Mr. Messer goes to Washington
New congressman vows to maintain his Hoosier roots
Saturday, January 05, 2013 4:00 AM
SHELBYVILLE - Congressman Luke Messer uses a quirky old Jimmy Durante song to describe life before heading to Washington, D.C., with his family.
"Did you ever have the feeling that you wanted to go, and then you had the feeling you wanted to stay?"
While he doesn't tickle the ivories or sing like Durante, Messer definitely knows the feeling.
The Shelbyville Republican was sworn into federal office Thursday. With a slight smile and his wife, Jennifer, by his side, Messer, 43, said his family of five has been adjusting to the reality of a major life change since his Nov. 6 election victory.
His eyes have been set on Capitol Hill for years, and Messer said the move will be both exciting and difficult as they make a new home in D.C. while trying to maintain roots in Shelbyville.
Messer has a list of committees to serve on and has been named freshman class president for the GOP. Through it all, Messer is vowing to stand up for conservative values in an era that he says is characterized by "crippling debt."
The 6th District, which includes Jefferson and Switzerland counties, is the state's largest geographic district. Messer has been to the nation's capitol several times since the Nov. 6 election to set up his office and get acquainted with his new post for at least the next two years.
"This is very bittersweet," Messer said. "We're excited about the opportunity to serve the nation, but we'll miss the state."
The Messers have three children: Emma, 9, Ava, 8, and Hudson, 5.
They'll maintain their Shelbyville home but also have a home in Virginia 25 minutes from the capitol. Messer calls the new home a "Brady Bunch-era ranch;" keeping the family together was important to the couple.
"We definitely knew we wanted to stay together," Jennifer Messer said. "It is really hard - this is the only home we've known as a married couple. It's the only community we've known."
The Messers have been married 11 years.
Messer was in the middle of a campaign for Congress when they met and Jennifer was still in law school. Originally from Tennessee, she said the two had a long-distance relationship before getting married.
Jennifer Messer is an attorney, and practices law out of an Indianapolis office. She'll continue with that practice but will work from home in Virginia, returning to Indiana occasionally.
Messer had grown up in Greensburg, and they picked Shelbyville as a community to live in because they were "both small-town folks."
Messer lost his 2000 bid for Congress to Mike Pence, but he looks up to the governor-elect both politically and personally. On family life, Messer points out, Pence moved his wife and children to Washington and maintained ties to Indiana. Likewise, Messer plans to come back to the district regularly to keep in touch with the people he represents.
Messer ran for Congress in 2010, and lost by 2 percentage points in the 5th District to incumbent Rep. Dan Burton. New district lines put Messer in the 6th District, and he said his election night victory felt like his 12-year journey to Congress was finally achieved.
Messer landed the role of Republican freshman class president. In that position, Messer said, he'll run meetings and reach across the aisle for solutions.
Messer's committee assignments are budget, foreign affairs and education; he has already been weighing in on a national scale on issues ranging from the fiscal cliff to guns in schools.
Improving the economy while reducing spending was Messer's campaign platform. Just days before heading to Washington, Messer said, "I think that debate is one we can win."
"We cannot continue to spend more money than we take in," Messer said. "And if nothing is done, we will leave our children and grandchildren with crippling debt."
Messer has a fifth floor office with a view of the Capitol Building - something rare for a freshman, but the view is somewhat obstructed by an air conditioning vent.
"I want to be supportive. At the same time we have three kids and I have a job," Jennifer Messer said. "First and foremost, our family has always been my focus and will continue to be. I'll help when asked, and I'll attend functions with Luke."
But Luke Messer is quick to point out that his wife is a great sounding board.
"She's my most important adviser in what we do politically," he said. "There's virtually no decision I make that I don't bounce off her first."
And having family around while he navigates his first two years in Washington is vital, he said.
"It starts with the clear understanding that I'm serious about being a good congressman," he said. "But I'm also serious about being a good dad and a good husband."
Maribeth Vaughn is a reporter for the Greenfield Daily Reporter