U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan’s underdog days began in high school, when he beat the odds and won a state wrestling championship as a ninth-grader.
“I didn’t know some freshman from Graham High School, a redneck country boy, wasn’t supposed to win,’’ said the 49-year-old Jordan, who went on to become a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion at the University of Wisconsin. “All I knew was what my dad told me. He said, ‘If you set goals, work hard, good things can happen,’ and I was dumb enough to believe him.”
He was the same underdog in 2000 when he stunned everyone by ousting veteran state Rep. Jim Buchy in the Republican Ohio Senate primary.
And he is an underdog of sorts today, often within his own party. Now in his fourth term in the U.S. House, Jordan is a hero to Republican conservatives but an irksome thorn to some GOP colleagues, who argue that his resistance to compromise hobbles House Speaker John Boehner’s ability to govern in the House.
Ohio Republicans were so irritated by Jordan they briefly toyed with eliminating his congressional seat during the 2011 redistricting battles.
“He epitomizes the just-say-no attitude of House Republicans,’’ said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “He believes that one of his roles is to keep the speaker in line and make sure he’s not cutting deals with the Senate and the president that he (and other conservatives) believe are bad.”
Jordan isn’t exactly a lone wolf. In early January, he — as well as 150 other Republicans — broke with Boehner to oppose a compromise to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for families earning less than $450,000.
Jordan said he voted against it because it raised taxes on upper-income Americans and contained puny budget cuts. But in the long run, his rigid anti-tax principles might have collided with his end goal: Had the bill failed, every American would have had an income tax increase.
Last month, Jordan joined a group of conservative Republicans to torpedo a House Republican leadership plan to provide health care coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions, spurring one columnist to muse that Jordan and fellow conservatives “eat their own.”
“He’s got a wrestler’s mentality,’’ one former GOP lobbyist said. “You are not afraid to mix it up, you enjoy competition, you are tough, and when you wrestle, it’s you and the other guy and people will see if he’s going to pin you. If you are good at it, you’re not intimidated. I don’t mean he’s brash or egotistical. When you are a wrestler, you don’t get intimidated easily.’’
That “wrestler’s mentality” makes him, at times, an anomaly: Politicians, after all, need to be liked to win votes. But Jordan — who represents a politically safe district that starts at the southern border of Champaign County and snakes through more than a dozen counties all the way up to Lake Erie — shrugs off the criticism. “If you got mad at everyone who said something bad about you,” he said, “you wouldn’t have time to do anything.”
Whether in the Ohio legislature or in Congress, Jordan says he has always been guided by one principle: do what is best for families.
“I just believe in the fundamental thing that the first institution the good Lord put together wasn’t the church, it wasn’t the state, it was the family,” he said. “And the strength of that institution is going to determine how strong your country and your society is.”
Jordan’s definition of what is good for the family, of course, infuriates some critics. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts – known as the sequester – which went into effect on March 1. Jordan dismissed the impact of the cuts, saying “The sun will come up tomorrow.’’
But there were consequences. Civilian workers at Wright-Patterson Air Force face unpaid furloughs. In some states, children have been knocked off the pre-school Head Start program.
When the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily furloughed air traffic controllers, outraged Americans protested so vehemently that Congress last month ordered the controllers back to work. True to form, Jordan was one of 41 House lawmakers who voted against ending the FAA furloughs.
“Give him credit for consistency, but that’s about it,’’ Manley said. “The fact is while he and the others (GOP conservatives) may be satisfied with the sequester right now, it’s bad policy and bad for the country.’’
Jordan doesn’t embrace every spending cut. Despite efforts by the Pentagon to end production of the M-1 A tank at the Lima Tank Plant — which happens to sit in his district — Jordan has joined lawmakers in blocking those moves.
And Jim Slone, the Democrat candidate who challenged Jordan last year, disputed Jordan’s reputation for being straight-forward, saying “I’m not the best debater in the world, but I did recognize a lot of B.S. when I saw it.”
Yet Jordan and former Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland are close enough friends that Kucinich and his wife attended the wedding of Jordan’s daughter.
“His word is good,” said Kucinich, who led a House subcommittee with Jordan. “He doesn’t play games in a town where people say one thing one day and another thing another day. He’s consistent.”
Jordan makes it clear that he is not leading any rebellion against Boehner. This year he has seemed more in tune with the speaker on spending and taxes, offering advice to the leadership team with other key House conservatives.
Like Jordan, Boehner was a firm advocate for the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts. Jordan was thrilled when Boehner successfully pushed for a House Republican budget that balances the federal budget by 2023 without raising taxes.
“The speaker’s been solid,” Jordan said. “I think he’s done a great job over the last three months. We’re in a new year, a new Congress. Part of life is looking at the glass half full and right now it’s pretty good for us.”
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