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U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, who grew up in Fort Wayne, represents north-central Indiana in Congress.

Ex-city resident seen as VP material

Carmel lawmaker downplays links to NJ governor

– U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks had been in her first elective office for less than a year when she was being mentioned as a prospective vice presidential candidate.

Ed Feigenbaum, publisher of Indiana Legislative Insight, wrote in November that Brooks likely would be on a short list of possible running mates if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

“He did? I didn’t know that,” Brooks said about Feigenbaum during an interview in her Capitol Hill office not long after the item was published.

“When? All I heard was he mentioned something White House-related,” the former Fort Wayne resident said. “I didn’t know that he went that far.”

Brooks and Christie were U.S. district attorneys in the 2000s and members of an advisory council for then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Brooks attended Christie’s first gubernatorial inauguration, in 2010, and Christie campaigned for Brooks when she ran for the GOP congressional nomination in Indiana’s 5th District in 2012. A photo of them from a campaign stop sits on a shelf in her office.

“I just have tremendous admiration for him as a leader, as a governor,” she said. “I think he’s a terrific model for the country. Plus he’s so much fun, and he’s so interesting, and he’s funny, and people relate to him.”

Recent polls have pegged Christie as the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. Brooks tried to deflect Feigenbaum’s speculation.

“I’ve always just focused on the job I’m in at the time,” the Carmel resident said. “My career has not been one about what’s the next job, what’s the next role.

“Work exceptionally hard, try to do the best job you can do while you’re in the job you have, and the future will take care of itself,” she said. “That’s kind of how I’ve operated from the beginning of my career.”

Homestead grad

The future typically seems to take care of Brooks, a 1978 graduate of Homestead High School.

After graduating from Miami University in Ohio and earning her law degree from Indiana University, she became a criminal defense attorney, a deputy mayor of Indianapolis, an attorney specializing in government services, a federal prosecutor for President George W. Bush and general counsel and senior vice president for Ivy Tech Community College.

Along the way, she and her husband, David, raised two children. David Brooks, an attorney, has been a Republican Party official in Marion County and is a former city-county councilman there.

Brooks announced in the summer of 2011 that she would seek the House seat held since 1983 by Republican Dan Burton, who was finding primary-election challenges a regular occurrence. Burton decided against running again in 2012. Brooks narrowly won a GOP contest among eight candidates, and she received 58 percent of the vote in a three-candidate field in the general election. The district includes Grant, Madison, Tipton, Hamilton counties and parts of Blackford, Howard, Boone and Marion counties.

Less than a month after she took office, Brooks was chosen to deliver the GOP’s weekly Internet and radio address. She called for Congress to pass a balanced budget.

Some suggested the GOP was trying to appeal to female voters with a fresh female face. Brooks is among 102 women who occupy the 535 seats of the House and Senate. Of those women lawmakers, just 23 are Republicans.

Brooks and Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, are the first GOP women from Indiana in the House since 1958, the last year of Cecil Murray Harden’s fifth and final term.

“Women are 53 percent of the electorate, so we are clearly not representative yet” in Congress, Brooks said. “But I think that is certainly throughout all of government. There aren’t enough female mayors or female governors or female members of the Statehouse.”

Brooks and Walorski paid tribute last month on the House floor to Phyllis Pond, the longtime state legislator from New Haven who died in September. “She was a trailblazer” for women in politics, Brooks said in the interview.

‘Then you decide’

At 53, Brooks is the eldest of the seven Hoosier Republicans in the House. She has impressed the senior-most GOP member, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who is 37.

“She’s very smart. She works incredibly hard,” said Stutzman, R-3rd.

“A beautiful smile. She’s very approachable – people are comfortable around her,” he said.

Stutzman said that during legislative and policy meetings of the Indiana congressional delegation, which sometimes include the state’s two Democratic congressmen, Brooks “is always in the middle of the conversations with ideas and helps try to bring people together and find common ground.” He referred to her “Hoosier common sense.”

Brooks is a native of Auburn who grew up in Fort Wayne. Her parents, Robert and Marilyn Wiant, live on Adams Lake in LaGrange County. Bob Wiant was a teacher, football coach and athletic director at the new Homestead High School in the 1970s. Marilyn was treasurer for Southwest Allen County Schools, which includes Homestead.

GovTrack.U.S. describes Rep. Brooks as “a centrist Republican follower,” according to its analysis of legislation she has sponsored and co-sponsored.

She notes that she is a member of the Republican Study Committee. The group of 174 Republicans from the House, including the seven from Indiana, says its mission is “advancing a conservative social and economic agenda.”

“Ask me a question, I’ll tell you what I think, I’ll tell you what my views are, and then you decide,” Brooks said.

Sponsored 4 bills

On legislation that the Washington Post called “Key House votes” this year – funding the government, the original farm bill, banning abortions after 20 weeks and suspending the national debt limit – Brooks voted with the GOP majority in the House.

Brooks is a member of the Education and Workforce, Homeland Security, and Ethics committees. She has sponsored four bills, including:

•An amendment that would recognize computer science as a core subject for K-12 schools, making it eligible for increased federal support and funding.

“There are millions of jobs in the future in computing and in coding and in cyber security,” Brooks said. “And we aren’t really exposing our K-12 students to a foundational system or classes that will help them choose those types of things as majors.”

•A bill that would deny federal retirement benefits for presidents, vice presidents or federal lawmakers who are convicted of felonies while in office or after leaving their posts.

“With Congress having such a low approval rating by the American people, we need to shore up the confidence that people have in members of Congress,” Brooks said.

•A bill that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to remove from national cemeteries the remains of military veterans who have committed capital crimes.

The legislation is based on VA’s refusal to exhume the remains of a veteran who killed himself after shooting to death an Indianapolis woman whose husband is from Fort Wayne. Federal law prohibits such burials in national cemeteries.

VA officials “could have done a Google search” on the veteran in question, Brooks said. “I hope they have learned and will make corrections in the future.”

A version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., was approved by the Senate in November. The House passed it by a 398-1 vote Wednesday.

Brooks said the main difference between being a lawyer and a lawmaker is that the former is a specialist and the latter a generalist.

“Here in Congress, the breadth of topics we cover is really so broad,” she said. “It is amazing to me how much I need to learn about practically everything.”

bfrancisco@jg.net

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