Editor’s note: Today, Aug. 8, we take a look at Republican Jackie Walorski and Thursday we profile Democratic candidate Brendan Mullen. Both are vying for Indiana’s 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which covers Elkhart and St. Joseph counties and all or parts of eight other north-central Indiana counties.
Is she a measured conservative, capable of building bipartisan coalitions, or a strident extremist, focused on a far-right agenda? Somewhere in between?
That’s a point of debate among supporters and critics of Jackie Walorski, the Republican hopeful for Indiana’s 2nd District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Either way you cut it, Walorski, a fiscal and social conservative from the Jimtown area west of Elkhart, is no shrinking violet. She’s not timid about taking a stand, garners strong GOP and tea party backing and has mustered support from big-name conservatives like Karl Rove and Sarah Palin. In the May primary, she crushed her Republican opponent, South Bend physician Greg Andrews, with 73 percent of the vote.
She speaks forcefully, won’t easily be intimidated and doesn’t shy from bold — critics say extreme — pronouncements. Dating to her unsuccessful 2010 bid for the 2nd District seat, she’s said the Environmental Protection Agency should be shuttered and suggested privatization of the U.S. Social Security system may be the way to go, among many other things.
More recently, the central points of Walorski’s campaign messsage seem to be more moderate, a seeming shift that has prompted teeth-clenching and eye-rolling among critics who think she’s trying to rewrite history. Washington, D.C., is beset with partisan bickering, Walorski’s campaign maintains, and she is an independent who can work across the aisle and help bridge the gap. The Republican points to her three terms in the Indiana House, 2005 through 2010, including her leadership post as assistant floor leader.
“Jackie is an independent voice and votes in the best interest of Hoosiers,” her campaign manager, Brendon DelToro, said in an email. Walorski, DelToro continued, “has reached across the aisle to build bipartisan coalitions to pass meaningful legislation throughout her tenure in the state legislature.”
If she’s elected, Walorski will work to control the federal budget and rein in spending, according to her campaign website. She’s for fewer taxes on small businesses and less government interference. She’s said she’d do away with the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care plan pushed by President Obama, in a heartbeat.
“She’s a conservative, common sense-type person and that’s what we need,” said Terry Rodino, president of the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners and a Republican. “I think she learned a lot at the state. Wait and watch her.”
Dale Stickel, chairman of the Elkhart County Republican Party, said Walorski understands that it’s not the government’s role to manage people’s lives. “She understands that jobs are the key to everything,” he said, and that if lawmakers make it easy for the private sector to create jobs via lower taxes, that goes a long way in addressing the nation’s woes.
Pete Recchio, co-founder of the Tea Party of Michiana Action Coalition, an Elkhart County-based tea party group, uses words like “courageous,” “intelligent” and “passionate” in describing Walorski.
“Jackie is a constitutionalist first and foremost,” Recchio said, by which he means she believes in things like limited federal power and the importance of self-determination. “Jackie is a conservative, foremost, in that she believes government should be small and not onerous and not overwhelm our lives.”
THE CRITICS’ VIEW
Such praise notwithstanding, Walorski has plenty of critics — among Democrats anyway — who view her as an uncompromising and ardent right-winger, not a bridge builder.
“I think Jackie Walorski is trying to play a magic trick on the voters of Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District. I think she’s trying to be something she’s not,” said Mike Schmuhl, the 2nd District Democratic Party chairman.
Walorski touts herself as an independent, yet a review by Democrats of her voting record as a state lawmaker from 2005 through 2008 shows she voted with the Republican Party around 90 percent of the time. “That doesn’t seem very bipartisan to me,” Schmuhl said.
Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, a Democrat and Brendan Mullen backer, voices similar criticism. So does St. Joseph County Democratic Party head and Indiana Sen. John Broden, who served with Walorski in the Indiana Legislature.
Broden said he doesn’t think her claim of working across the aisle “is consistent with her record in the General Assembly.”
Indeed, rather than tempering the inability of Democrats and Republicans in Washington to work together, her election would exacerbate the divide, said Andy Reynolds, Mullen’s campaign manager.
“Jackie Walorski is a tea party candidate who has a long record of partisan extremism,” he said in an email. “Sending her to Congress will make a broken system worse.”
