SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A former U.S. senator from South Dakota has visited college campuses across the country giving lectures on good government and points to disfunction on Capitol Hill as evidence that we can’t take our democracy for granted. 81-year-old Larry Pressler, a native of Humboldt, says the partisanship in Washington, D.C., is much more intense and divisive now, than when he was in office.
Pressler shares his views ranging from funding battles in Congress to the upcoming presidential election.
Events unfolding in Washington, D.C., shake Pressler to his core.
“I just get so discouraged by everything that’s happening here in Washington, D.C., so please excuse me for being a little emotional,” Pressler said.
There was the battle over electing a new Speaker of the House that brought Congress to a standstill for three weeks.
“We’ve all got to lower our egos, lower our own demands and accept the leadership to some extent. That’s what a democracy is all about,” Pressler said.
Pressler says some of the challenges in passing a funding bill to avoid a shutdown are as much institutional, as political.
“Our government is geared for 1-year appropriations bills, so therefore, we’re going to inevitably have a crisis every year to a government shutdown. We have to work through it and do the best we can,” Pressler said.
Notice Pressler says ‘we’ a lot. He served as South Dakota’s Republican representative in the U.S. House and in the U.S. Senate for more than 20 years. He says, in his time, elected leaders were more willing to work across the aisle to get things done.
“In those days, we were more appreciative of one another. We wanted to succeed and help others. And we wanted to be a success to help others. But now, it seems as though everybody’s for themselves. We gotta change that,” Pressler said.
Pressler was a staunch fiscal conservative during his time in Congress. And he remains an opponent of foreign aid even as lawmakers battle over funding for Israel and Ukraine.
“We’ve got to do a certain amount of it for Israel and Ukraine. But since I’ve been a little boy, we’ve always been made fun of as suckers in terms of giving foreign aid; we shouldn’t do that,” Pressler said.
Pressler has been sizing-up the field running for president in both parties and says Donald Trump should not serve in the White House again.
“I’m speaking way out of line here, but here I go: some things Donald Trump has said would lead us to an authoritarian form of government. And we have to kind of stand up and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute — we want democracy; we want every little person’s views taken into consideration,'” Pressler said.
Pressler says President Biden, who he considers a friend from his days serving with Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is too old to seek re-election.
“I’m his exact age and I can’t do everything I used to do and I’m worried about him as he plows into this thing. I’m one of these guys, I don’t accept these old-age guys in politics. I think old-age guys should be advisors and spiritual counselors, or something. But we cannot provide that leadership your young guys can do,” Pressler said.
Pressler left office in 1997. He left the Republican Party ten years ago to became an Independent. He describes himself politically as a centrist-moderate. Pressler is critical of both Republicans and Democrats for caving to extreme voices within each party. Yet despite his discouragement over deep divisions within Congress and the country, he remains optimistic that democratic values will prevail in the long-run.
“We’re going to make it. We have a great country, great tradition, a great form of government. We just have to keep going,” Pressler said.
Pressler was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago. He says he’s in good health and will be seeing a new oncologist for treatment.
Pressler currently lives in Washington, D.C., and is planning a return visit to South Dakota next month.