Heavy Workload Exacted A Toll
By Carroll Doherty, CQ Staff Writer
Like a band of modern-day crusaders, the Republican Class of 1994
arrived in Washington bristling with righteous indignation, determined to
reform a city that most believed had long ago lost its moral bearings.
But just three years later, several of the former freshmen have
themselves endured painful marital breakups and embarrassing ethical
stumbles. The class that once confidently lectured Washington on family
values has compiled enough tawdry personal tales to fill an episode or two
of the "Jerry Springer Show."
"Just look at the divorce rate of our class," South Carolina's Mark
Sanford said with a sigh. "We're not exactly bettering the national
average." Of the 73 original members of the class, six have since divorced
or begun divorce proceedings.
Jon Christensen of Nebraska, who is now running for governor, went
through a messy and widely publicized divorce during which his former wife
admitted she had been unfaithful. Rick White of Washington -- who made his
marriage and family life a centerpiece of his 1994 campaign against
unmarried Democrat Maria Cantwell -- is divorcing his wife of 15 years.
Scandals have already cut short the congressional careers of a number
of class members. Utah's Enid Greene (formerly Enid Greene Waldholtz) had
her once-bright political future scuttled by a fundraising scam engineered
by her husband, Joseph P. Waldholtz, whom she divorced. He ended up going
to jail, while Greene, who insisted she knew nothing of the scheme, did not
Oregon's Wes Cooley was doomed by revelations he had lied about serving
in the Korean War. The hot-tempered Cooley added to his woes when he
threatened to punch a pregnant reporter. Under pressure from state GOP
leaders, he decided not to seek re-election.
Jim Bunn, also from Oregon, was defeated for re-election in 1996, in
large part because he married his chief of staff less than a year after
divorcing his first wife.
Taking a Toll
It does not take a psychiatrist or a minister to diagnose the factors
behind the divorce boomlet. Political life is notoriously tough on
Newcomers to Congress often cannot afford to bring their families
along. But even if they could have, many in the Class of '94 left wives and
children behind to make the political point that Washington was not their
Aside from the strain imposed by physical separation, first-time
lawmakers can easily become seduced by the trappings of power and their
newfound celebrity status. "It can be very intoxicating," said Steve
Largent of Oklahoma, a former football star.
The congressional work schedule did not foster family togetherness. The
Class of '94 had a brutal workload, especially early on, because of House
Speaker Newt Gingrich's vow to move the GOP's ambitious legislative agenda
-- the "Contract With America" -- through the House within the first 100
days of the session.
Even before they learned their way around, the freshmen were thrown
into a maelstrom in which 14-hour work days seemed almost routine. Former
Rep. Robert S. Walker of Pennsylvania, then one of Gingrich's top
lieutenants, conceded that the leadership badly underestimated the impact
the 100-day timetable would have on the newcomers' family lives. "It put
pressure on them that other classes have not felt," Walker said.
Sanford and his wife, Jenny, who have three young boys, acknowledged
that his election put strains on their marriage. "It's not an ideal
lifestyle," said Jenny Sanford.
One of their biggest challenges was coping with Jenny Sanford's changed
role. She had managed her husband's first campaign, but his election
fundamentally altered their political partnership. "You go from doing
everything together," he said, to a situation where "there's only one
person in the paper."
To maintain a psychological distance from Washington, Sanford commutes
weekly to the capital when the House is in session. He has never rented an
apartment in Washington -- he sleeps on a futon in his office. During the
weekdays he is away, his wife handles the home front. "You end up leading
very separate lives," she said.
Other members of the Class of '94 insist that, after that difficult
first year, things have settled down somewhat. "The first year was so bad
that anything would look better," said Zach Wamp of Tennessee.
Wamp said he had succeeded in modifying his schedule to make more time
for his wife and two children. "I'm head coach of my son's basketball
team," he noted proudly. Wamp, who promised to limit himself to 12 years in
office, doubted during his first year whether he could last that long. "Now
we're thinking of going the distance," he said.
The Sanfords, by contrast, seem relieved that the congressman will stay
only half that long as part of his promise to be a "citizen-legislator."
"He's not the only one in this family who's for term limits," Jenny Sanford
© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.