Thomas J. Wickham Jr., 90BA, 94JD, is only the fifth person since 1928 to sit to the right of the Speaker of the House and advise lawmakers on procedural matters and precedent when the United States House of Representatives is in session.
As parliamentarian of the U.S. House of Representatives, Wickham is central to the working of the government, and he brings his University of Iowa experiences to bear in providing nonpartisan advice to members of Congress. He also responds year-round to legislative inquiries from committees working on bills.
Former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) appointed Wickham to this important role in 2012, though the UI attorney first joined the parliamentarian’s office in 1995 and became deputy parliamentarian in 2005.
Throughout his 22 years on the job, Wickham has worked with five Speakers of the House. One of the biggest challenges of his position is to maintain neutrality—and in turn gain the trust of the representatives. However, Wickham has a reputation on both sides of the aisle for fairness.
“Tom’s role is to guide members of Congress through the processes of the House without prejudice,” says Nicole Gustafson, a UI graduate who worked with Wickham in Congress. “He is known throughout the Capitol as a fair arbiter and advisor who closely guards the traditions of the House with integrity and a quick wit. He performs his job under immense pressure, often called upon to make a split-second decision that will have a lasting impact.”
The Office of the Parliamentarian consists of six attorneys and three clerks, and the parliamentarian must be present on the floor at all times while the House is in session. Wickham frequently works 10- to 15-hour days during these periods, and when the House is not in session, he and his team continue to research procedural issues and compile parliamentary precedents.
“I get to work with my counterparts in other countries, and I see what a leader the U.S. is around the globe. Many countries use our system as a model, and that’s an inspiration to me,” says Wickham, who is passionate about civic education.
When he has the time, Wickham takes students on tours of the Capitol and works with interns from the Washington Center, a program in which he participated as a UI student. He also conducts seminars with the military’s National Defense University.
“Many law schools boast about their federal judges or members of Congress. Only one school gets the honor of having an alum as parliamentarian,” says Jill DeYoung, assistant dean and chief of staff for the UI College of Law. The college recognized Wickham for his commitment to his country by awarding him the 2014 Iowa Law Alumni Award for Service.
Eric Witte, longtime chief of staff to Congressman Dave Loebsack (D IA-2), says of Wickham, “Having an Iowan with his finger on the pulse of how the House operates has been invaluable. Having someone with Iowa kindness is even better.”
His “Iowa kindness” and UI experiences have helped Thomas Wickham Jr. navigate one of the government’s most demanding roles with exceptional skill and diplomacy.
Wickham is a member of the UI Alumni Association’s Old Capitol Club.