Freshman Rep. Jim Banks, 37, an Indiana Republican, talks about his wife taking over for him in the state Senate, his childhood, and making time for his three daughters.
Q: What has surprised you about being in Congress so far?
A: I served in the state legislature for six years and I somewhat expected that the legislative process would be similar. … It’s all together different. The rules, the process, the pace, the people, everything about Congress is different than my state legislative experience. So I would say that is my biggest surprise.
One good example of that is in the state legislature, we would call your bill to the floor, all of your colleagues would be seated. Even if they’re not paying attention, they’re there for the debate. I tell people at home when they’re watching C-SPAN and see me speaking with an entire chamber empty, that that’s because we’re in our committee meetings and meetings with constituents and other things that we’re doing.
Q: When you were deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, you were serving in the state Senate, and your wife temporarily took your seat. Tell me about that.
A: She had to run for the position. [Editor’s note: a caucus of local GOP officials picked the replacement.]
The president of the state Senate, myself, and others, encouraged my wife to consider the opportunity. Initially, she rejected it because we have three daughters who are seven, five and four now — so at that point, they were five, three and one. So she had her hands full. She warmed up to the idea when our families and others rallied to offer to help with the girls. It was an incredible experience for her, and I’m told every day that she did a better job than I did. So there’s probably many that hope I’m deployed as a congressman so she can replace me here as well.
Q: How is it being so far away from your daughters so far?
A: It’s difficult. I just got [drawings] in the mail. My seven-year-old, she’s in first grade, and they just studied [about] the nation’s capital. It was unique for her. She was here for my swearing-in. I hope my daughters grow up with the sense that they were part of something — the unique adventure of public service — and have a sense of what that means. But it is the most challenging part of the job and they’re in a very special age and I don’t want to miss out on that. Yet I’m here a lot more than I am there. So we do a lot of Facetime, a lot of phone calls and on the weekends, I fly home and try to protect as much time with them as I can.
Q: What did you learn from your service that you want to use in your time here?
A: I am the most recently deployed member of Congress so my very recent experience of deploying to Afghanistan gives me a unique perspective of what our troops go through on a daily basis. It’s that perspective that I want to lend to the process, especially serving on the Armed Services Committee. The experience that I just had two years ago gives me a unique perspective on the committee to be an advocate and champion of our currently serving troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Q: You grew up in a trailer park with two hardworking parents. What from your childhood do you bring to Congress?
A: I come from the Rust Belt, a fairly rural district in northeast Indiana, of people that came from the same background that I did, so it didn’t make me unique. I did come from a blue-collar upbringing with an appreciation of the hardworking men and women that make up the vast majority of my constituency. I hope that that provides me with a sense in Washington of what normal people are struggling with at home, with a focus on what it’s going to take to put more Americans back to work in good-paying jobs and solving the problems that they face.
Last book you read: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ by J.D. Vance [Editor’s note: Check HOH later this week to read about the book club in Banks’ office.]
Last movie you saw: My favorite movie is ‘The Goonies.’
Favorite song of all time: ‘Mr. Jones’ by the Counting Crows.
Role model: I would credit the hard work of my parents.
Closest to in Congress: The Indiana delegation like Rep. Luke Messer. I’ve also been blessed to participate in a Wednesday morning Bible study so there’s a number of members there.