Another ‘John Paul II’ Catholic Runs for Congress

Deal W. Hudson
November 9, 2009

On October 30, Brian Rooney, an attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, filed his papers to run for Michigan’s 7th Congressional Seat. Rooney had initially put aside his political plans when his son Blaise was born with a congenital heart defect in February, but the fight to save his son’s life in the midst of the national health-care debate convinced him to enter the race.

Rooney, a Republican, will face serious opposition in the GOP primary from former one-term Rep. Tim Walberg, who lost the seat in 2008 to Democrat Mark Schauer. Rooney, ardently pro-life and pro-family, faces another pro-lifer in Walberg; but with Walberg’s loss in 2008, Republican leadership may be looking for a fresh face.

If nominated, Rooney would face the same tactics used by Schauer against Walberg in 2008 – attacking the GOP nominee as too conservative. Schauer himself, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, is “fully pro-choice” and, predictably, voted against the Stupak-Pitts amendment to the health-care bill. “That vote shows that Schauer is completely out of touch with his constituents, who are mostly middle to right,” Rooney told me.

Rooney did all he could in 2008 to help his brother Tom get elected from the 16th District in Florida. Both Brian and Tom are grandsons of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, and their uncle is Dan Rooney, the former Steelers chairman who is now President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Ireland.

Rooney has four brothers and two sisters but is closest to Tom, with whom he shared a room for many years. “He’s my biggest advocate and has been pushing me to help give the GOP a new kind of leadership.” Rooney knew he wanted to do something to oppose the “tack of the country” under Obama: “These were not the values that I served my country for, not the change that America needed.”

When Blaise, his third child, was born with a congenital heart defect, Rooney told his brother his political plans needed to be delayed. But while his son was undergoing surgery on his heart and brain – twice – and recovering from heart failure, the health-care debate was heating up. “I realized our country has the best healthcare in the world, and I realized it was this care that enabled Blaise to fully recover, rather than be relegated to ‘compassionate care.’” Rooney is strongly opposed to the health-care reform making its way through Congress, which he believes will inevitably lead to rationed care for children and the elderly.

Brian, like his brother Tom, is a veteran. He joined the Marine Corps while in law school at Florida State and eventually became a military criminal prosecutor at the rank of captain. After 9/11, he went to the front to serve in Iraq as part of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing. Rooney was decorated three times for his service.

After military service, Rooney went to work for the well-known religious liberty law firm the Thomas More Law Center. Between his two tours of duty in Iraq, he married his high school girlfriend, Tiffany. They now have three children: Silas, almost four years old; Eleanor, two; and Blaise, nine months, who is now “completely out of the woods.”

Rooney met Tiffany when she was in seventh grade and he was in fifth grade. “We basically grew up together, started dating toward the end of high school, and got back together at the end of law school when we were both training to run in different marathons.” They ended up running in the Chicago marathon together, and the relationship was rekindled.

No one can deny Rooney’s credentials as a conservative pro-life candidate, especially with his service at the Thomas More Law Center. But with Michigan at 15 percent unemployment, the worst in the nation, voters in the Ann Arbor/Battle Creek area may be more interested in what he brings to the table with regard to the current economic crisis.

Rooney says his three role models are Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II. So it’s not surprising that he believes the government needs to “stop its reckless and radical spending, properly finish the war in Iraq, and fully commit to the ongoing war in Afghanistan.” For the people in his district, he advocates reform so that the state of Michigan is once again business friendly: “Michigan was great once, and it can be great again.”

His belief that Michigan and his district can recover without interference from the federal government stems, in part, from his experience on the board of his family’s business, the Pittsburg Steelers. In spite of the recent sale of the Steelers, Rooney and his siblings retained 3 percent ownership. He explained that his grandfather, Art Rooney, always avoided being “heavy-handed”; the family business was always “a very small shop” that “puts people first” who are “allowed to do their jobs.” The Steelers’ franchise, as a result, has been one of the most profitable in the NFL.

Rooney will not try to sweep his Catholicism under the rug. He continues to work for the Thomas More Law Center, and his honorary finance chairman is Tom Monaghan, founder of Ave Maria University and Domino’s Pizza. Like his brother Tom, Brian Rooney is another of the generation of “John Paul II Catholics” entering politics who are not afraid to defend unborn life and the family in the face of pressures from both political parties.

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