Pat Schroeder Targets Gender Barriers

Colorado congresswoman is determined to see more than two females in US Senate and some 20 in the House

WHEN Patricia Schroeder first announced her interest in running for the United States House of Representatives, a local Democratic chieftain laughed and hung up on her.

Mrs. Schroeder, now the senior woman in Congress, admits with a sign of resignation that she still would appreciate a little respect from fellow Democrats. In an interview here, she touched base on a wide range of topics.

When an office of the Clinton-for-president campaign opened in Denver Aug. 14, supposedly every Democratic politician in town was invited to attend the festivities. But not Pat Schroeder. Shabby treatment cited

"I think my party still pretends I don't exist, at the state level. And they're always real sorry about it and say they just forgot," she said. A rather shabby way to be treated, she suggests, wondering aloud how she will respond to the inevitable request for a contribution to the Clinton campaign.

When Schroeder announced her intention to run for Congress in 1972, the young Denver homemaker, mother, and Harvard Law School graduate was considered everything from a joke to a long shot by local political observers.

But the one-time political dark horse now is a candidate so formidable that Colorado Republicans have declined to fund a challenger.

Raymond Diaz Aragon, a 28-year-old Latino Republican, is running against Schroeder, but the party has not offered him moral, political, or financial support.

The challenger, who simply calls himself Ray Diaz, criticizes Democrats who "take blacks and Hispanics for granted," but charges that Republicans "write them off altogether."

Mr. Diaz promises to beat Schroeder, spending no more than $5,000.

Schroeder, who briefly entertained the notion of running for president in 1987 and who was chastised for shedding tears when she dropped out of that race, has recently been at the forefront of national news, earning everything from votes in two states to be the next Democratic presidential contender to being targeted in an obscene skit staged in June by F-14 fighter pilots stationed at Miramar Naval Air Station outside of San Diego.

The same day that Denver Democrats snubbed her in mid-August, three of the five senior officers present at the San Diego skit were relieved of their command by the Navy's Pacific Fleet commander. Legislation filed

Schroeder, a veteran member of the House Armed Services Committee, has said publicly that she is much more interested in challenging sexual harassment in the military than in destroying careers. She has introduced legislation in the House designed to assist victims of sexual violence in the military and to prevent sexual harassment as well.

She readily admits wanting to see significant change in the disparity between the sexes in Congress. "If they took 98 women and two men and put them in the Senate, people would say, `Whoa, women are taking over.' But here we are excited that it might be 95 men and five women."

"If we could break through these two glass ceilings of not having more than two women in the Senate and never having more than 20-something women in the House, people [would] say, `It's terrific - the Year of the Woman.' But you're not anywhere near what sociologists have told us is a critical mass, which is about 25-30 percent.

When you get to critical mass," she suggests, "then you can start to be able to change the institution."

In spite of disillusionment with some Democrats, Schroeder still is optimistic about Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's chances for election. "I think he's the best shot that we've seen," she says, adding that the ticket of Mr. Clinton and US Sen. Albert Gore of Tennessee could wake up a lot of young people she believes are disillusioned by the national political scene.

"It's been very depressing to see what the '80s did," she says. "I mean, the '80s undid so much that we did in the '70s. We spent a decade building, and then you spend a whole decade watching it cave in."

Schroeder says of the GOP: "Pick up the platform they just came out with and you have to get to page 27 before you get to the word `job' or `economy.' It is more conservative than the '80, '84, and '88 platforms, which I didn't think was possible. But guess what? It is."

Does Schroeder have an interest in a Cabinet post in a Clinton White House? She insists she's happy where she is, but might be interested in the Department of Justice.

If Clinton contacted her, she said, "I'd tell him what I really want is to be the attorney general, because there are a lot of guys I want to put in jail."

Schroeder has asked US Attorney General William Barr to advise her whether the Justice Department is investigating the involvement of Neil Bush in the failure of Silverado Banking, a Colorado savings and loan that the president's son had served as a director. She has not received an answer. Far right criticized

Schroeder says she is also unhappy with the far right in this country. "I grew up thinking that this country was big enough for more than one religion, more than one belief, and we now have some real zealots who say it isn't, that there can only be one religion, one belief, one opinion, when it comes to the area of choice. And when you look at the area of choice, it really is so much broader than abortion....

"The strong thing about America was always that we didn't let politics get into science. And we didn't let it get into medicine. And the trouble is this army of zealots that has moved in.

Whether Schroeder wins reelection in November or not, it is apparent she plans to remain an outspoken voice in the political arena.

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