Rep. Andy Kim speaks at Lawrence Library
A deficit in trust – whether it is directed at political leadership or the election system – is a serious issue facing the United States, according to U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3).
Kim spoke to nearly 100 people in a conversation about democracy and good government at the Lawrence Branch of the Mercer County Library System Aug. 1. His talk was co-sponsored by the Friends of the Lawrence Library and the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Trenton.
“We are in a historic moment right now. We are living in a time of the greatest amount of government distrust in this country,” said Kim, whose district includes Lawrence Township, East Windsor Township, Hightstown Borough, the City of Bordentown and Bordentown Township as well as communities in Monmouth County.
“There is a lot of partisan divide. We are seeing more (political and social) division. How much more of it can a democracy handle?”
Democrats and Republicans see members of the opposing party as the enemy, which leads to the growing distrust, he said. It is a problem that deeply concerns him.
“We have a trust deficit, but how do we fix it?” Kim asked.
Kim, who holds “town hall” meetings across his district, recalled the second town hall meeting that he held after being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. It was held in a town that he lost.
He told the attendees that regardless of whether they voted for him or not, his job is to serve them. Afterwards, an attendee approached Kim and told him that although he did not vote for him, he was glad that he attended the town hall meeting.
Kim said he often thinks about that moment. It gave him an understanding of what’s wrong. What he learned from his constituent is that “you can’t go from zero to trust.”
“You can’t flip a switch (to gain trust). You can’t just get respect. You can’t get respect unless you ‘show up.’ A lot of it is just showing up,” he said.
To knit the democracy together means reducing anger and vitriol, Kim said. Anger and vitriol is addictive and “we have to find ways to work together.”
Kim, who began his career in public service as a diplomat, said he remembered something his first boss told him about government and how it works.
“He said you don’t have good government unless you have good people working in it. Respect and trust have to go both ways,” Kim said.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, Kim fielded questions about his transition from diplomat to elected official, and about election security.
Kim said he loves his job as an elected official. His district includes Bordentown, where he lives and is raising his family.
“What I found most challenging is money in politics,” he said. “It’s much worse than I thought. I didn’t realize it costs money to run for office, and it affects the kind of people who step up and run.
“It is easier for wealthy people to run for office, but it is a very challenging situation. What are their experiences? If they have an ego, they may be narcissistic and may think of themselves as social influencers.”
There are 535 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, and it is “an awesome responsibility,” Kim said.
Responding to an attendee’s expressed distrust in the electoral system and which may, in turn, diminish an elected official’s credibility, Kim agreed that election integrity is at the heart of those concerns.
People across the political spectrum have concerns about it, he said. There is concern about vote-by-mail and absentee ballots. Election security will continue to be a concern.
“It should encourage us to invest in election security,” he said, noting there is “a big divide” on the issue in Congress.
“If the democracy is at a place where there is no trust in how elections are handled, this may represent an existential threat to the United States,” Kim said.