan (fully half of his most recent releases mention the state by name) and a few projects that are clearly pork: mainly money for renovation of a college harbor in his district (though Camp at least admits the money is merely an authorization, not a requirement — the best of both worlds for him, as he “looks out for Michigan” but didn’t actually need to get money approved). A full 8 of his 10 most recent releases concern the economy; fitting since the economy is a Michigan voter’s #1 concern. And the statement on a free trade deal with Peru is careful to enumerate the anticipated economic growth it will bring to Michigan. Simple explanations like these help to convey empathy, as Camp sounds official without being sounding like a big-city money man.
These were actually all footnotes in the original paper, but WordPress doesn’t make that easy, so:
Congressman Dave Camp, “Congressman Dave Camp – Representing Michigan’s 4th Congressional District,” http://camp.house.gov/about/aboutdave.htm.
Clare, Grand Traverse, Gratiot, Isabella, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Mecosta, Midland, Missaukee, Montcalm, Osceola, Roscommon, and parts of Saginaw and Shiawassee counties; see http://nationalatlas.gov/printable/images/pdf/congdist/pagecgd110_mi.pdf
CNN Election Results, “U.S. President/Michigan,” http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/MI/P/00/county.000.html
U.S. Census Bureau, “American Factfinder,” http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en, district numbers compiled by author from county results.