Tuesday saw the loss of one of Congress’ most conservative voices, Kerry Bentivolio. Known around many circles as the “accidental congressman,” Bentivolio won Michigan’s 11th Congressional district in 2012 because of a freak-oops moment by incumbent Thaddeus McCotter, who failed to qualify for the primary ballot because some of his signatures were found to be fraudulent and discarded. Bentivolio was left in prime condition to take the seat in a strong Republican area. He served one term, and was known as one of the most consistent voices in the House for constitutional ideals.
He lost to the well-funded David Trott, a foreclosure and finance entrepreneur 66 to 34%. Only 60,000 voters participated in the primary but was it deluged with $2.5 million of Trott’s own money and endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Now 62, Bentivolio, a former auto designer, teacher and reindeer farmer who served in the Army and National Guard has finished going through perhaps the most enlightening and challenging two years of his life. And whether you agree with every position he took or not, he leaves behind a kind of Mr. Smith effect on Washington in the same way Jimmy Stewart lit up his role on-screen 75 years ago. While Washington has grown even more convoluted since those ideal days, those fighting for it are even more prevalent and this should make us hopeful.
Bentivolio didn’t go down without some season fight in him, though.
“While I served my country in two wars, he was serving foreclosure notices,” Bentivolio said of Trott, whose company specializes in foreclosing on homes on behalf of banks and other lenders.
But, in the end, low voter turnout and millions in name recognition dollars prevailed.
BATTLES OVER WAR
Now, since his loss a letter Bentivolio sent published to RedState to his supporters on Monday night has gone national and it shows what kind of man he is, and what sort of leadership exists on our philosophical “side.” We have no reason to bemoan our doom with his loss, or others. We have thousands of offices nationwide to fill every year, and we can if we stay vigilant. While many of us conservatives differ on this or that, our ideal are generally the same. Small government, constitutional law, freedom of choices. But where we disagree, some take it too far and burn down the barns for the sake of making noise. The rest of us seek to channel it into productive action.
Bentivolio’s final words held no such disdain for the process. In fact, he showed excitement about the changes that have happened, and those that are still to be done. His words of unity are unique because he reminds us all that politics isn’t about “voting for the lesser of two evils,” as though the ballot box is a battle between two final destinations, but rather a steady direction away from failed policies and progressive government. Our unity, he shows can accomplish good things that would not otherwise happen. It does not need to be a unity that compromises principles, but wages war one battle at a time, rather than winner-takes-all.
I have included the text of his letter to supporters below. It may make you cry, cheer or holler, but it will not leave you disparate. We have a choice, it just takes vigilance, wisdom and like the left has used for 150 years, progressive change one movement at a time toward a goal.
Enjoy these patriotic words:
Two years ago I found myself in the unlikeliest of positions: the Republican nominee for Congress in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District and the frontrunner in the general election. An ordinary citizen, I did not put my name on the ballot to be famous or powerful. I simply hadn’t gotten a response from my congressman about a veteran’s issue that affected my men in the National Guard. I hoped to grab his attention.
Winning a seat in Congress felt like drinking water out of a fire hose. I went from a sergeant in the Guard calling every general “sir” to having three- and four-star generals calling me “sir.” I went from trying to hear back from my member of Congress to being able to have a cigarette break with the Speaker of the House. For someone who had forever been on the outside of the fishbowl, it was pretty amazing to find myself all of a sudden in the water.
I also learned something else, as well. The establishment does not care if conservatives hate what they do, or how they lead. Their only concern involves whether or not you hate the Democratic leaders more. This is not to say that John Boehner or Kevin McCarthy and the rest of those in charge of the Republican Party are not good people. They are (really). They serve their country the best they can, but they operate under a different set of expectations than we often do. They still practice an old way of thinking, but that’s changing because conservative activists are forcing them to.
Whether the establishment wants to admit it, a revolution is occurring inside the Republican Party. The seeds sewn by President Reagan are blooming. His heirs are prepared and unafraid to tackle our nation’s problems and we have been offering solutions based in the ideas of limited government. Whether it’s Mike Lee and Tim Scott promoting ideas to shrink our welfare system while maintaining a strong and effective social safety net or Scott Walker challenging corrupt unions that bilk the taxpayers for millions of dollars, a new conservatism has arrived. We’re unwilling to let liberalism in both parties drive our country off of a fiscal cliff.
Just this week we saw how the new conservatives can affect Congress. When leadership wanted to enact a weakened immigration bill, the conservative caucus rose up and demanded more be done. We won the battle and the House passed an effective conservative solution to the border crisis happening in the Southwest. We can create positive change in the party.
I’m facing an extremely well-funded opponent backed by the establishment in the primary on Tuesday and, quite frankly, it’s going to be tough to win. Even if I don’t get to come back, however, I’ll be content. I’ve seen behind the curtain and I know that the ideas of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are winning. I can attest that my friends Justin Amash, Mark Meadows, and the other conservative members of the House are slowly, but surely, gaining control. Principled conservative leadership can change minds and gain support. The revolution in the Republican Party is going to continue, and it’s not going to be based on hating the other guys worse. It’s going to be founded on loving the country more.
– Kerry Bentivolio
So long, “sir.” You deserve the respect you’ve earned all your life and lost only an election on Tuesday, not a legacy. It lives on, and your motivating words of unity make me press forward. We are part of your impact on history.