Ohio's Jim Jordan has become key oversight figure in exposing Washington's worst messes

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It is easy to see that, while he has served seven eventful years in Congress, Rep. Jim Jordan's true compass points straight back to home to rural Ohio.

Back, that is, to the rambling country roads, flanked by miles of cornfields, and small-town America values that infused his childhood and continue to direct his path today.

And a lot of folks in Washington are watching Jordan, 50, these days because of where his path appears to be headed.

As the second ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee -- right behind the panel's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. -- Jordan has emerged as someone to watch on the Hill.

The oversight panel has been at the center of every major Washington scandal in recent years, including the Operation Fast and Furious gun-running to Mexico, IRS targeting of Tea Party groups for harassment, and the Benghazi, Libya attacks in which four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.

As a result, Jordan has become a familiar figure in the headlines, known for aggressively questioning recalcitrant witnesses and effectively using a talented staff.

Even so, “jeepers” may still occasionally come out of his mouth, but the man is not to be underestimated.

Jordan's moxie was forged inside the wrestling room at Ohio's Graham High School, where longtime coach Ron McCann set the tone not only for Jordan’s time on the mat but how he works in Congress today.

"Oh, my goodness," Jordan remembers. "In wrestling, you literally felt like he'd drive you crazy. He was the most difficult, the most demanding teacher in our school, a chemistry and physics teacher.

“He was also the most demanding wrestling coach in the state of Ohio. He truly talked about discipline every single day and he said discipline is the most important character quality to accomplish anything."

Jordan was a fierce competitor, earning four state high school wrestling titles, where his record of 150-1 still stands, and two NCAA wrestling championships -- where he beat a future Olympic medalist.

Since being elected to Congress in 2006, Jordan has quietly amassed respect and power on the Hill, serving previously as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus in the House of Representatives.

As RSC chairman, Jordan's emphasis was on balancing the budget, repealing Obamacare, and cutting federal spending while protecting Social Security and reforming Medicaid.

Those remain his major goals, but getting those reforms enacted will require discipline, according to Jordan.

"Discipline is doing what you don't want to do when you don't want to do it," reads the quote from his late Coach McCann. It is now enshrined on the Graham High's fabled wrestling room wall, where Jordan's brother now coaches.

Graham’s wrestling teams have won 14 consecutive state championships and two national championships.

Two themes quickly emerge when talking with Jordan. He knows how to lead but he’s still a guy who sees himself back home.

A father of four and now a grandfather, he shares that he and his immediate family live within a few miles of one another near Urbana. "We're one big redneck clan there," he jokes but calls that closeness "special."

Ohio is also where he met his wife, Polly. Actually, it was her brothers that he met first, in sports. Polly's charms won out.

"I decided it would be a lot more fun wrestling with Polly than her brothers," he says of their courtship.

He went on to earn a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin and then earned a master's degree in education and later a law degree.

His focus turned to public service in 1994 when he won his first seat in the Ohio General Assembly. He moved on to the state Senate in 2000.

In 2006, Jordan stepped up to make a run for Congress after 26-year incumbent Mike Oxley retired, easily winning his race for the state's 4th Congressional District seat, among its most conservative.

He has thrived there, winning multiple re-election victories in a district he loves.

"They are great people. It's a unique mix of agriculture jobs and manufacturing jobs," he says. "People whose grandparents worked on the farm and now they are at Honda or [Procter & Gamble] or Whirlpool.

"It's a wonderful mix of families and small town and rural America," he adds. "Some of them have been stuck with me representing them for almost 20 years now."

Jordan works out six days a week — "you don't think right if you don't work out" — brushes past talk of political ambitions, even as his name is whispered as a likely successor to Issa when he steps aside. Some also wonder when, not if, Jordan will take the next step in a Senate bid.

"I truly want to be able to think about moms and dads and the families I get the privilege of representing. Am I making a difference for them?" he says of his focus.

It weighs on him — leaving a country that rewards its strivers.

"That's why I worked hard on this spending problem. You aren't going to create an environment for good things to happen for the next generation if you are in debt like we are in. All those things factor in what is good for families and I've told the voters that every time I've run for election."

Even as one might think Jordan would by frustrated by the intense partisan nastiness that has plagued Washington and the epic partisan stalemate that has sparked a national backlash, he says no.

"There are lots of jobs that are hard. I don't pretend to think my jobs are any harder than a farmer putting his crop out ... or moms and dads trying to save to put kids in college," he explains.

His work on the oversight committee, where he chairs the panel's subcommittee on economic growth, job creation, and regulatory affairs, remains a priority. Benghazi, he adds, is still crucial, as is the IRS's targeting of conservative groups.

He said he has spent the bulk of his time over the last year focused on getting to the truth of how the IRS treated certain Tea Party groups, including some in his district.

"This is one of the most fundamental of all the rights — your ability to speak out against your government, your political speech rights. This is as basic as it gets. For us not to get to the truth would be a complete disservice to our jobs as members of Congress," Jordan said.

Jordan also worries about where the nation stands in the world. He has visited Israel with his wife three times in the past four and half years.

"One thing you hear there, they will tell you that the best thing the U.S. can do for Israel is for America to stay strong. When America is stronger, we are safer," he said.

Andrea Billups is a reporter, author and media/brand consultant based in Michigan.
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