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Party of One

Meet Michigan’s Justin Amash.

Jul 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 42 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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House Republicans call him the “black sheep” of the conference, and Amash does seem to have an unscratchable itch to buck his own party. Take a recent bill designed to restore the flow of water to California’s Central Valley. A court ruling in 2009 halted the flow under the Endangered Species Act—the irrigation system supposedly harmed a species of smelt. Ten moderate Democrats joined 236 Republicans to give the drought-ridden Central Valley access to its water supply, with Amash the only Republican opposed. There’s no explanation for this vote on his Facebook page.

“He is a well-intentioned guy with very different goals than most people up here,” said one House Republican aide. “He’s not interested in governing.”

Or even in engaging with his House colleagues. When I asked fellow freshman Republican Renee Ellmers of North Carolina about Amash, she laughed nervously. “He doesn’t play nice with others,” said Ellmers, a Tea Party conservative popular with the House leadership. “The thing is, he is a member who represents his constituency, and he has a”—she paused to think—“a different perspective.”

For the Republican establishment, Amash may be more an amusing spectacle than a serious threat. After the first ask, the GOP leadership doesn’t bother whipping Amash on votes. Committee chairs have learned he’s not likely to budge and usually don’t try to negotiate with him. No congressman is an island, but Amash comes close.

A few days after his office rejected my interview request, I happened to spot Amash walking by himself on Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street from the Capitol.

“Congressman,” I said, introducing myself. He looked startled and confused, as if most passersby in D.C. assume he’s a midlevel congressional staffer. I told him about my fruitless efforts to snag an interview with him.

“Well, um,” he said, “it’s been a crazy week.” He referred me back to his office and walked away without saying much else. Probably off to do important things congressmen do, I figured.

Later that afternoon, though, there was only one new update on Amash’s Facebook page—a brief birthday message for French libertarian economist Frédéric Bastiat. According to Facebook, “511 people like this.”

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

Correction: Amash does have an explanation for his vote against restoring water to the Central Valley, available on his Facebook page.

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