LONG, Jill Lynette

LONG, Jill Lynette
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1952–

Biography

Jill L. Long, an academic by training, rose through the ranks of Indiana politics to become an influential advocate for the state’s agricultural interests.1 Long wrested away from Republicans a northeastern Indiana district considered a safe GOP seat. She went on to serve in the United States House of Representatives for three terms, campaigning as a no-tax, conservative Democrat. In Congress, Long focused on farm issues and, as chair of the Congressional Rural Caucus, doubled the group’s membership.

Jill Lynette Long was born on July 15, 1952, in Warsaw, Indiana. Raised on a family grain and dairy farm, Long’s rural upbringing influenced her future political career. “Growing up on a farm, I really learned, at an early age, the importance of this democratic community involvement,” Long noted.2 She graduated from Columbia City Joint High School in Columbia City, Indiana, and became the first person in her family to graduate from college, receiving a BS at Valparaiso University in 1974.3 Long pursued her academic studies at Indiana University; she earned an MBA in 1978 and a PhD in business in 1984. From 1981 to 1988, Long taught business administration as an assistant professor at Valparaiso University. She also served as a lecturer at Indiana University at Bloomington and an adjunct at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne from 1987 to 1989.

Long’s first public service experience was as a member of the city council of Valparaiso from 1984 to 1986. “Up until that time, I had no interest in running for public office,” Long explained. “But I would listen to politicians talk about the economy, and I realized that I knew more about economics than most of the people who were trying to lead us out of this difficult economic time and decided that maybe I could have a role to play.”4 She was dubbed “Jill Longshot” when she ran as a Democrat against GOP incumbent James Danforth (Dan) Quayle in the 1986 race for a seat in the U.S. Senate. “I sort of like the nickname,” Long admitted. “The more people hear it, the more they’ll remember me.”5 That contention proved prophetic later in her career, though at the time Quayle beat her handily with 61 percent of the vote. In 1988 she ran in a Fort Wayne-centered U.S. House district in northeast Indiana against incumbent Daniel Ray Coats, a Quayle protégé. Coats turned back Long’s bid, capturing 62 percent of the vote.6

When Coats was appointed to fill his mentor’s U.S. Senate seat after Quayle resigned to become Vice President in 1989, Long challenged the Republican candidate Dan Heath in a special election for the vacant Indiana House seat. The district had been in GOP control since 1976, and Heath, a former adviser to the Fort Wayne mayor and Representative Coats, was initially favored to win. “There was a great deal of national attention because it was a special election,” Long observed, “but also because it was the Vice President’s old congressional district because he had held that as his congressional seat before he went to the United States Senate.”7 The candidates held similar positions on the budget, military spending, and gun control. Both also grew up on farms and shared many of the same views on agriculture policy.8 In part because of her name recognition, but also because of an anti-tax pledge and attacks on Heath’s controversial connection to a proposed Fort Wayne income tax plan, Long defeated her opponent by a slim one-point margin in the March 28, 1989, special election, winning with fewer than 2,000 votes out of more than 128,000 cast.9 Democrats trumpeted her surprise election, eager to advertise their success in what had traditionally been a “safe” seat for the GOP. Long’s victory also defied expectations because of her gender. “It’s always been more difficult for women to be taken as seriously, and at that time, there had been no woman to represent that district in Congress,” Long recalled. “I was the fourth woman from Indiana to even hold a congressional seat, and so it was a novelty.”10

In the 1990 and 1992 elections, Long defeated her Republican challengers by 61 and 62 percent, respectively. She ran effectively as a conservative Democrat, depriving her Republican challengers of issues related to taxation and fiscal conservatism. “She’s done a good job of impersonating a Republican,” a longtime local GOP chairman observed. “Tell the truth, she sometimes sounds more conservative than I do.”11

After being sworn in on April 5, 1989, Long sought and received a seat on the Agricultural Committee to represent her largely rural district. She served on several of its subcommittees: Environment, Credit, and Rural Development; General Farm Commodities; and Livestock. One of the few women to serve on the Agriculture Committee during her tenure, Long recalled, “In my TV spots that were produced for my campaigns, I always had one with me driving a tractor. I actually think some of the men were intimidated by that because they hadn’t, some of the men on the committee, hadn’t driven tractors.”12 She was successful in amending the 1990 Farm Bill to include provisions that provided incentives to farmers who employed conservation techniques and ensured fair planting flexibility for farmers. She also served on the Select Committee on Hunger. In 1993 she was elected chair of the Congressional Rural Caucus. She managed to double its membership to more than 100 and earned a reputation as a leading advocate for farm interests on Capitol Hill.

