John George Schmitz
Colonel, United States Marine Corps
Member of Congress
Contemporary press reports:
G. Schmitz, the ultraconservative Orange County politician whose fiery
rhetoric and flamboyant antics defined right-wing Southern California
Republicanism for nearly two ecades, Wednesday. He was 70. "Congressman
John G. Schmitz played a significant role as a state senator and a member
of the House of Representatives during a very colorful era of politics
in the Orange County community," Thomas A. Fuentes, Orange County Republican
Party chairman, said in a statement released late Wednesday. "His
sense of humor, intelligence and enthusiasm will long be remembered
by his Orange
Schmitz, who associates said had been suffering
from cancer for some time, died about 1:45 p.m. in Washington, D.C.,
where he had lived for many years, according to a statement from the local
Schmitz led a colorful life during his political career, which ended in scandal when it was divulged that he had a mistress who bore two of his children. Years later, his daughter was also embroiled in scandal when she was convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student.
Schmitz first made the headlines in 1962 while stationed at El Toro as a Marine officer teaching other Marines about the dangers of Communism. Using nothing more than the sheer authority of his voice, he disarmed an assailant who was stabbing a woman by the roadside near the Marine Corps base. Although the woman died, Schmitz's reputation as a hero--and the roots of his political career--were made.
The next time his picture was on the front page was in 1964 as Orange County's newest Republican state senator, a position to which he was reelected in 1966. By then, Schmitz had attracted the support of such wealthy conservatives as fast-food magnate Carl Karcher, sporting goods heir Willard Voit and San Juan Capistrano rancher Tom Rogers. So when the county's longtime conservative Rep. James B. Utt died and local Republicans needed a successor, Schmitz--by then a national director of the ultraconservative John Birch Society -- was a natural choice. Using such slogans as "When you're out of Schmitz, you're out of gear," a parody of a well-known Schlitz beer commercial, the Wisconsin native who had grown up scrubbing beer vats won easy election in 1970 and moved his family to Washington.
Schmitz soon established himself as one of the country's most right-wing and outspoken congressmen and just as quickly enraged his most famous constituent, part-time San Clemente resident President Richard Nixon. Of Nixon's historic visit to China, Schmitz, whose political hero was Sen. Joseph McCarthy and who considered the visit a sellout, quipped, "I have no objection to President Nixon going to China. I just object to his coming back." The congressman's fellow Birchers laughed, but the president was not amused. By election day, neither was Schmitz, who lost his seat to a more moderate candidate. But his political career was far from over. In 1972, after Alabama Gov. George Wallace was seriously wounded when shot by a would-be assassin while campaigning for president, Schmitz was drafted by Wallace's American Independent Party to run against Nixon. He collected more than a million votes but lost muchof his longtime Orange County support.
"He was operating on a higher level of politics than any of us had the guts for," recalled former Schmitz campaign treasurer Tom Rogers. "His philosophy was unbending, even for his fellow Republicans, and he never doubted his own abilities and was never humble . . . until it was too late."
In 1978, Schmitz won a second state Senate seat, representing Newport Beach as a Republican. By then, though, caustic remarks about Jews ("Jews are like everybody else, only more so"), Latinos ("I may not be Hispanic, but I'm close. I'm Catholic with a mustache") and blacks ("Martin Luther King is a notorious liar") had grown so outrageous that he was beginning to lose the support of even the John Birch Society, which eventually dumped him. He also got into trouble with feminist attorney Gloria Allred after criticizing her support of abortion rights by calling her a "slick, butch lawyeress." A lawsuit she filed resulted in a $20,000 judgment against him and a public apology. Schmitz drew fire as well by issuing a press release referring to the audience at a series of hearings he chaired on abortion as consisting of "hard, Jewish and (arguably) female faces."
But the scandal that ultimately brought his downfall was the 1982 revelation that the politician who so loudly espoused family values also had a secret life that included a pregnant mistress and a 15-month-old son. "It was an unimaginable shock," Santa Ana lobbyist and former Schmitz aide Randy Smith later told The Times. "It was simply unbelievable."
When Schmitz's mistress, a 43-year-old German immigrant, was charged with neglecting their son, the former congressman stepped forward to defend her and to identify himself as the father. Although the neglect case was eventually dropped, the damage to Schmitz's political career was permanent.
