Heard on the Hill

Take Five: Tom O’Halleran

Arizona Democrat worked on homicide cases before coming to Congress

Arizona Rep. Tom O'Halleran was both an undercover narcotics detective and a homicide police officer before heading to the Hill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Freshman Rep. Tom O’Halleran, 71, a Democrat from Arizona, talked about his days working homicide cases, lessons learned from being a police officer, and college basketball.

Q: What has surprised you about Congress so far?

A: I spent eight years in the [Arizona] Legislature, and I’ve been disappointed in the fact that we haven’t had as much ability to work together across party lines. My history — I was a Republican in the Legislature and a Democrat now. I’ve always found a way to work across party lines, and so far, that hasn’t been able to be done. You can sign on to bipartisan bills, you can talk to as many Republicans as you want, but the structure is very difficult to work within.

[Take Five: Mike Johnson]

Q: What was the transition like from a detective to a politician?

A: I had a little thing in between as far as my business life. Whether as a police officer or as a bond trader or a consultant or where I am now, the skill set that I learned as a police officer was key. The ability to read people quickly, develop relationships, think fast, not be intimidated — those are all attributes that carry through to today.

Rep. Rep. Tom O'Halleran, D-Ariz, in his policy officer days. (Courtesy O'Halleran's office)
O’Halleran, right after he became a sergeant in the Chicago Police Department. (Courtesy O’Halleran’s office)

Q: You were an undercover narcotics detective. Do you have any stories you can share?

A: I did that for a while, yes — long hair, long beard. Those stories, I think, are kind of mundane. I think the better stories are in relation to homicide because you’re able to work a case over time, you develop a relationship with the families of the victims, you’re getting people off the street that are, in many cases, involved in gangs, and they would probably do something again in relationship to either shootings or serious crimes, and you have a better opportunity to protect society. It’s always fun to talk about different kinds of issues you did when you were undercover, but next to homicide, it really is kind of mundane. It’s dangerous, but it’s mundane. It’s the same thing every time. You’re trying to get somebody to a higher level to be able to arrest a supplier versus a dealer.

[Take Five: Ro Khanna]

Q: I heard you’re a University of Arizona basketball fan. How did that come about?

A: When I was living in Chicago, where I grew up, I was eight years old and my uncle used to take us to doubleheaders, they were called. At the beginning of the season, college teams traveled all over to these tournaments, and usually the tournaments included teams from the West, and Arizona was one of those teams every year. So I started becoming a U of A fan almost right away, and the more I got to learn about U of A, the more I got to learn about Arizona and the Southwest, and there’s where I ended up in life.

[Take Five: Jimmy Gomez]

Q: You have four grandchildren. What do you like to do with them?

A: [They're] 11, 3, 2, and almost 1. Play. See how they’ve come along. They live in Chicago, so the opportunity comes about pretty frequently on holidays. We get them maybe six, seven times a year, and they come and visit also. Grandchildren are great, as are children.

[Take Five: Trey Hollingsworth]

Quick Hits

Last book read: “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham.

Last movie seen: “Anything dealing with John Wayne is a movie that my wife will say, ‘You’ve seen that 10 times already.’”

Favorite song of all time: The song I like to listen to when I need a little downtime is the theme song from “Out of Africa.”

Role models: Theodore Roosevelt, because I think he’s somebody that when you looked at him in the face and shook his hand on a deal, you know you had a deal.

Closest to in Congress: Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., is a guy you can sit down with and laugh all day long, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif.

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