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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 seek re-election.

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 marriages.

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 home.

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 said coolly.

© 1998 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
In CQ News This Week

Saturday Jan. 24, 1998

Support for Iran Sanctions Bill Still Runs Strong in Senate
Rebels of '94 and 'Watergate Babies' Similar In Class Size, Sense of Zeal
For Democratic Freshmen, a Tough Start
Firebrand GOP Class Of '94 Warms To Life On The Inside
Heavy Workload Exacted A Toll
Politically Charged Task Faces Gambling Panel
Rostenkowski Hopes To Set Forth On the Road to Redemption
Ready Opposition to Tax Overhaul Means No Chance for Quick Fix
Winners, Losers And Big Problems With Either Tax Overhaul Plan

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