Schmitz moved back to Washington, where he purchased a house once owned by McCarthy, and worked part time at Political Americana, a memorabilia store in Union Station. But there was to be yet another scandal involving his family. In 1997, Schmitz's 35-year-old daughter, Mary Kay LeTourneau, a teacher in Washington state at the time, was convicted of carrying on a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student whose child she ultimately bore. LeTourneau, married and the mother of four children when she became pregnant by the boy, served a six-month jail sentence in 1997 after pleading guilty to second-degree child rape. After her release on probation, she became pregnant by the teen a second time, drawing a seven-year prison term which she is still serving.
Schmitz is to be buried Monday at Arlington
Rep. Schmitz, a former Marine Corps jet fighter and helicopter pilot, served in the California Senate from 1964 to 1970 and from 1978 to 1982. In 1970, with the backing of prominent conservatives, he won a special election to succeed Rep. James B. Utt (R), who died in office. He served in the U.S. House until 1973.
Rep. Schmitz was known for his stridently conservative opinions, which often garnered negative press. His views won him the 1972 presidential nomination of the American Independent Party, an organization started by Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, and he received more than a million votes. He quit the party in 1973.
He frequently made intemperate remarks about minorities, gay people and others whose political beliefs were anathema to him. He once called abortion rights activist Gloria Allred a "slick butch lawyeress"; the married Allred sued and won a $20,000 settlement and a public apology.
In 1972, the ardently anti-communist congressman angered President Richard M. Nixon by saying of the president's groundbreaking trip to China: "I have no objection to President Nixon going to China. I just object to his coming back."
Over time, he lost the support of the John Birch Society, which found him too conservative and dismissed him from its national council in 1982. Earlier, he had said he joined the society "to do something to get the middle-of-the-road vote in Orange County."
John George Schmitz was a native of Milwaukee and a graduate of Marquette University. He received a master's degree in education from California State University at Long Beach. He was in the Marine Corps from 1952 to 1960, and he retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990.
He taught political science and philosophy at Santa Ana College from the 1960s until 1990.
He received his first brush with notoriety while lecturing at a Marine Corps base in California. A burly, mustachioed and commanding figure, he used only his voice to disarm a man who had stabbed a woman near the base. Rep. Schmitz received much positive publicity for his action to aid the woman, who died.
Because of his reputation as a family man, Rep. Schmitz was unable to politically survive the revelation in 1982 that he had a mistress then pregnant with his second child.
A sex scandal would touch on his life again in 1997, when his daughter Mary Kay LeTourneau, a married teacher in Washington state, was sent to jail for having a sexual relationship with a teenage student. After serving six months on a second-degree child rape charge, she became pregnant again by the same teenager and was sentenced to seven years in jail, where she remains.
Rep. Schmitz settled in Washington in the mid-1980s, eventually moving into a house once owned by his hero, Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.). He also lived in Washington, Va.
He worked part time at Political Americana, a political memorabilia store, in the early 1990s and since 1995 has been president of Chapelle Charlemagne, a family-owned vineyard in Flint Hill, Va.
Among his publications is the book "Stranger in the Arena: the Anatomy of an Amoral Decade, 1964 to 1974" (1974).
Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Mary
E. Suehr Schmitz of the District and Washington, Va.; LeTourneau and five
other children, John Patrick Schmitz of McLean, former deputy counsel to
President George Bush, Joseph E. Schmitz of Bethesda, Jerome T. Schmitz
of Mesa, Ariz., Theresa Manion of Front Royal, Va., and Elizabeth Crnkovich
of McLean; two brothers; three sisters; and 27 grandchildren. A son, Philip,
died in 1973.
SCHMITZ, John George, a Representative from
California; born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, August 12, 1930; graduated from
Marquette University High School, 1948; B.S., Marquette University, 1952;
M.A., California State College at Long Beach, 1960; served as a Marine
Corps jet fighter and helicopter pilot, 1952-1960; lieutenant colonel,
United States Marine Corps Reserve, 1960-1983; instructor in philosophy
and political science, Santa Ana (now Rancho Santiago) College, 1960 to
present; elected to the California State senate, 1964, reelected 1966;
elected as a Republican, by special election, June 30, 1970, to the Ninety-first
Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of James B. Utt; reelected
to the Ninety-second Congress and served from June 30, 1970, to January
3, 1973; unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1972 to the Ninety-third
Congress, but was American Party nominee for the presidency that year;
unsuccessful candidate for nomination in 1976 to the Ninety-fifth Congress;
member, California State senate, 1978-1982; is a