Skipping President Obama’s speech last night, Rep. Joe Walsh hosted a small-business forum at Schaumburg’s Prairie Center for the Arts, where he criticized the president for proposing “more government spending… and more government aid.” Yesterday, I posted part one of my Q&A with the 8th District congressman. Here, part two of our conversation, in which he talks about growing up in an Irish Catholic family, why he switched his stance on abortion, who his closest friends are in Congress, and more:
CF: Tell me about your childhood. Were your parents Republicans?
JW: I come from a big old Irish Catholic family of nine kids—seven boys, two girls. My parents were solid Republicans. My mother loved Richard Nixon, worked for Nixon, loved Barry Goldwater. My dad was a mortgage banker and real estate appraiser. My mom raised the kids and then when we were older she went back and taught special education at our local Catholic school in town. None of my siblings is unusually political at all. I would say most everybody in my family is moderate/conservative. I’m one of the more conservative members of my family, that’s for sure.
CF: I’ve read that you were a moderate, pro-choice Republican who became conservative because you saw an opening for a conservative.
JW: In 1996 when I ran [for Congress] against [liberal Democrat] Sid Yates, I was a pro-choice Republican. And if you are a pro-choice Republican, you are called moderate, no matter where you stand on any other issue. I have always been very libertarian and very limited government. So on the fiscal side, there’s never been a change. On the social stuff, look when I ran in ’96 and ‘98 I was a huge gun guy. [Walsh ran unsuccessfully in 1998 against Democrat Jeffrey Schoenberg for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives.] I’ve always been hardcore to the right. The only difference was that in ‘96 and ‘98 I was pro-choice on abortion.
CF: What happened to change your mind?
JW: About five, six, seven years of long arduous thought, prayer, research. In about 2003, I became pro-life without exception. I’ve never looked back. Rape, incest and health of the mother.
CF: You count those as exceptions?
JW: No, there are no exceptions.
CF: You didn’t take the excellent health insurance offered to all members of Congress?
JW: I turned down all my congressional health benefits and all my congressional retirement benefits. I went out into the marketplace and on my own a few months ago and I purchased a health savings account.
CF: The other thing I hear a lot is that you could afford to do that because your second wife, Helene Miller Walsh, has a lot of money. [She has two children, both of whom went to the Latin School here.]
JW: I am the poorest member of Congress, number one in poverty. My wife would be terribly surprised to know that she has a lot of money somewhere. She’s my partner, she’s the love of my life, I met her in the fall of ’03; we got married in June of ’06. It’s tough to run for office, and if you don’t have a supportive partner, it’s doubly tough.
CF: She’s your campaign treasurer; do her politics match yours?
JW: There aren’t many that match mine. I’d call Helene a moderate/conservative. I think she’s been independent most of her life I know she has voted Democrat at times and Republican at times.
CF: Tell me about your children.
JW: I was divorced eight years ago. The kids basically lived with their mother and father half-time throughout our post divorce. My oldest son is a couple of years out of college; my daughter’s a couple of years out of high school; my youngest son is a junior in high school. All the kids went to Loyola Academy in Wilmette. My oldest son was a finance major. He’s tending bar out here in D.C. right now, looking for a job. My middle child, my daughter, did not go to college. She’s studying to be a ballerina, dancing with a company called Elements Contemporary Ballet in the city.
CF: Many of the news stories written about you describe you as a frustrated actor who seriously—but unsuccessfully—pursued acting.
JW: Oh, gosh, no. Gosh, no. I spent a couple of years after college in Los Angeles riding my bike and taking some acting classes. Never put that kind of time into it.
CF: Luis Gutierrez, your colleague in the Illinois congressional delegation, compared Tea Partiers to arsonists. When you see him on the House floor, do you talk to him?
JW: I don’t take it personally. I bump into Luie a lot in the House gym, and he and I laugh together and chat together. Look, he shouldn’t say things like that. But I think as a country, we all gotta toughen up a little bit. We get a little too wimpy when it comes to name-calling. Luie laughs at some of this stuff.
CF: The more I interview congressmen, the more I understand how important the House gym is.
JW: Oh, gosh, yes. You see them off the floor, so we all just relax and let our guard down a little.
CF: Are you a regular there?
JW: I am. I’m one of these guys who sleeps in my office, so I’m down there every morning [to exercise and shower].
CF: So how does it work out for you sleeping in your office?
JW: It’s terribly uncomfortable. I used to sleep on the sofa, but I purchased an aero mattress about a month or two ago.
CF: When your wife comes to visit, what do you do?
JW: She sleeps on the aero mattress right here in the office with me.
CF: You made a pledge to serve no more than three terms.
JW: If I’m fortunate enough to ever get sent back, I would never serve more than three terms. We have to get back in this country to the representation our founders envisioned, where people serve temporarily, they come back home and somebody else goes and serves. We now have a professional politician class and that probably has gone a long way toward getting us the huge debt problem we have now.
CF: Do you have higher ambitions, like the U.S. Senate or beyond?
JW: I am here to do whatever good I can do, and if that ever puts me in another position to do that good, then God bless and so be it. But I just don’t think a step or two ahead like that. I’m not here to get reelected. I’m here to try to do whatever good I can do.
CF: Who’s your closest friend in Congress?
JW: Oh, a number of different guys. There’s a gentleman named Jim Jordan [Republican of Ohio] who’s the head of the RSC, that’s the Republican Study Committee, of which I’m a very active member. Jim has been a great mentor and a great adviser to me, a good friend. The RSC is the conservative wing of the Republican caucus.
CF: In 2010, you were the only Republican candidate who got no money from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Will the NRCC support you in 2012?
JW: Oh, gosh, yeah. The RNCC is tasked with trying to get all of us Republicans reelected.
CF: Which president from your lifetime you most admire?
JW: Clearly Ronald Reagan, by far.
CF: Before you were born?
JW: I love Calvin Coolidge, I love George Washington, and I love Thomas Jefferson. I tend to love presidents and leaders who ask less of government and more of ourselves, and that’s what those gentlemen did.
CF: You had an extremely feisty exchange with Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball. Do you think you’ll be invited back?
JW: I’m certain that I will because I’m sure he had a lot of fun. I’ve always liked Chris Matthews. What’s disappointing is he fell in love with the president about two years ago, and that skewed his objectivity.
CF: Which of the cable shout shows do you watch?
JW: I don’t watch them much. I try to read as much as I can. You’ll note when I am on TV, I tend to go on MSNBC and CNN a lot more than FOX. I enjoy being with folks who don’t necessarily agree with me. I enjoy the debate.
CF: What newspapers do you read?
JW: Everything, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post.
CF: Not the Chicago papers?
JW: Ah, yes, I scan the Tribune and Sun-Times as much as I can.
CF: What book are you reading now?
JW: The Law by Frederic Bastiat. It’s about liberty and limited government written by a gentleman a long, long time ago. [According to a description on Amazon, “originally published in French in 1850… It was written two years after the third French Revolution of 1848.”]
CF: You were an English major at the University of Iowa. Do you read fiction?
JW: I haven’t since I ran for Congress, but always loved to read fiction. Loved Fitzgerald and loved Hemingway.
CF: Any last words?
JW: I often say that I came [to Washington] on a mission; I don’t want to be a professional politician. I really do believe our country’s going through a revolution. I want to do something about it. I understand that because I’ve been so outspoken, I’ve got a lot of people gunning for me, I’ve got a lot of opponents and enemies that would love to take Joe Walsh down. Look, that’s part of the business.