With primary season over, Jason Critchlow, a Mishawaka man who runs a website that’s unabashedly critical of Walorski, jackiewalorskifacts.com, maintains that Walorski’s trying to project a more moderate image to draw support of independent voters. “She knows she has to try to twist her image around into something it’s not,” he said.
Beyond the claims and counterclaims, Walorski’s voting record shows her siding with conservatives and Republicans on both fiscal and social issues.
Though completed by Democrats, Schmuhl, the 2nd District Democratic leader, said the research showing Walorski with a 90 percent GOP voting record from 2005 through 2008 “is sound.” The researchers tallied whether Walorski voted with or against the GOP majority on the varied measures that went before Indiana lawmakers.
On fiscal issues, she’s adamant that federal spending needs to be brought under control and favors a balanced-budget amendment, which would force lawmakers to spend within their means. She’s garnered endorsements from the National Federation of Small Business and the U.S. and Indiana chambers of commerce, groups that represent everything from small to large businesses and corporations.
She’s pro-life, strongly favors gun rights and co-authored a proposal in the Indiana Legislature in 2008 that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Suggestive of rightward leanings, she’s connected to several high-profile conservatives.
She has the endorsement this cycle of the Eagle Forum, a conservative pro-gun rights, pro-life group headed by Phyllis Schlafly.
Karl Rove, the conservative former adviser to President George W. Bush, came to Elkhart in March to speak at a Walorski fundraiser.
During her 2010 bid for the 2nd District seat, which she narrowly lost to incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly, she garnered the endorsement of Sarah Palin, the conservative former GOP U.S. vice presidential hopeful. (Donnelly is running for the U.S. Senate this go-round.)
Over the years, she’s voiced opinions falling into the conservative camp on a number of controversial topics.
After speaking to a Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce women’s group in Elkhart in January, she advocated closure of the Environmental Protection Agency. She cited what she described as overreach and meddling by the U.S. agency into private business.
“They’re out of control,” Walorski said at the time. She continued: “Let companies be companies.”
During the 2010 campaign against Donnelly, she said that if elected, she would target U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the liberal Democrat from San Francisco who previously served as speaker of the U.S. House. Pelosi has notably been the target of many Republicans who see her as the personification of what they believe to be Democratic arrogance and intransigence.
“If you help me to defeat (Donnelly), I promise you I will take on Nancy Pelosi and she will not know what hit her,” Walorski said in announcing her 2010 bid in February of that year.
Also in the 2010 campaign, she voiced support for privatizing Social Security — as unsuccessfully proposed by President George W. Bush — though it didn’t seem to be a burning issue for her.
“I think the one thing we have to do is the thing that Bush acually tried to do a couple years ago, which is privatize Social Security and allow people to invest in their own retirement,” she said in a March 18, 2010, radio program. Critchlow, the Walorski critic, provided a copy of the audio.
In calling for more domestic offshore drilling for oil during a March 16, 2010, appearance before a Kokomo -rea tea party group, she spoke disparagingly of environmentalists. Offshore drilling is a controversial prospect for some, who worry about the potential dangers to the environment.
“How quickly can we drill on the intercontinental shelf below the ocean floor? Drilling in this nation is setting the country free and breaking the bonds of these environmentalists who have no clue and no concept,” Walorski said in a clip of the videotaped speech posted on YouTube. The audience cheered and applauded loudly.
JUST AS CRITICAL OF THE GOP
Even if she is conservative, that’s no indicator of blind obedience to the GOP, said Recchio, the Elkhart County tea party leader. “She’s been just as critical of Republicans when necessary as she has been with Democrats,” he said.
That she may generate backlash from foes could just be a function of her steadfast views, Recchio added. “People who take strong stances are the easiest people to criticize,” he said, while those with wishy-washy views are harder to pin down and thus harder to criticize.
Stickel, the head of the Elkhart County Republican Party, knows the criticism of Walorski, though he thinks of her as a “very strong and forceful person.” But he notes her role as assistant floor leader when serving in the Indiana House. “You don’t do that if you’re making people mad at you,” he said.
Indeed, if critics, anyone, were to sit down with her to talk — not argue, but talk — they’d get a different impression, Stickel thinks.
She’d work with Democrats in Washington D.C., “If they’re willing to work with her,” Stickel said. “It’s a two-way street. I see her trying to, whether there would be any reciprocity on that, I can’t speak to that.”