Feb 14, 2008
Tom Rooney is Catholic and pro-life, and he is running for the Republican nomination in Florida's 16th Congressional District. Rooney comes from a football family; his grandfather, Art Rooney Jr., founded the Pittsburg Steelers in 1933. Former Army captain and JAG (Judge Advocate General), Rooney will need all his experience -- football, military, and legal -- to navigate the rough-and-tumble of a congressional campaign.
The 16th District was in the news last September when Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) resigned after allegations he had sent sexually suggestive e-mails and text messages to teenage boys who were serving, or had served, as congressional pages.
In the aftermath of the scandal, this traditionally Republican congressional seat was won by pro-abortion Democrat Tim Mahoney, a Methodist.
Rooney is running for the GOP nomination against two present officeholders, but in spite of his newcomer status, he was named by Roll Call as an early favorite to win the nomination. Thus far, Rooney has raised far more money than his Republican opponents.
I asked Rooney what kinds of difficulties face a pro-life, pro-family Catholic running for public office.
"I look at it exactly the opposite," he responded. "I don't think I could run for office without my faith. It's very difficult to put yourself out there. Going to Mass on Sunday is a time for me to get stronger."
Rooney is married to Tara, who was also an Army captain and JAG, and they have three small boys, ages six, four, and one. He told me his Catholic faith is something he has never doubted, never been tempted to fall away from. The Rooney family was always devout in its religious practices.
"My grandfather [Art Rooney Jr.] attended daily Mass, and everywhere he went there was at least one priest walking with him. Any picture of him always had a priest in it. Whenever we went on road trips we would say the rosary all the way -- it was just the way it was, and it didn't feel weird at all.
In addition to his father, Dan, and mother, Sandy, Rooney has four uncles, four brothers, two sisters, and 35 first cousins. Almost all of them have pitched in to help his campaign. Brother Brian has helped to craft the military message; Chris is volunteering full time at campaign headquarters; Pat has taken over the family business; and Joe helped with the campaign finances.
When asked if his family connections have earned him criticism, Rooney replied, "There have been some negative comments, but I tell people if I couldn't raise money from my family it would be a much bigger negative."
Money is also a major theme in Rooney's campaign. He opposes any new tax increases. "More taxes is un-American, it makes us less free. Congressman Mahoney is promising everybody in the District more money to fix their problems, which will raise their taxes."
If elected, Rooney also wants to work with Democrats, especially those who are veterans, to reconsider the rules of engagement to fit with the kind of insurgency warfare being fought in Iraq. "We need to ask whether we are fighting this war the best way we can."
Rooney knows this subject very well, having taught rules of war and rules of engagement at West Point for two years. He hears from former cadets via e-mail, worried that what they do in the war will get them court-martialed.
Rooney is also concerned about illegal immigration. As a former assistant U.S. attorney, he wants a congressional mandate that local law enforcement be required to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when an illegal immigrant commits a felony. He thinks it's a travesty that there are hundreds of thousands of imprisoned illegal immigrants who will not be deported. "We should all be able to agree, if you have committed a felony you should not be permitted to stay."
At the end of the interview, Rooney apologized for not emphasizing the social issues in our interview. "The pro-life cause is extremely important to me, and being a social conservative is just who I am."
But the three issues he did emphasize -- taxes, immigration, and the military -- Rooney believes need immediate attention.
"The future is very uncertain," Rooney explains, "but I believe what John Paul II taught: that we should 'be not afraid.' We should ask God for his help because he is a loving God, and we should never fear him."
Tom Rooney belongs to the generation of "John Paul II Catholics," as I call them, who have answered the call to public service. Unlike the Catholic politicians of the last generation, most of whom ignored the Church on the key social and moral issues, Rooney would follow in the footsteps of the late Henry Hyde.
Within a few years, if Catholic candidates like Tom Rooney are elected, the Catholic presence in Congress could go from majority pro-abortion to majority pro-life.