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Remembering Congress’ Jewel Named Julia

”Look where he came from and look where he went; and wasn’t he a kind of tough struggler all his life right up to the finish?” The words are those of Carl Sandburg in praise of Abraham Lincoln. The same praise could and should be said of our sister, the late Rep. Julia Carson (D-Ind.), who has passed beyond the sound of our voices into the sunset of her temporal life and into a dawn of history.

Where did she come from? Same place as Lincoln — Kentucky. And like him, she was born both to physical poverty and spiritual wealth, and moved to Indiana.

Another similarity: Julia also had an “angel mother,” Velma Porter, who put a lot of physical, mental and spiritual nutrients into the little flowerpot of her only child.

Fast-forward to a month after my first and improbable election to Congress. I was told by mutual friends that at the Chrysler UAW office, I could find a remarkable woman to join me as a co-worker in my Washington Congressional office. Remarkable? Understatement. Thus began my 47-year friendship and, eventually, virtual sibling-ship with the already honorable Julia Carson, one of the most intelligent, ethical, industrious and compassionate people I have ever known.

Check out her first Congressional brainstorm. It started a national trend. Why make constituents in need of Congressional assistance with bureaucratic problems travel all the way to D.C. to get it? Why not take that part of the office to them? So we adopted her suggestion and did our “case work” in Indianapolis with Julia at the helm. It set an example that has been followed by other Congressional offices all over the country ever since. OK, there was one other factor. She had two little kids she preferred to rear in Indianapolis, doing well by her kids by doing good for her country.

Later, my refusal to bring home a particularly pernicious piece of political pork earned me a severe gerrymander that, together with the Nixon landslide, ejected me from Congress. Nothing is all bad; the beneficiary of the gerrymander was my much-admired friend, Bill Hudnut (R). That was the year I had to talk Julia into running for the state House of Representatives. She thought it would be disloyal to our friendship because it would take her away from my campaign, which was a campaign of futility that year.

She was elected to the state House, where she served with distinction and, in time, she became a state Senator, again gaining friends and admirers on both sides of the aisle.

Still later, she became the Center Township trustee and produced real “welfare reform,” not with ignorant histrionic speeches and braggadocio, but with hard, quiet and meticulous work. It was reform that broke no poor child’s heart, nor sent such a child to bed hungry. She not only ferreted out welfare cheats, but also sued them and got the money back for the taxpayers. Her reform wiped out a long-standing multimillion-dollar debt, moving the then-Marion County Republican auditor to say, “She wrestled the monster to the ground.”

Julia was unique in that she was the only human being ever to be named Woman of the Year by The Indianapolis Star on two different occasions.

It was common parlance to say, “Congresswoman Carson’s people,” a reference to poor black constituents. Rubbish. The 7th district is about 70 percent nonblack and “her people” were all the people of the 7th, regardless of physical or economic description. Millionaires can be treated unjustly by the federal government just as middle- and low-income citizens can. And wherever there was injustice, this Lincoln-like lady was there to redress it. Her political philosophy was a plank from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are they who thirst for justice.”

There’s another one: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” She cast our vote against the conspicuously unconstitutional resolution that gave the Cheney gang a fig leaf to order our innocent military to the fraudulent and internationally illegal blood-soaked blunder in Iraq.

Julia called me just before she cast that vote and said that, in view of the dishonesty, panic and jingoism of the moment, she expected to lose the next election. “Courage,” my mother said, “is fear that has said its prayers.”

Our Julia, who art in Heaven.

Former Rep. Andy Jacobs Jr. (D-Ind.) served in Congress for 15 terms.

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