Nancy Pelosi's New Conservative Neighbor

Elisabeth Meinecke

1/10/2011 12:01:00 AM - Elisabeth Meinecke

In the halls of a congressional office building, right across from Nancy Pelosi’s representative office, first-time Rep. Todd Rokita is settling into his new workspace. In this case, strong walls may make good neighbors, since Rokita, formerly Indiana’s secretary of state, is a staunch conservative.

"My goal is not bipartisanship," Rokita says. "My goal is not to go along to get along. And I don't think you'll find most of us, as new members, that that's our goal. Going along, getting along is kind of what got us here in the first place."

Instead, Rokita likes to talk about finding common ground across the aisle. That common ground, he believes, is the Constitution, which includes limited government and talking about “negative rights”- what the government can't do to you.

"That's where we can find common ground,” Rokita said. "My fear is that they’re not going to find it...there because the other side these days, as recently evidenced by reappointing Nancy Pelosi as their leader, is that they're engaged in positive rights—they’re wanting to know what the government can do for us."

He also believes another Constitutional and thus common-ground element is an engaged citizenry, which brought him to the tea party, something his new neighbor at one point referred to as “Astroturf” before amending her statement to say some in the tea party shared Democrats’ outlook on special interest.

"You applaud the tea party – you don't denigrate it," Rokita said.

Like his fellow freshman colleagues, Rokita – who says he came to Washington for the fiscal issues – will face several tough spending decisions in the weeks ahead. There’s the budget debate, which in 2009 caused some conservatives to offer a balanced budget as an alternative to the one produced by the GOP’s Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), a leading congressional voice on fiscal issues and himself a conservative, because his budget didn’t balance within a 10-year span.

Rokita, who says he admires Ryan, is still studying whether he will support a strong budget that doesn’t necessarily balance in a certain time span over a balanced budget. He compared it to the process of a recovering alcoholic.

“Is there a weaning process, or is there a cold turkey process?” he said. “The goal will always be to get to a balanced budget…if we can get there at four years, instead of two, is that still success? Yeah.” He also liked the constitutional amendment previously introduced by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) which would cap government spending at 20% of GDP.

Rokita, who sits on the budget committee, gives the impression that he’s not scared to make the tough decisions.

“I’m leaving my family every week to come up here,” said Rokita, who has two young children. “I’m not coming here to do small things.”

Keeping that connection with his family is another priority for the congressman. His executive assistant is from Indiana and knows his wife Kathy and the congressman’s “general standing orders about family time.”

Meanwhile, his role on the GOP House Steering Committee has given him a rare look at the interactions between key congressional leaders such as Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and so far, Rokita says, it’s a harmonious presentation.

“There’s all this kerfuffle about do Boehner and Cantor get along,” Rokita said. “I’ve seen nothing but them being on the same page, and I think that’s a good thing for us starting out. That’s a good thing for a freshman to see.”

Rokita also is committed to “pressing the right button” on pro-life issues and pro-second amendment issues, and says that while he came to Washington because the spending habits needed a makeover, he’s as pro-life and pro-Second Amendment as they come.