Longform

THE STEALTH CONGRESSMAN

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His three children are all in the medical profession. "I attribute that to working them too hard on the farm," he jokes with pride.

Once Bob Stump sought and won a seat in the Arizona Legislature in 1958, however, he was hooked. He has sought office every two years since. But whether in Phoenix or Washington, Stump (who divorced many years ago and never remarried) remained close to his father, returning during recesses and on weekends to the farm.

Jess Stump died in 1990, at age 89. Bob took the loss hard, friends say. Charlie Thompson, who served as Stump's first administrative assistant in Washington, wells up as he remembers a political event at which Stump paid spontaneous, quiet tribute to his father.

It was an unusual move for the assiduously private Stump, but Thompson and others who are close to the congressman say he has an emotional side. Stump agrees ruefully, recalling that when he first took office, he often contacted constituents personally to deliver good news.

"Whether it's a lost person or a lost check, I'd be the one to call them. Then the woman'd start crying and I'd start crying. I gave that crap up a long time ago," Stump says. Thompson met Stump while serving as an intern at the legislature. He rose through the ranks to head the legislature's research division, and jumped at the chance to accompany Stump to D.C. in 1977. The Cannon Building, which houses Stump's office in Washington, is the oldest and most regal of the House office buildings. It has high ceilings, marble hallways and rats. Thompson laughs, recalling that Stump set traps, bought new carpet for the office and climbed onto a ledge outside the office to clean the windows, oblivious to the notion that members of Congress just didn't do such things.

And Stump insisted on conducting most of his official business from the mail desk, reserving his fancy member's chambers for meetings.

Thompson wasn't surprised. This was the guy who had personally paid for a fresh spray of flowers every day he served as president of the Arizona Senate. Yet it was at the legislature that Stump first made his mark as a fiscal conservative.

"When I ran the Senate, it was a joke, I guess, the whole time that people had to come to me to get a pencil or a typewriter ribbon," Stump recalls. And that extended to his voting record. In 1975, he described himself to a reporter as the "biggest 'no' voter around."
His conservative colleagues say the same about Stump today. Dick Armey of Texas and Jerry Solomon, a Republican from New York, say they and Stump maintain an ongoing, unofficial contest to see who can win the "most conservative" awards from taxpayer groups. Stump is a formidable opponent. He speaks proudly of the fact that he returns nearly half of his office budget to the House each year. Although he's allowed up to 18 staffers, he keeps only 11 to cover his Arizona and Washington offices.

But over the years, he has been lambasted for his spending in other areas. For example, Stump was criticized a few years ago when it was discovered that he was flying first class between Arizona and D.C. "I took my lumps for that," he says, shrugging. He now flies coach, but still doesn't think it was such a bad thing; flying first class allowed him to get more work done, he says.

Although he hasn't voted for congressional pay raises, he does accept them. As Stump observes, there is no legal way to turn the money back over to the federal government; he has joined in lawsuits to challenge this. Other members have, however, donated their pay raises to charity.

The issue that seems to irk people the most is the fact that Stump accepts government farm subsidies. He took almost $24,000 during the last complete program year for his two cotton farms, according to the Maricopa Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.

Stump votes against the subsidies, but says he'll accept them as long as they exist. He was among a small minority of House members who supported a new agricultural spending program this year, a small subsidy for beekeepers. The move threw his critics into a tizzy. One disgusted congressional staffer grouses, "The bee isn't going away. They're not going to quit pollinating, for Chrissakes!"

@rule:
@body:Every Sunday that he's home in Tolleson, which is most, you can find Bob Stump at the Sahuaro Cafe. The Mexican restaurant is tucked away on a quiet residential street, blocks away from the fields.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.