Editor's note: Today, Oct. 19, we profile the Republican and Democratic hopefuls for Indiana's 2nd District U.S. House seat, Jackie Walorski and Brendan Mullen. Saturday we profile Libertarian Joe Ruiz and Sunday we look at the many charges and countercharges made in the intense race.
The 2nd District, redrawn per the 2010 U.S. Census, now includes all of Elkhart County, seven other north central Indiana counties and parts of two others. The three-term incumbent, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, is running for the U.S. Senate this cycle.
Follow these links for more from Mullen, Walorski and Ruiz on the issues.
Here are links to earlier looks at Walorski, Mullen and Ruiz.Click here to read the profile on Brendan Mullen.
Click here to read the profile on Joe Ruiz.
Click here to read our look at the campaigns and pointed political ads of the candidates seeking Indiana's 2nd District U.S. House seat.
ELKHART — As GOP U.S. House hopeful Jackie Walorski sees it, Indiana can serve as a model for the nation as U.S. leaders jockey to rein in spending and balance the federal budget.
Having played a role in “getting the fiscal house in order” in Indiana as a member of the Indiana House, she continues, she's particularly positioned to put the Indiana blueprint on the table for consideration at the federal level.
“... I think that the model, for sure, that we used in the state of Indiana is the reason I'm running for Congress,” she says.
Granted, the federal government is larger and more complex than Indiana's. But the approach the state took to reverse a deficit and trim state government spending in the mid-2000s — spearheaded by Gov. Mitch Daniels but facilitated by legislative backers like Walorski — worked. “We balanced our budget, we audited the size of our government, we shrunk down the size of Indiana's government to the 1970s level,” she says.
Taxes, she adds, didn't go up.
Beyond that, she touts herself as a champion of the people, the public's liaison to government. Sure, she's a conservative, both fiscally and socially, and musters strong tea party support, to the chagrin of some detractors who view her as a right-wing partisan. But that doesn't keep her from speaking her mind, even to other Republicans if need be, Walorski maintains.
To borrow a phrase she's used over and over since the primary vote earlier this year, she's an “independent voice.”
Walorski served three terms in the Indiana House, from 2005 to 2010, and battled hard for the 2nd District post in 2010, narrowly losing to Democrat Joe Donnelly, the incumbent vying for the U.S. Senate this cycle. Her challengers for the 2nd District U.S. House post, Libertarian Joe Ruiz and Democrat Brendan Mullen, are both making their first bids for office.
As a result, Walorski — originally from South Bend and now a resident of the Jimtown area — came to the U.S. House race with a measure of built-in name recognition. She certainly has more of a public record to scrutinize than either of the other hopefuls.
“I am what I am,” she says, speaking at The Elkhart Truth. “People have voted for me because they have supported me, they haven't because they haven't. But my voting record is crystal clear, that you better believe I worked across the aisle, and you better believe I have an independent voice.”
HER VOTE WITH THE GOP, DEMS
In 2010, northern Indiana Democrats commissioned a study of Walorski's voting record as a state lawmaker. It found that she voted 93 percent of the time with the Republican Party.
There were 2,696 total votes in Walorski's three terms that Nesbitt Research looked at in making the determination, and the company said she voted in step with GOP House leadership on 2,504 occasions. She bucked party leaders 192 times, 7 percent of the total, suggesting a reliably Republican lawmaker.
Walorski uses a different metric in gauging her stint in the Indiana House, one that puts her in a more moderate light. Her staff crunched her voting figures, determining she voted in step with both the GOP and Democratic majorities in the Legislature around 75 percent of the time.
Indeed, most issues aren't lightning rod matters that are going to generate splits along party lines, Walorski thinks.
“Most of us believe, by and large, in the same kind of future. We believe in better jobs, we believe in wanting safe, secure neighborhoods and a safe, secure state and the lack of debt and things like that,” she says. Only on perhaps 10 to 15 percent of the issues do lawmakers really split.
