Freshman Frank J. Mrvan is new to Congress, but not to politics. His father — also Frank Mrvan — has represented Northwest Indiana as a Democrat in the state Senate for decades. The younger Mrvan credited his father’s career longevity to staying connected and accessible to constituents, something he knows is “easier said than done.”
Chatting in his office back in July, we spoke about Polish Christmas traditions, Jim Nabors’ singing, and the burden of growing up with funny-sounding Slovakian last names.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: I have to preface this by saying I also have a Slovakian background and a last name people have butchered and made fun of my entire life. So I’m asking you, how often do people refer to you as Mr. Van?
A: Frequently. Throughout the whole campaign, there was Mr. Van — but the most important thing is they remember it, right? Being in local politics for many years, I never had that, I was always called Mrvan, correctly. But as soon as we expanded our scope, it did become Mr. Van. It gives you an opportunity to explain that your grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe. I always say we were too poor for the vowel. I got that from my father.
Q: Let’s keep talking about Slovakia. You’re third generation, you had the ambassador recently visit your district. My question is, how Slovakian are you? I grew up with basically no traditions from the old country. My dad makes kolaches and that’s about it.
A: I got to be Eastern European too, because my mom’s grandparents came over from Poland, so I had that mix. We would have pierogi on Christmas, we would do golumpki, which are stuffed cabbages. There were also different soups that we would have. On Christmas we would take basically Catholic wafers and all wish each other something for that year, and it would give an intimate moment with every family member who came over from Poland. Before this interview is over, I’m going to think of what the word is … [Pauses.] It’s called oplatki.
Q: Your dad is a longtime state senator. What sort of advice has he given you?
A: You stay connected to your constituency and you always make yourself accessible — easier said than done, but he has done that for decades. The other thing is, as a lawmaker in Indiana as a Democrat, he’s been forced to be bipartisan. You have to be credible and honest with other legislators.
Q: What has been your “welcome to the big leagues” moment here in Congress?
A: I would say it was passing the American Rescue Plan earlier this year. In my history as a township trustee, when someone needed assistance, we were able to help that one person. Now we’re able to give programming dollars that will be transformational for decades.
I went back to my district, and I was at a church in Gary. The pastor introduced me, and I received a standing ovation — but the ovation wasn’t for me, it was for the $80 million we were able to bring to the city of Gary. It was a lightning strike for me, to understand how vital it was to that community.
Q: You represent Northwest Indiana. Some people know it’s home to a lot of steel mills, or maybe they can sing “Gary, Indiana” from “The Music Man.” What else should they know?
A: We’re home to one of the newest declared national parks, the Indiana Dunes. It’s the 61st national park. I want people to know that we’re a melting pot of diversification, we have a strong labor force, we have three universities within our district, and most importantly, it’s a wonderful place to live.
[As for singing,] I can’t do “The Music Man.” But for 20 years, me and my college buddies would stand up and sing “Back Home Again in Indiana,” because that’s the song Jim Nabors would sing at the Indianapolis 500. If you absolutely forced me, I could remember it.
Last book you read? “Leadership in Turbulent Times” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
In politics, can the ends justify the means? I’m a believer that you can do things the right way and still get the ends that you need to do.
Least popular opinion? I guess for my daughters, it would be hard work and chores pay off. Sometimes they push back on that.
Best perk of your job? Being in public and people genuinely being grateful for the job that we’re doing.
Closest friend across the aisle? The first one would be Jerry Carl from Alabama because we share being freshmen together. And then it would be Greg Pence because we both share Hoosier Indiana values, and we’re always talking about things going on in Indiana.