Remembering Jackie Walorski, a Quiet Force in Congress

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Rep. Jackie Walorski’s role at the Capitol was easy to miss if you weren’t looking. The Indiana Republican wasn’t the type that elbowed her way to the front of a photo op or solicited invitations to insider events. When she had an issue with someone or something, she was civil but direct—never one to trade in the Capitol’s most dangerous currency, gossip and innuendo. Kevin McCarthy was his reliable minority leader, and she was always there to help him. Jackie may only come in for five minutes. She needs to speak..

On Wednesday, Walorski’s death and the deaths of two of her closest aides in an accident at home was announced. The immediate reaction showed that Washington, while a place filled with deep divisions and dysfunction, is actually a part of a large family. The more intimate relationships between family members, the less there are disagreements or feuds. The admiration for the 58 year-old Republican, who served a decade in Congress was just as genuine as the sincere.

Walorski’s background read like an idealized “About Me” page for a Republican candidate, with time spent studying at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and four years as a missionary in Romania. She was an excellent barometer of what Christian conservatives were able to stomach in compromises, and where their red lines lay. Simply put, if you can read Walorski you can read the larger Republican group on the Hill. McCarthy and his staff quickly learned this. (So, too, did Democrats.)

As such, McCarthy rewarded—or punished, depending on who tells the story—Walorski with the top Republican spot on the Ethics Committee, which handles some of the most sensitive self-policing in Washington. Discretion is that panel’s ultimate skill, and Walorski wielded it with aplomb.

“When there was a vacancy for Republican leader of the Ethics Committee, she was my first call,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Everyone who knew Jackie knows she was tough, but fair—a no-nonsense, straight shooter who knew that Congress must reflect Will of the People with decency and honesty.” (Keep this idea about the will of the peopleKeep this in mind, as we approach Jan. 6.)

If Republicans won the House in November, they would be able to put her on the chair of that unremarkable ethics panel. Walorski’s position on a highly-respected tax-writing panel and her top GOP slot on its subcommittee for worker and family supports made it a potent combination. Democrats found it easy to cooperate with her as she, like her colleagues, came from a position of conviction and the desire to serve her constituents. She fought for funding to Christian social services groups and it wasn’t because she wanted to be a criminal against Tucker Carlson. In a city full of exploitative characters, who often see outrage and outrage as an opportunity to rise to power, Democrats can disagree with her position. However they will grudgingly accept it.

Und immer! SimplyThe whispers were heard that Walorski would soon be promoted to a higher-ranking job as a Leader. Her time as a local television reporter gave her a knack for telling stories in a compelling way, and the Republican Party’s messaging right has long needed an upgrade. Also, women remain grossly underrepresented in the GOP’s ranks: just 33 of the 211 Republicans in the House are female, roughly one-third behind Democrats.

Occasionally, Walorski’s ability to read the rank-and-file membership of her party led to some questionable choices. It’s impossible to discuss her time in office without acknowledging her support for The Big Lie, a lawsuit promoting it, and her vote against certifying Joe Biden as the rightful winner of the 2020 election. Walorski understood that her constituents in the home believed it to be true. Even though they may have doubted this privately, she knew. “I share the concerns of many Hoosiers about irregularities in how some states conducted the 2020 presidential election,” she said at the time.

Yet, her political rivals ignored these facts and focused instead on her character. Walorski was raised in South Bend Ind. where her parents owned and operated an appliance store, fought fires, while her mom worked at the supermarket’s meat counter. Walorski, a graduate of college, returned to her hometown to work as a journalist. Later, she moved to non-profit fundraising and became involved in Christian missionary work in Romania. Walorski never forgot to treat her fellow human beings with respect. Even when they did something wrong. “She passionately brought the voices of her north Indiana constituents to the Congress, and she was admired by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for her personal kindness,” Pelosi said.

“As partisan as Congress has become, it is still a family, and this loss hits close to home,” said added Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat who worked closely with Walorski as the Ethics Committee’s chairman. “Jackie Walorski was a colleague and a friend. She cared deeply about the House and about her constituents, and she will be dearly missed by all of us.”

From the White House, Biden offered his own condolences: “We may have represented different parties and disagreed on many issues, but she was respected by members of both parties for her work on the House Ways and Means Committee on which she served.” Biden’s team had been working with Walorski on next month’s conference on hunger, with Walorski serving as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus. Yes, even people with food insecurity have a lobby which demands that a congress convenes.

While much of Washington is preparing to empty for the August recess and the House is already gone, the loss was still keenly felt—especially among staff on the Hill who were remembering two of their own who also died in the crash. Every aide on Capitol Hill has been—or aspires to be—in a car with the boss. It’s facetime that’s a tough commodity to snag when lawmakers are hustling between votes, meetings, and fundraisers. Some of Congress’ top aides convinced their member they were a cut above during a long drive with interminably bad radio choices. That Walorski’s communications director and district director were killed in the crash sincerely shook many aides, even those who had never worked with 28-year-old Emma Thomson and 27-year-old Zachery Potts.

It served as a reminder about the hazards associated with work travel. That the icy roads of Iowa and the treacherous mountains of New Hampshire don’t bring more crashes and losses is somehow overlooked, especially when thousands of new-to-politics optimists are working in unfamiliar terrain on little sleep. The same conditions also plague journalists, who are trying to keep up with White House hopefuls. Thomson and Potts also dedicated themselves to the House office.

So, too, was Walorski’s commitment to service, even if it could be divisive. She could read the polls and this week’s results in deep-red Kansas as well as anyone. However, she was also able to read her conscience. Her legacy in this city is now in safe hands.

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