Calling himself the "most accessible congressman on the planet," Joe Walsh rarely shrugs off an opportunity to speak to the media.
But the McHenry Republican did just that Thursday, declining to talk about disclosures that he was being sued by his ex-wife for more than $115,000 in late child support payments, with his spokesman citing the matter as a family issue.
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As Walsh's office directed reporters to a blistering statement condemning what he called a "hit piece" breaking the news, potential opponents and interest groups seized upon the information as evidence the McHenry tea partyer hasn't practiced the fiscal conservatism he preaches loudly and often on cable television.
In the attempt to show Walsh that his constituents "will not tolerate this type of irresponsible behavior," Catholics United scheduled a protest Sunday outside of Walsh's Fox Lake office.
Eighth District Democratic primary candidate Raja Krishnamoorthi of Hoffman Estates Thursday started a "Joe Must Go" petition drive demanding "better representation in Congress than a deadbeat dad" and calling for Walsh to step down from office.
Walsh in recent weeks has become perhaps the most visible example of resistance of tea party members to compromising with Democrats on debt ceiling negotiations. The reports on his child support delinquency come with days to go before a potential government default.
And Walsh, in a statement, called that timing suspicious.
"It is not lost on me that a court case filed almost 8 months ago regarding a marriage that ended more than 8 years ago would be brought up today. We are 72 hours away from one of the biggest decisions our country has to make about its financial future," the McHenry Republican said in an email blast.
Calling himself the "tip of the spear" in the current debt ceiling debate, Walsh said he understands "why this is a story and why the media has to ask me about it."
"I understood as a candidate, and I understand as a sitting member of Congress that the scrutiny of my personal life will be intense," he said in the statement.
His ex-wife, Laura Walsh, filed the claim against him in December as part of their case, saying he still owed $117,437 to her and their three children, now ages 23, 20 and 16. Laura Walsh, according to court documents, has been trying to collect child support since December 2002, when she filed for divorce.
She contends that Walsh loaned his own campaign $35,000 and took international vacations but said he couldn't afford child support payments because he was between jobs or out of work.
This is not the first time that Walsh has faced scrutiny for his personal finances.
Last fall, the Daily Herald reported that in addition to a foreclosure on his Evanston condominium in 2009, Walsh had state and federal liens for unpaid taxes totaling nearly $25,000, according to records from the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
The first lien, in June 1992, was for failing to pay $2,239 in federal income taxes. In June 1994, Walsh was handed a lien for failing to pay $21,566 in federal income taxes, some going as far back as 1985. Six months later, the state placed another lien for Walsh's failure to pay $778 in state income taxes. He eventually paid them off and the last lien cleared in 2001.
The $21,556 lien comes from failing to pay taxes on an education trust fund set up by his grandfather to pay for his college education at Grinnell College and later the University of Iowa in the 1980s.
"I had no idea that (money) was taxable," he said in October.
Walsh, who spent years working in the nonprofit sector before joining a Chicago investment group, pointed out a salary of $30,000 to $40,000 a year in years past.
"There is a pattern. Joe Walsh has never made a lot of money and struggled. End of story," he said.
Walsh said at the time he sees no conflict between his political statements and his personal life.
"A conflict? Not at all. Here's the deal with me. You're seeing a lot of people rise up from the muck we all live in. Especially the last five or six years ... When stuff on the foreclosure came out in the spring, many Republicans gave me a stiff arm. The average voter wanted to put their arms around me."
On Thursday, Walsh stated the "people of Illinois' 8th Congressional District voted for me not because I'm wealthy but because they wanted a fighter in Washington."
He plans to fight the "latest attacks" against him "in the appropriate venue," but for the meantime, he said, "I promise you I am going to keep my head down and get back to work."