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Column: Jacobs was special breed of politician

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INDIANAPOLIS — Years ago, Andy Jacobs Jr. moderated a debate between me and Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.

Peterson had proposed restrictions on violent video games. I was the executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union at the time. We were going to debate the First Amendment implications of video game restrictions.

Andy and I were friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, so we decided to have dinner beforehand to catch up and then drive to the debate together. We pulled into the parking lot just as Peterson’s car arrived.

“Hey, no fair,” the mayor said, laughing as he emerged from his car.

Andy and I both were a bit sheepish, but Peterson came up and put his hands on our shoulders.

I’m only joking, the mayor said. Everyone knows Andy Jacobs is always going to be fair.

That was the thing about Andy Jacobs. Everyone did know that he always was going to be fair.

Andy died last month. He was 81.

The tributes that flowed following the announcement of his death focused on his many significant achievements. His 30 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives. His role in the drafting and passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His courage in casting a deciding vote that enabled Congress to establish some common-sense gun restrictions.

Every word of those tributes are true, but in this time so soon after his death it is not his accomplishments on the national stage that dominate my attention.

No, I find myself thinking about Andy’s tremendous capacities for friendship and kindness. He was a gentle man in a hard business, but he proved, again and again and again, that strength and gentleness not only could co-exist but that they often were the same quality.

Andy made friends everywhere. He, a Democrat, and former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, a Republican, ran against each other for Congress twice in the bitterly partisan waning days of the Vietnam War. Hudnut won the first race. Andy won the second.

Such an experience would have produced lasting enmity among most politicians.

Not Andy and Bill.

They drove to their campaign debates together. For years afterward, they and their wives socialized together. When Bill traveled to Washington, he stayed in Andy’s apartment. When Andy announced he was retiring from Congress, Bill was there to mark the occasion.

Andy didn’t believe in letting politics get in the way of friendship. He told me often that he didn’t agree with the ideology that Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., espoused — Andy called the little rump caucus of hard-line conservatives to which Burton belonged a “witches and warlocks coven” — but he adored the man he called “Danny.”

Andy’s most important legacy will be the sons he and Kim raised together, but his other legacy is pretty profound, too.

That other Andy Jacobs legacy is that of a good leader, a good citizen, a good friend.

Most of all, it’s the legacy of a good man — a really good man.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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