EDITORIAL: Jacobs bestowed valuable lessons

IBJ Staff
January 4, 2014
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IBJ Editorial

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.•


To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.