WASHINGTON - Jackie Walorski mentions bipartisanship frequently in an interview in her congressional office. And she’s for it.
It shouldn’t be. But it could be for two segments of the electorate back in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District, where Walorski, a Republican, was elected to a first term in the House in a close race last fall.
Some Tea Party activists who strongly supported Walorski could be surprised at her talk of working with Democrats on legislation and about a bipartisan meeting at the White House. They’ll get over it. She’s still out to kill Obamacare.
Some of the Democrats in the district who figured Walorski would be like a Richard Mourdock in railing against bipartisanship, making her an easier target for defeat in 2014, could be surprised. And disappointed. But they’ll still have votes to cite as the House moves or stalls.
What did she learn from her time as a state legislator that works well in Congress?
“The need to work together,” Walorski says, “Bipartisanship.”
How goes the work on two of the committees on which she serves, Armed Services and Veterans Affairs? “There’s bipartisanship,” she says, as Democrats and Republicans come together for the armed services and to deal with long waiting lists for medical attention for veterans.
She’s also on the Budget Committee. Bipartisanship? Not so much.
Walorski is working with Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, in co-sponsorship of legislation to extend whistleblower protection in cases of military sexual assault and to clarify that victims are protected from punishment for reporting sexual assaults.
Walorski cites recent reports that sexual assaults are a serious problem in the military and that most go unreported because of feared consequences of reporting.
“The first step is to provide a safe environment for reporting,” says Walorski.
She relates that this approach has support of the Obama administration and was the subject of a bipartisan meeting she attended at the White House. And she says it has gained momentum as a way to address “the alarming issue of underreporting” and to force accountability by the military.
Her proposal was attached as an amendment to the proposed National Defense Authorization Act in the Armed Services Committee.
Walorski also has been touring the district for information on those long waiting lists for veterans seeking health services. “I’m committed to making a difference,” Walorski says. “That’s why I ran.”
An thus far her “softer” image with stress on bipartisanship, without the “harsher” Tea Party rhetoric when she first ran for Congress and lost in 2010, makes her appear less vulnerable in a 2014 race for re-election.
There is no declared Democratic opponent out challenging the way she is identifying herself.
Brendan Mullen, the Democratic opponent who came close to defeating her in 2012, despite Republican-drawn redistricting, has not announced whether he will try again.
Meanwhile, in her campaign finance report for the first quarter of the year, Walorski reported $158,953 in contributions. Mullen reported no contributions but had $3,436 in cash on hand from the last race.
It should be no surprise that Walorski is stressing bipartisanship. One of the reasons her race was so close last time - winning with just 49 percent of the total vote - was the Mourdock effect. The controversial Republican nominee for the Senate hurt the whole Republican ticket with gaffes and insistence that more partisanship, not less, was needed in Washington.
Mourdock, at the two-term limit as state treasurer, wants to get on the 2014 ballot as the Republican nominee for state auditor. He could be a drag on the Republican ticket as an auditor candidate, but not like he was in the spotlight for the U.S. Senate.
All the polls show that voters want bipartisanship, working together rather than continuing bitter partisan gridlock.
Just talking about bipartisanship doesn’t necessarily mean it will be realized to bring agreement on important issues facing the nation.
But talking that way, especially in a potentially competitive district, makes political sense and could be seen as at least a step toward common sense.
Another Michele Bachmann? No. Some of those Tea Party enthusiasts probably hoped that Walorski would spout off like Bachmann. Some of the district Democrats probably hoped so as well, for a different reason.
Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.
Monday, June 17, 2013