Dave Kitchell: Jacobs should be the rule, rather than the exception
Friday, January 03, 2014 1:28 PM
LOGANSPORT - An image forever ingrained in my memory is a televised report of campaign finances for one of Indiana's congressional delegations.
While the narrative voice of an Indianapolis anchor read the staggering totals of incumbents and challengers, many of which were well into the six-figure range, the station's chyron displayed a total for Congressman Andy Jacobs I thought had to be a mistake. He had reported only $10,000 for his entire campaign.
"What?"I thought. "That has to be a mistake," I thought.
A moment later, the anchor offered a caveat that Jacobs didn't accept political action committee funding. He could have funded his entire campaign for re-election in a day. He might have had the lowest campaign account of any congressional incumbent with an opponent that year.
Andy Jacobs, who passed away last month, was simply not made the way other members of Congress were. Indiana contributed tons of limestone for the halls of Congress, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Washington Monument. But the bedrock of ethical campaigns was personified by Jacobs, who went out of his way to avoid any appearance that he could be bought and paid for by special interests.
They don't give out awards for refusing to accept money in Washington. If they did, Andy Jacobs would have won them all or retired the trophy. It wasn't about paybacks from contributors for him. It was about giving back to his district, his state and his country and giving every indication to those who might want to buy influence that he simply couldn't be bought.
What's even more interesting that with the exception of a lone race against former Republican Bill Hudnut in 1972, Jacobs never lost a race. His reputation as a thorough, concerned congressman who researched before he voted and didn't necessarily go along with the status quo was impeccable. Voters knew it.
The image of Jacobs I'll remember most is on election night in 1974. When lesser men might have gloated that they just recaptured their congressional seat or defeated Hudnut, Jacobs elected not to pontificate once the red light of the television cameras went on. He pointed to his watch to let his supporters know it was time to bring a long campaign and a long day to a close. It was a night for Democrats to rejoice in benefiting from the aftermath of Watergate and to look ahead, not to glory in his moment.
Jacobs served at a time when the Abscam scandal claimed victims in its wake. He served before campaign finance reform measures in the post-Watergate era were the norm. He served when congressmen were still respected as models of our society and not as the double-talking labelists that have the lowest approval ratings in the history of the institution.
They made a movie once about an ethical, moral man being chosen to represent his state. It was called "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and it starred Jimmy Stewart in the lead role.
We may not have known it, but Andy Jacobs starred in the remake of that movie, and it was a reality show the likes of which we unfortunately will probably never see again.
Somewhere along the line, voters stopped demanding people like Andy Jacobs in Congress and allowed him to be the exception rather than than the model. He retired with a remarkable legacy.
His passing should leave us all wondering why there are not more Andy Jacobses in Congress and public service today.
Kitchell is an award-winning columnist based in Logansport.