As for some of the higher-profile issues during her six years in the Indiana House, there was privatization in 2006 of Indiana Toll Road operations, which Walorski favored. Walorski opposed controversial 2005 legislation moving to daylight saving time in Indiana.
According to Project Vote Smart, a non-profit group that investigates the backgrounds of political candidates, Walorski:
Ÿ Opposed legislative proposals during her tenure putting state limits on smoking in public. An initiative passed in 2011, after Walorski left.
Ÿ Favored a 2010 resolution, which passed the House 75-23, putting an initiative to voters to amend the Indiana Constitution and implement property tax caps, including a lid for homeowners of 1 percent of their home's assessed valuation. Voters overwhelmingly approved the initiative in 2010.
Ÿ Favored 2010 legislation, which passed the House 75-20, prohibiting employers from restricting employees' right to keep firearms in their locked vehicles while on company grounds. She's pro-gun.
Walorski, who's pro-life, also co-authored or backed numerous proposals setting new rules or limits on provision of abortions, which by and large failed. She also co-authored a resolution as state lawmaker in 2008, which died in committee, that would have defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
'A STORY TO TELL'
Walorski, 49, doesn't allude much to those votes on the campaign trail. Instead, she focuses on Indiana government efforts early in her legislative tenure to whittle away at Indiana's revenue shortfall, some $1 billion at the time, and improve state economic development efforts.
The debt reduction moves, giving Indiana a surplus, were largely the handiwork of Gov. Daniels and compliant Republicans, says economist Morton Marcus.
Marcus, former director of the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University, further notes that the spending shifts and cuts didn't leave everybody unscathed. They resulted in a dip in funds for social programs and some of the neediest in the state, including the physically disabled.
Either way, Walorski was in the Legislature when the changes came about and backed them. She even touted Indiana's economic turnaround in an address last August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Indiana has “a story to tell and our Hoosier story needs to be heralded in Washington,” Walorski says, contrasting Indiana's economic health with the national debt. “Washington needs Hoosier common sense. Washington can learn from what we've done in our state.”
Walorski further touts creation of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. during her legislative service, instrumental, she maintains, in luring business to the state and spurring job growth. She backed the 2005 legislation forming the IEDC, which relies on financial incentives and headhunting efforts to promote economic growth, and says the initiative has helped make Indiana a pro-growth Mecca in the Midwest.
Marcus, the economist, again offers a different take. He questions what he describes as the cloudy transparency under which the IEDC operates, and wonders if the organization fairly and accurately reports on its successes. Some critics have wondered if the firms the IEDC has recruited have in fact created all the jobs they've actually promised.
'FIGHTER FOR PEOPLE'
With cries of partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., at a seeming high, Walorski sees herself working with politicians of all types, including Democrats.
She's made politically charged remarks in the past, notably during the 2010 2nd District U.S. House campaign, seemingly in a bid to consolidate support among the conservative tea party core of the GOP. She particularly zeroed in on U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the liberal Democrat from California and then-speaker of the U.S. House, saying at one time that If elected, she would “take on Nancy Pelosi and she will not know what hit her,” for instance.
Walorski hasn't made such remarks during this campaign, hasn't acknowledged any change in her style or demeanor since 2010 and says she always worked with Democrats in the Indiana House. If elected to the U.S. House, her first reach across the aisle would be to the Democratic members of Indiana's legislative delegation in Washington.
“I'd be building bridges pretty quickly with the other congressmen in this state, because what we have in our core, no matter if we're Republicans or we're Democrats, we have the welfare of Hoosiers at the base of all of us,” she says.
Similarly, she says her aim in politics has been to improve things, enfranchise the public. That's what drove her when she first ran for the Indiana House in 2004, along with a desire to straighten out Indiana's economic situation, and it drives her now.
“You know, I've been a fighter for people, bringing them to the table and opening the door to their government for them,” she says. “And that's what I look forward to do ... if we are elected on Nov. 6.”