Long established herself as a fiscal conservative, opposing congressional pay raises and all tax increases including President William J. (Bill) Clinton’s 1994 budget. “I’m cautious and moderate by nature,” she said. “I was raised not to like taxes, to save money, to darn socks and refinish furniture—all the 4-H Club stuff.”13 On the Task Force on Government Waste, Long helped investigate dozens of government agencies to identify inefficient use of federal money. But she usually sided with liberals on social issues. She voted to increase the minimum wage and for federal funding for abortion in cases of rape and incest. She also opposed the authorization granting President George H. W. Bush the use of force against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on Hospitals and Health Care, she worked for better treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and advocated the expansion of hospice care for dying veterans. “I just always knew that my dad was willing to give his life for this country,” Long revealed when reflecting on her committee service. “And knowing that makes you approach—when it’s someone that close to you, and my dad and I are still very close—knowing that makes you approach veterans’ issues, I think, in a way that it’s so personal, and you’re so passionate about it.”14

Congresswoman Long had been a Democrat popular among GOP voters, relying by one estimate on 20 percent or more of the Republican vote.15 The Republican groundswell of 1994 and the backlash against Democratic President Clinton cut into her margins. Despite her fiscally conservative roots, Long was one of the victims of the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” losing by 10 percent of the vote to Republican Mark Edward Souder, an aide to Senator Dan Coats. After Congress, she served briefly as a Fellow at the Institute of Politics in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. President Clinton then appointed her as an Undersecretary of Agriculture, where she served from 1995 to 2001. As Undersecretary for Rural Development, Long managed 7,000 employees and an $11 billion budget. After leaving the Department of Agriculture, she taught as the Mark E. Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, and as an adjunct professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana State University.

In 2002 Long easily won the Democratic primary for a newly redrawn U.S. House seat in north-central Indiana encompassing South Bend and lying just west of much of her old district. She faced business executive Chris Chocola in the general election for the open seat. In a competitive and, at times, heated race in which both candidates spent more than $1 million, Long narrowly lost to her Republican opponent, 50 to 46 percent.16 After her defeat, she offered a conciliatory message to her backers: “It’s important for us to give support to whoever is elected in this position because the top priority for all of us is to do all we can to make sure our government is as strong as it can be.”17 Long lives on a farm with her husband, Don Thompson, a former Navy pilot, near Argos, Indiana.18

Footnotes

1This essay reflects the Congresswoman’s name at the time of her House service. She subsequently was married and changed her name to Jill Long Thompson.

2“The Honorable Jill Lynette Long Thompson Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (15 June 2017): 3. The interview transcript is available online.

3“Long Thompson Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 2.

4“Long Thompson Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 4

5Doug Richardson, “Long Sweeps Indiana Primary; LaRouche Candidate Loses,” 7 May 1986, Associated Press.

6Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

7“Long Thompson Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 9.

8Susan F. Rasky, “Special Race in Indiana Tests Democratic Gains,” 27 March 1989, New York Times: B13.

9Michael J. Dubin, United States Congressional Elections, 1788–1997 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998): 764; “Democrat Wins Indiana Race,” 29 March 1989, New York Times: A17; Politics in America, 1990 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1989): 501.

10“Long Thompson Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 10

11R.W. Apple, Jr., “Indiana House Race Shows Incumbency Is Still of Value,” 4 November 1990, New York Times: 32.

12“Long Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 25.

13Apple, “Indiana House Race Shows Incumbency Is Still of Value.”

14“Long Thompson Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 28.

15Politics in America, 1996 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1995): 464.

16Jack Colwell, “Chocola Wins; Bush Visits Seen as Helping Bid,” 6 November 2002, South Bend Tribune: A1; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

17Colwell, “Chocola Wins; Bush Visits Seen as Helping Bid.”

18Jack Colwell, “Candidate’s Family Angry Over Mailing; Long Thompson’s Husband, Father Denounce ‘Terrorist’ Reference,” 22 October 2002, South Bend Tribune: A1.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Jill L. Long" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Agriculture
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Hunger
  • House Committee - Veterans' Affairs
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Related Media

Serving on the Agriculture Committee

The Honorable Jill Lynette Long Thompson explains how her background made for a good fit on the Agriculture Committee.

The Honorable Jill Lynette Long Thompson, U.S. Representative of Indiana
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"Women at the Table"

The Honorable Jill Lynette Long Thompson describes the necessity of including women in all political and policy discussions.

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