Congressional Profile: Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL)
Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) currently scores a 95% on our Legislative Scorecard and is the ranked the most conservative Member of the Illinois delegation. He rode in to Congress on the Tea Party wave of 2010, and was the only one out of 87 House Freshmen that did not have party support during the election. He says that he ran because his own party wasn’t bold enough.
Rep. Walsh was born in North Barrington, Illinois in 1961. He was the fifth of nine children and graduated from Barrington High school in 1980. In 1976, he heard then-candidate Ronald Reagan’s speech after he lost to Gerald Ford, and was instantly inspired to run for 8th grade class president. It was then that Rep. Walsh became hooked on politics, and he graduated high school as the class president. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Iowa in 1985, and then tried his hand at acting, taking lessons at The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York and Los Angeles. Getting back into politics, Rep. Walsh received his Master’s degree in Public Policy at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies in 1991.
Rep. Walsh began teaching with the Jobs for Youth program in the inner-city Chicago area, where he taught high school dropouts basic academic and job skills. He went on to teach American government and American history at Oakton Community College and the Hebrew Theological College. He says that he is a teacher at his core and that when he is done in Washington, he wants to return to teaching American government.
In addition to teaching, Rep. Walsh has also been a longtime advocate for education. He’s advocated for a number of causes, including “market-based solutions to education reform and urban poverty.” He’s worked on both state and local public policy issues with the free market think tank Heartland Institute. He also ran the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund, a Chicago-based, privately funded school voucher program which gives private high school scholarships to low-income students. He has also raised funds for the American Education Reform Council, and the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation – both of which advocate school choice.
Rep. Walsh also raised nearly $1 million over five years for the Fabretto Children’s Foundation, an international charity aimed at delivering Nicaraguan children from poverty. He went on to launch fiscally conservative organizations like the Legislative Education Action Drive and the Americans for Limited Government, which promote limited government and help elect fiscal conservatives to state legislatures.
Advocacy was not his only foray into fundraising. Rep. Walsh has also dabbled in raising venture capital for new and small businesses. It was not a lucrative enterprise, and has helped Rep. Walsh to be named the “poorest Member of Congress.” He’s proud of it because it helps him connect with the millions of Americans who are having trouble paying their mortgage and getting by in today’s economy.
2010 was not Rep. Walsh’s first attempt at running for an elected office. He lost a run for Illinois’ 9th congressional district in 1996 to longtime Democratic incumbent Sidney R. Yates. Rep. Walsh campaigned by riding his bicycle through the district and gained attention by throwing a birthday party for the 87 year-old incumbent. In 1998, Rep. Walsh tried to run for the 58th district seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, but lost to Democratic incumbent Jeffrey Schoenberg. After taking twelve years off from running and connecting with his deep conservatism, Rep. Walsh ran again in 2010, winning the general election by .2% of the vote. He now faces a tough reelection fight in a Democratic congressional district.
Rep. Walsh currently sits on the Homeland Security Committee, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Small Business Committee, and belongs to the Tea Party, Republican Israeli and Congressional Hockey Caucuses.
He is a regular on network news shows, never backing down from a debate with staunch liberal anchors and making a name for himself as an active advocate for conservative principles.
Rep. Walsh holds regular town hall meetings with constituents when he’s at home in his district. And if he’s not engaging with the Americans he represents, he can be found spending time with his family.
Rep. Walsh and his wife, Helene, currently live in McHenry, Illinois and have five children.