These days we’re rarely shocked when we learn that a politician has enjoyed lavish benefits at public expense or found some way to exploit public office for personal gain. That makes all the more remarkable the story of former U.S. Rep. Andrew “Andy” Jacobs Jr. (D-Ind.), who during his three decades in Congress declined to accept the monthly disability payments to which he was entitled for his injuries in combat as a Marine during the Korean War.
“He didn’t think it was right to take that money, since he had a job with a good wage,” Gary Taylor, his former campaign manager, told the Associated Press. “He was frugal, and that’s something I think the public really seemed to take to about him.”
Jacobs, who died on Dec. 28 at age 81 in Indianapolis, was an idealistic Capitol Hill iconoclast. In contrast to many in Congress, he fought to protect Medicare and Social Security while practicing personal austerity, and tweaked his colleagues by attempting to whittle away at elected officials’ perquisites. Jacobs also wasn’t above championing a few eccentric causes, such as his repeated efforts to replace “The Star Spangled Banner” with “America the Beautiful” as the national anthem.
Here are a dozen interesting facts about Jacobs:
- Jacobs was the son on a one-term Congressman from Indiana, Andrew Jacobs Sr., who served from 1949 to 1951. He first got into politics at age six, when, while passing out brochures for his father, he got a black eye from being beaten up by two 10-year-old supporters of the other candidate.
- After being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the Democratic landslide of 1964, Jacobs became an early and outspoken opponent of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. He led the first critical discussion of the Vietnam War in the House and reportedly coined the term “chicken hawk” to a describe a politician who advocates war after having avoided military service earlier in life.
- Jacobs, who helped to write the 1965 Voting Rights Act, authored a book that was critical of the House’s decision in 1967 to unseat Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (The Powell Affair: Freedom Minus One, 1973).
- A 1993 study found that Jacobs had the fourth-lowest office expenses of 435 House members, and he turned down congressional salary increases on at least three occasions, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary.
- In 1986, Jacobs ran for reelection against an opponent, backed by the American Medical Association’s political action committee, who spent more than $540,000 to unseat him. Jacobs, who refused to accept PAC contributions (which he had branded “legalized bribery”), spent only $8,000. Jacobs won easily.
- In 1990, Jacobs unsuccessfully sought to eliminate allowances to former U.S. presidents to pay for office space and staff.
- Jacobs owned a Great Dane that he named C-5, after a controversial military aircraft, because the dog grew as rapidly as a Pentagon contract. C-5, who roamed Jacobs’ offices on Capitol Hill, once got in trouble for biting Rep. James Symington (D-Mo.). When Jacobs finally allowed C-5 to return, he threw a wine-and-cheese party in the dog’s honor, at which C-5 bit Symington a second time.
- TV evangelist and 1988 presidential candidate Pat Robertson once sued Jacobs for defamation, after Jacobs publicized allegations by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), that Robertson had relied on his father, a U.S. Senator, to get out of military service in the Korean War. A judge eventually ruled that in Jacobs’ favor, and Robertson withdrew his suit against Stark.
- Jacobs once unsuccessfully proposed eliminating obscure special protections in federal law that enabled members of Congress and other government employees to shield more of their income than ordinary people when declaring bankruptcy. He christened his bill “The Goose, Gander and Sauce Act of 1987.”
- He refused to fly first class — a matter of principle that saved his life. In December 1974, trying to return to nation’s capital, he insisted on a coach seat and flew back a day early to save taxpayers money. “The flight I decided not to take crashed into Weather Mountain [in West Virginia] the next morning, trying to land at Dulles International Airport,” he later recalled. “It had been diverted from Washington National because of a furious storm.”
- Jacobs once admitted to a reporter that he shopped at thrift stores. “Do you know you can get a perfectly good suit at the Goodwill for a dollar?” he explained.
- When Jacobs published his memoirs in 2013, he boasted that he “typed each word of this book” by himself, without clerical assistance, on a Toshiba laptop. He also noted that it was the first time he had ever used a computer. During his 30-plus years in Congress, he had gotten along by using a Smith Corona Skywriter manual typewriter that his father had given him — even tapping out his own press releases.
Photo of Jacobs and C-5: Wikipedia
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