EDITORIAL: Jacobs bestowed valuable lessons

January 4, 2014

Had Andy Jacobs not fulfilled the duties of his congressional office so unusually during his nearly 30 years in the House, the outpouring of memories following his Dec. 29 death might have been more mundane.

But he did behave and serve differently than so many other politicians. And that style earned him respect both before and after his passing at 81.

The Jacobs way, though quirky at times, was refreshing then and seems downright quaint by today’s norms of antagonistic relationships and packaged, slash-and-burn campaigns, and it’s why Jacobs continues to have much to teach politicians and the political process.

Jacobs, who represented Indianapolis in Congress from 1965 until 1973 and then from 1975 until his retirement in 1997, operated by a personal North Star that allowed him to work across the aisle and within his Democratic Party. But he stopped short of venturing into many of the extremes that undermine the democratic process.

That conscience kept him at arms-length from the sordid dances with campaign financiers who would dominate his votes. He rebuffed donations from political action committees, and won his 1986 campaign despite being outspent nine to one.

Jacobs, who in retirement was a columnist for IBJ, ran a compact, efficient office and resisted the spoils so often enjoyed by those in elected office.

That fiscal conservatism spilled over into his refusal to accept disability compensation for wounds suffered as a Marine infantryman during the Korean War. Why, Jacobs asked, should he accept the money when he was paid well as a congressman?

He bucked the expansion of the Vietnam War by fellow Democrat Lyndon Johnson and came to be known for saying that more politicians should position their children in the front lines of the wars they start.

A gentleman comfortable in his own skin, Jacobs refused to see politics as a blood sport, preferring to befriend opponents and would-be opponents. He famously became close to Bill Hudnut, who beat Jacobs to serve one term in Congress before leading Indianapolis as mayor for four terms.

Jacobs represents so much of what citizens want in their political leaders. Someone who is down to earth. A leader who spends hard-earned tax dollars prudently. A campaigner who recognizes that winning is less important than treating opponents with respect. A lawmaker who moves legislation forward with others but who doesn’t compromise deeply held principles.

Aside from the Voting Rights Act, which he helped write, Jacobs didn’t rack up a long list of big legislative victories. But he might have left a greater legacy in the way he handled his life and the office he stewarded.

That’s worth celebrating.•


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