Washington's flip side: the man behind the woman; Life as a congressional husband
Washington — "Political husbands are a real anachronims -- they just don't know what to do with us on the campaign trail," says Jim Schroeder, husband of Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D) of Colorado. "But I've tried to help out, raising money, talking with people in Denver."
In fact, Mr. Schroeder, a lawyer, was more involved in Colorado politics than his wife until 1972, when Mrs. Schroeder won her first congressional campaign. "I had run for office in 1970, and lost," he said during a recent interview at his Washington office, lined with pictures of his own exploits, and one Pat Schroeder political poster.
"the in 1972, I was Democratic (Party) captain in Denver." They searched for an "alternative candidate for Congress -- these were the Nixon years" until someone asked, "What about a woman? What about your wife?"
Although he believed his wife was qualified for the office, he says they never sat down to discuss the effect the election would have on their personal lives because "I never thought she would win."
Victory left him with no choice, he feels, but to move to Washington "because we had little kids -- Kamie was just one or two at the time, and our eldest was five. Also, we didn't live on the East Coast, so we couldn't do a weekend thing."
Fortunately, Mr. Schroeder's career proved protable, and he found the switched from being a law partner in Denver to a law partner here a nice change. But he says he found no advantages granted him as a congresswoman's husband. "If anything, it was a disadvantage when I was looking for a job, since Pat's term only lasts two years at a time and the employers knew they could lose me if she wasn't voted back in."
Mr. Schroeder takes the disadvantages of being married to a member of Congress pretty much in stride. Their social schedule tends to "revolve around Pat -- those are quasi-working hours for her," although they occasionally entertain one of his clients.
Even her working schedule affects his. "I try to be around when Pat has to fly back to the district, or she'll take the kids with her," he reports.
The children, who attend public schools in nearby Fairfax Country, Va., have flown with their mother on working trips to Switzerland, Israel, and Thailand, he says, and he tries to join them whenever possible. His law firm has an office in Bangkok, "so when Pat was working on refugee immigration, the whole family went over."
Most two-career couples find it challenging to balance careers and home life; political couples seem to find it doubly hard. "Pat's a good mother, and she doesn't forget birthday parties or things like that," Mr. Schroeder asserts. But he concedes that they have raised the kids to be fairly independent.
The Schroeders had full-time help when the children were younger, but the help went part-time as the need subsided. Still, there are times when "the school will call and tell us to come pick up our child. If Pat has to be on the floor for a vote, I go." They have no set policy to cover such circumstances since it doesn't happen very often.
The Schroeders try to grab time to be together as a family and go to movies -- "I'm a movie nut," he says. And they are learning to weight the invitations. "When we first got here, we thought we had to go to everything. Now, we're learning to pick and choose."
Some kinds of invitations are "extremely rare," he says, speaking of the various congressional wives clubs. Most congressmen's wives find mutual support and interests in these groups, but so far, Mr. Schroeder says, the clubs have done little to reach out to Washington's few congressional husbands. "They ignore us," he claims, saying he has been asked to only two such meetings in his eight years in Washington. On the other hand, he only attended one of them.
Mr. Schroeder sees no malice behind all this. "There have been so few political husbands, that there aren't any patterns set for how we should be treated," he says evenly. The numbers are further reduced by local absenteeism -- about half of these spouses choose to stay in their home district and have "commuter marriages" with their political wives.
Most congresswomen, he points out, are single, divorced, or widowed. Historically, women reached high political office at the death of their husbands , and although this is changing, the few congresswomen with husbands in the picture tend to have spouses that are older and more established. "They want to support their wives," says Mr. Schroeder, "but they have their own business, their own careers, their own identities."
He also feels this conflict: "I want to support Pat," he says, "but I'm trying to practice law, too."
Asked if he now counsels new congressional husbands arriving on the scene, Mr. Schroeder smiles and says. "The only people who have come to me have been lawyer wives of congressmen. I gave them my views on private vs. government employment."
It's the public role of the congressional husband that still eludes him, however. "The public doesn't want to see us -- they want to see our wives -- though I have pinch-hit for Pat on occasion. And the campaign people don't know where to put you.
"A political husband," he concludes, "is still an unusual animal.