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Rep. Jacobs' Random Acts of Kindness

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Andy Jacobs Jr.
  • Andy Jacobs Jr.

Civility. Empathy. Integrity.

Ask anyone who knew the man, and those are the words that come to mind when they're remembering former Congressman Andy Jacobs Jr., who died on Dec. 28, 2013.

"When Ryan White visited D.C., Andy's was the only office open to Ryan," said Steve Barnett, a longtime Jacobs staffer. "He took him around, they went to the cafeteria, ate lunch. He wasn't an AIDS patient to Andy, he was just a good Hoosier kid."

Jacobs' office was open to anyone, in fact: If a Hoosier had a problem, they could call Jacobs.

"It was a philosophy that he imparted to all the staffers as well," Barnett recalled. "We have had a woman call the office because she had a squirrel stuck in her mailbox. I don't remember who took care of that one, but I'm sure we solved it."

Gary Taylor was a close friend of Jacobs' (and "campaign manger — to the extent you could be a campaign manger for Andy"), and stayed with Andy and his family in the hospital during a brief visit to manage his pain before they took him home for his final days.

Jacobs and his Great Dane, C-5
  • Jacobs and his Great Dane, C-5

Even as he approached the end of his life, Jacobs was attuned to the needs of others.

"I was there while Andy took a call to comfort an elderly woman whose son the fire chief had just fallen off his ladder," Taylor said.

Jim Seidensticker was Andy Jacobs Jr.'s legal counsel for over 30 years. As Seidensticker recalls, it was a pretty easy job: "Even if something didn't look quite kosher, Andy wouldn't have anything to do with it."

There was one exception, though. Al Lowenstein, an anti-war member of Congress, was being physically bullied by another Congressman during debates over the war in Vietnam. Jacobs had seen enough, and approached the bully, telling him he ought to pick on someone his own size.

"Like you?" responded the bully.

"Yeah, like me," Jacobs said. "Tell you what — let's go down in the well of the House and settle this." The Hoosier congressman, better known as a pacifist, was challenging another politician to a fistfight — in the very chambers of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Seidensticker intervened. "I showed Andy the federal statute from the 1840s that prohibited members of Congress from dueling."

Picking a fight wasn't really Jacobs' style. Sticking up for the little guy was.

Seidensticker recalls a moment the two were driving in Andy's car. They were rear-ended by another vehicle, and the driver emerged, distraught — he told Jacobs he had no insurance. The man needed his car for work and was certain reporting the accident would cost him his ride. The man offered to pay Jacobs fifty bucks a week until Jacobs' car was fixed.

Jacobs turned the offer down. "It's in the past. Forget about it."

Seidensticker laughs. "I don't think I would've made that deal. Andy ate $300 in repairs."

jacobs_jfk.jpg

Jacobs' empathy colored not just his personal life, but it helped shape his ideas regarding policy. In 1962, Jacobs unsuccessfully ran against a rabid anti-communist by the name of Donald Bruce. During a radio debate, Bruce admonished Jacobs — Bruce wanted to break relations with the Soviet Union and invade Cuba, and he was perturbed by the Democrats' take on any attempt to overthrow the Castro regime.

"I want you to assure our listening audience that an invasion of Cuba wouldn't necessarily lead to total war," Bruce told Jacobs, refuting the notion that the Soviets might respond to such an invasion by attacking the U.S. — perhaps even with a nuclear strike.

"I can assure our listening audience of one thing," Jacobs responded. "For the Marines on that beach, it will sure as hell be 'total war.'"

Barnett remembered an encounter in the late '60s, when Jacobs was approached by a Hoosier who called himself "a dead man." The IRS was exercising its full power at that time, taking a full garnishment of the man's wages to pay a tax debt.

Jacobs was mortified. When he became a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, he ensured that the IRS was no longer able to appropriate a citizen's entire paycheck. The story of the "dead man" stunned his colleagues.

"He listened, then he actually did something," Barnett said. "He'd never just refer someone to another office."

As example, as teacher, as mentor, Jacobs affected all who knew him.

One of the lessons that Jacobs taught Barnett was particularly tough. "I ran for city council and lost," Barnett recalled. "I called my opponent the next day and congratulated him — just like Andy had taught me.

"Civility in politics. We can fight tooth and nail, but we're all Americans, all Hoosiers.

"When we're off the floor, let's not be bitter about it."

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