Former Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, at age 32, was the first woman from Colorado elected to Congress. She was re-elected 11 times, served as a Representative to the U.S. House for 24 years (from 1973 – 1997), and was a presidential candidate in 1987. She recently visited Denver for the dedication of the Pat Schroeder Visitor Center at the Wildlife Refuge (see story on page 6), and shared her thoughts about her experiences in Washington and about politics today.
On Washington today: “Only three things are working in Washington today: the Supreme Court (Dammit, they’re politicized but at least they’re cranking stuff out), the Federal Reserve, and the Pentagon.”
On Washington then: When Schroeder started in Congress, the two parties used to have debates, “then we’d go to coffee and talk about our kids. A lot of the reason I quit was in 1994 when Gringrich took over the whole tone changed. His whole premise was you personalize everything. I felt like I was in a junior high lunchroom food fight and you clean up and go back and do it again, so I said I wasn’t going to do it.”
Hillary’s presidential bid: “I’m all for Hillary. There is absolutely no one who’s got the experience or the gravitas she’s got. We’re in such a complex international world right now that we desperately need somebody who knows the world players and knows what’s going on. Tragically, most Americans get a surgeon or anybody else they want, who’s had experience—and then when it comes to Congress and the presidency they want somebody who doesn’t know anything. I’m not at all upset about having that big dog [Bill Clinton] live with her too.”
On electing a woman for president: “I think there is still a barrier for a woman getting the votes. It’s better than when I ran for president, but the question you ask is not whether you would vote for a woman for president, but whether you have friends who would?
I think Obama is facing racism up and down. I look at the Obama family and there has probably never been a more model family in the White House. I think they’ll be after Hillary all the time, but I think honestly she can handle it.”
The tough stuff: Schroeder acknowledges that negative incidents go with the territory. “My favorite was someone sent me a giant sculpture, and it was a tree that had me hanging from it. We have had a lot of tough stuff. We had windows broken. The KKK came after us.”
The funniest: “They went nuts on the bunny suit. In Washington they have the Cherry Blossom Festival. They rotate around which delegation gets to pick the princess. So I picked this wonderful young woman I had known for a long time in Denver. I get there and they say, ‘You can’t escort her because women can’t escort.’ I thought, ‘Well, I’ll have to ask a man to escort her’—and I rented a (male) rabbit suit so I could escort her.
“My friend, who had been the head of the UAW, was head of the American delegation in China. He heard about the rabbit suit and said, ‘Please bring it over,’ because we were going over for Easter. He said, ‘I’m having an Easter party and it’s impossible to get anything Easter over here.’ I think I had a picture with every American kid who was in China. Somehow they came out and said I was wearing it on the Great Wall of China and wearing it to the Ming tombs. I got off the plane and they said, ‘Where’s the rabbit suit?’”