A Conversation with Chris Chocola - Part 1

With a presidential race in full swing and our country getting ready to celebrate another birthday, we thought it might be a good time to check in with a Michiana man who has been part of our governing process.

Chris Chocola served as Indiana's 2nd District Congressman for two terms.

Sitting down with me in his home in Bristol, Chris seemed comfortable with his Midwestern roots.

He was raised outside Lansing, Michigan.

“I always say I went to a high school in the middle of a cornfield -- a small high school. So I had a typical Midwestern upbringing,” he says.

He met his wife Sarah at Hillsdale College in Michigan, and they soon made Indiana their home.

“We met there my second semester senior year, so I almost missed her,” Chocola reveals. “But we met there and married shortly after -- she's a year behind me -- after she got out of college. And then we moved here eventually.”

Chris's grandfather ran the world's largest manufacturer of poultry feeding machines, so he worked for the family business.

“It was always kind of a second home, so it was nice to settle down here.”

Chocola stayed in the family business for years and could have continued to comfortably do so, but says he was always intrigued with Congress. Not the politics, but the issues.

“I ran in 2000 for the first time and lost, but I didn't know what a county chairman was, and no county chairman knew I existed, and so it was really starting from scratch,” he explains.

His loss was to Democrat Tim Roemer.

But when Roemer decided not to run in 2002, Chocola did and won.

He had had campaign appearances from some big Washington guns --President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Then in 2004, Chocola defeated current Congressman Joe Donnelly by a 54-45 margin.

But in 2006, Donnelly beat Chocola.

I mentioned to Chris that the 2004 and 2006 races were near flip flops as far as the numbers went, and that the difference was largely because of St. Joseph County. I asked him what he thought was different.

“I think the environment changed. Clearly Republicans fell out of favor, and I think in large part Republicans … we did it to ourselves,” he admits. “I don't think we lived up to the expectations of the people that sent us to Washington as a whole.”

Chocola was disappointed, but is now working for American Securities and never looks back.

“I miss the people and the policy, but not the politics,” he says. “I had never planned on making a career out of politics. I had taken a term limit pledge, and I think one of the greatest reforms we could have would be term limits, because the people we see who get in trouble are there too long. They lose their perspective.”

And he says he gets to see his kids a lot more.

“I'm home more now, more than I have been in a lot of years, and my kids are teenagers -- so they have a limited tolerance for me,” Chocola says with a smile on his face.

He says it is nice to be able to take them out golfing and deal with the normal dad issues.

As far as ever getting back into politics…

“You know, I think I’ve been cured of all political ambition,” Chocola says confidently.

Chris may no longer be in Washington, but he is trying to stay involved in some policy issues in other ways.

He has strong opinions about oil prices and the war in Iraq. He talks about Barack Obama and John McCain and what he sees as the biggest issue facing our next president.

It isn't the war or oil prices, and he says if this problem isn't addressed, the war in Iraq won't matter because we won't be able to afford a military.

The second part of my conversation with Chris Chocola will air Thursday on NewsCenter 16 at 11:00.

In that piece, Chris tells me why he is supporting John McCain -- but why he thinks Barack Obama might win the race.

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