ELKHART — Campaign signs are propped up here and there, a large bag of uneaten candy — snack food, apparently, for volunteers — sits on a table.
Gradually, though, Jackie Walorski’s campaign office in a strip mall on South Nappanee Street is getting cleared out as the congresswomen-elect, winner Tuesday in the 2nd District U.S. House race, readies for Washington D.C. Next week she goes to the nation’s capital for orientation sessions for freshman U.S. representatives, and though many nuts and bolts still have to be sorted out — office location, committee assignments — she’s starting the transition from candidate to federal lawmaker.
One of the first orders of business, Walorski said Thursday at her campaign office, will be getting acquainted with the other incoming lawmakers at orientation, both Democrats and Republicans.
“That’s where you have an opportunity to really find relationships and bond, and find folks across the aisle that you can work with,” she said. She touted the need to battle partisan gridlock during her campaign, and forging connections on those initial meetings with other new lawmakers will be “priority one,” even before policy work.
Her Democratic foe in the U.S. House race, Brendan Mullen, had accused Walorski — a fiscal and social conservative with tea party backing — of being prone to extreme partisan bickering. Walorski, who beat Mullen by a thin 49 percent to 47.6 percent margin last Tuesday, has rebuffed the criticism and remains upbeat Democrats and Republicans will work together.
“We will find common ground,” said the former three-term member of the Indiana House. “The message was sent — Americans want jobs. We’ve got to get jobs in this place. In order to do that, we’ve got to be able to find common ground across the aisle.”
Walorski, tentatively to be sworn-in on Jan. 3, will take over from Democrat Joe Donnelly. Donnelly, who narrowly fought back a challenge from Walorski in the 2010 2nd District election, ran for the U.S. Senate this cycle, beating Republican Richard Mourdock.
OBAMACARE, the EPA
Of course there are issues to be dealt with, not just the working relationship between Democrats and Republicans.
During the campaign, Walorski repeatedly called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, President Obama’s overhaul of the health care sector, and still thinks that’s the way to go. “I’m sure there’s going to be a vote in the House to repeal Obamacare, and yeah, I’ll be on the side of repeal,” she said.
With Obama’s re-election, repeal is a questionable proposition, in which case she’d consider the alternatives. “I’m at the table with my sleeves rolled up... OK, so if (repeal) doesn’t succeed, you look at plan B,” she said.
She doesn’t know what the alternative may be. But one thing she remains strong about is that the medical device tax in Obamacare, which critics say would hammer the local orthopedic industry, should be stripped. “Of the pieces that are job killers, I think we’ll find bipartisan support to repeal them,” she said.
Walorski also thinks small business are overburdened by regulation and plans to focus on that.
“Part of it is just reining in the EPA,” she said, alluding to the Environmental Protection Agency. Manufacturing is key here and she has heard over and over from those in the sector — farmers, even — that the agency has become “much more heavy handed.”
Part of the EPA’s regulatory authority comes from legislation, some from executive action, and she thinks one means of getting the agency to back off is teaming with other lawmakers, applying pressure. “Advocacy,” she said, “can go a long way in backing some of this stuff off, for the sake of job creation and putting people back to work.”
Lawmakers are apparently working on a fix to stave off the so-called fiscal cliff, the mix of spending cuts, tax hikes and other measures that go into effect automatically Jan. 1 to trim the national budget, per prior legislation.
Even so, Walorski thinks that will still be an issue, in some form, when she takes office. If lawmakers haven’t implemented any sort of stopgap measure to stall the Jan. 1 change, it’ll likely be the first issue on her plate, she thinks.
Social issues, meanwhile — things like abortion and gay marriage — aren’t apparently on the front burner. Walorski is pro-life and favored moves, as an Indiana state lawmaker, to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“We’ve just come out of a campaign with months and months and months of activity and it has not been an issue that people have talked about,” she said. Rather, people are talking about the need for more jobs, and that’ll be her focus.
HONORED, GRATEFUL, HUMBLED
With Tuesday’s victory, Walorski will be the first Republican female to hold the 2nd District U.S. House post, she said. According to the Associated Press, she also becomes the first GOP female, along with newly elected Susan Brooks in Indiana’s 5th District, in the state’s congressional delegation since 1958.
Also of note — Walorski’s win reverses the close loss she suffered at the hands of Donnelly two years ago. She started campaigning in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote just a few months after that 2010 loss.
Whatever the case, if there’s any glee in being elected, Walorski doesn’t show it.
“I’m very honored and I’m grateful. And I’m humbled to have a chance to represent people,” she said. “I’m more humbled by it than I am anything.”