Jill Long1, an academic by training, rose through the ranks of Indiana politics to become an influential advocate for the state’s agricultural interests. Long wrested away from Republicans a northeastern Indiana district considered a safe GOP seat. She went on to serve in the House 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, she graduated from Columbia City Joint High School in Columbia City, Indiana. After receiving a B.S. at Valparaiso University in 1974, Long pursued her academic studies at Indiana University; she earned an M.B.A. in 1978 and a Ph.D. 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. She was dubbed “Jill Longshot” when she ran as a Democrat against GOP incumbent 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.”2 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 Dan R. Coats (a Quayle protégé who had moved on to take his mentor’s old House seat). Coats turned back Long’s bid, capturing 62 percent of the vote.3
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. 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.4 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.5 Democrats trumpeted her surprise election, eager to advertise their success in what had traditionally been a “safe” seat for the GOP. 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.”6
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. 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. 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. 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.”7 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 to use 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. She also served on the Select Committee on Hunger.
Congresswoman Long had been a Democrat popular among GOP voters, relying by one estimate on 20 percent or more of the Republican vote.8 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 E. 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.9 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.”10 Long lives on a farm with her husband, Don Thompson, a former Navy pilot, near Argos, Indiana.11
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
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