It’s time to say something nice about a Republican.
My friend, Jennifer Dunn, died last week at age 66. A former Republican member of Congress from the state of Washington, Jennifer was someone who could disagree with you without being disagreeable. She had her set of beliefs (many of them quite conservative) and I had mine. We often voted on opposite sides of the same issue but that didn’t mean we couldn’t work together for the common good.
Shortly after the Columbine school shootings, the House Republican and Democratic leadership set up a bi-partisan task force to examine the causes of youth violence. Jennifer and I were named co-chairs. We were acquainted but did not know each other well prior to then.
The very first time we sat down to discuss this project, we agreed that everything we did would be undertaken on a strictly bi-partisan, equal basis. Even though the Republicans were in the majority at that time and she could have dictated the agenda, Jennifer honored her commitment to the letter.
We had a series of 8 a.m. breakfast meetings which featured leading experts from a variety of educational and mental health fields. The panels were well balanced with both parties having ample opportunity to bring in people who represented their particular point of view. In some instances, there were no differences between how Democrats and Republicans saw aspects of this problem.
Once we completed our meetings, we hammered out a series of recommendations on a bi-partisan basis that were sent to the Republican and Democratic leadership. Thanks to Jennifer’s cooperative spirit and seriousness of purpose, virtually everything we recommended was agreed to unanimously.
Jennifer later joined me as a strong advocate of the National Amber Alert Legislation, named for a nine year-old girl from my Congressional District who was kidnapped, molested and murdered. She continued to be interested in the well being of children and we often looked for other ways to work together on matters being considered by Congress.
She competed unsuccessfully for a top Republican leadership post in the House (Majority Leader) but was not bitter about the experience. She helped blaze a trail for other women who will one day hold significant positions in her party.
Jennifer retired from Congress voluntarily in 2004 and went to work for a major DC law firm. She even tried to recruit me to join the same firm, though I wound up elsewhere. Like many former members of Congress, she was interested in making some money prior to retirement. She looked forward to the day when she could be financially comfortable and dote on her family (she had remarried four years ago and had two grown children). Regrettably, that day never came.
Washington would be a more civil place if both parties elected and showcased the Jennifer Dunns of the world. She could be a strong partisan (she had served as State Republican Chair n Washington) but she didn’t let her partisanship get in the way of working across party lines when there was something important to her and the country.
She also was a pleasant person who had a smile and a kind word for colleagues. When someone as young as Jennifer dies, her contemporaries often pause and reflect on their own commitment to family and friends.
I certainly plan to spend even more time with my grandchildren in the months and years ahead.
Jennifer Dunn will be missed. She served her country well and was taken too soon.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.