A Norwegian political “exchange student”

This unique cross-cultural fellowship gives Norwegians a peek inside American politics

Photo courtesy of NORAM
Before traveling to D.C., Stuart Fellow Lars Mattis Hanssen was received by the US ambassador to Norway, Samuel D. Heins.

John Erik Stacy
The Norwegian American

I am often surprised by how many different programs there are promoting scholarly exchange between Norway and the U.S., and this year I learned of one more. At our Thanksgiving table, we were privileged to have as our guest the 2016 recipient of the Ambassador Robert D. Stuart Fellowship, Lars Mattis Heikkonen Hanssen. Hanssen is a political advisor for the Norwegian Labor Party (Arbeiderpartiet) and is not an “exchange student” in the usual sense of the word.

But neither is the Stuart Fellowship a typical scholarship. Rather, it is a program aimed at to bring young Norwegian politicians into contact with their counterparts in the U.S. This opportunity is awarded to candidates from the various partisan flavors of Norway. Since its first participant in 1995, the fellowship has hosted young politicians active in mainstream parties Høyre and Arbeiderpartiet, as well as candidates from movements further right and left of center, such as Kristelig Folkeparti, Sosialistisk Venstreparti, Venstre, and Fremskrittsparti (in fact, FrP Silvi Listhaug, recently infamous for an aquatic stunt in the Mediterranean, was the 2005 recipient of the fellowship).

The fellowship is the brainchild of Robert D. Stuart, Jr. He was one of the heirs of the Quaker Oats Company and was also active in the political sphere. President Reagan appointed him to be the ambassador to Norway, and he served there from 1984-1989. The Fellowship is administered by Norway-America Association (NORAM) and The Norwegian Atlantic Committee (DNAK). For more information, visit noram.no/stuartfellowship.

The following is Hanssen’s article about his experience in election year America:

First, thanks to NORAM, DNAK, and the Stuart Family foundation for making it possible for me to live and work in the USA. My expectations for the visit—and more—have been met. I think it is fantastic to be in D.C., and I am learning something new every day!

In the course of my first week in the USA, I visited New York on the occasion of the UN General Assembly. In New York, I participated in interesting seminars and side events, and I met several of my colleagues from the Norwegian Parliament. After coming back to D.C., I have had many productive days at the U.S. Congress and at George Washington University.

Photo courtesy of NORAM
Hanssen and the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Work in Congress
Minnesota representative Keith Ellison, whom I work for in Congress, is a member of the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives. Last week I participated in several exciting hearings in that committee, among others with Federal Reserve Bank Chair Janet Yellen. My first impression from work in the Congress is that Ellison’s team works hard for the interests of his constituents at home in Minnesota. Their work includes everything from answering about 1,500 letters a week to helping Ellison to prepare for such things as questions to be asked during hearings or presentations made to the Congressional Black Caucus or meetings of the Progressive Caucus (where Ellison is co-chair). They are also very active making suggestions for bills that Ellison can sponsor.

Going forward, I will do research for a “Corporate Diversity Bill” where we will attempt to get Congress to adopt 40% female representation in business boards, as well as representation from minorities and employees. Norway is among the nations that have been in the lead in this area: since 2003, publicly traded companies in Norway have been required to have at least 40 percent women on their boards, and employees’ right to demand representation is one of the foundations of Norwegian corporate decision making. Here we have experience from Norway that is interesting for Ellison and his co-workers.

Rep. Ellison is up for re-election this fall [he was re-elected to the Minnesota 5th congressional district for his sixth term in that election] and has traveled back to Minnesota to campaign. I will soon follow to participate in the work of campaigning, as well as meet some of Ellison’s “Norwegian” contacts at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota is the state with the greatest number of Norwegian Americans.

Studying at one of the best universities in the world
At George Washington University, I have received office space at the Elliot School of International Affairs. Here I am studying two subjects: “Contemporary Issues in U.S. Diplomacy” and “Foreign Policy Decision Making.” Classes are organized such that one is required to read and prepare in advance, enabling lecture time to be used for active discussion between student and lecturer.

The lecturer in one of the subjects is the former Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte (also previous ambassador to Honduras, Mexico, Iraq, and the Philippines as well as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN). Negroponte also told me that he knew Ambassador Robert D. Stuart Jr. and that he had met my boss back home in Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre, at a meeting of foreign ministers in Greenland in 2008.

American Presidential Election November 8
The campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is naturally a recurring theme for much of what is happening in D.C. and the USA going forward to November 8. It is interesting to see how Trump and Clinton organize their campaigns, as well as follow the debates and daily talk shows on TV. I have also participated in Clinton campaign grassroots work in swing states Pennsylvania and Virginia, where I went door-to-door to register voters.

I look forward to the continuation—there is still a lot to learn!

First published on the NORAM website (noram.no/stuart_fellow_2016) on Oct. 10, 2016; translated for The Norwegian American by John Erik Stacy.

This article appeared in the Feb. 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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