GOP's Unlucky Class of '94

Cnet 2010 Holiday Gift Guide - Tablets - Apple iPad (16GB, 3G) CBS

The sex scandals that have tarnished Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) don't appear to have much in common. Yet there is one thread that binds them together: Both Ensign and Sanford were members of the famed Republican House class of 1994, as well as its latest casualties.

As it turns out, the pressures and demands of political life have inflicted devastating damage not only on the Ensign and Sanford families, but on the families of many of the 71 other freshmen who formed the vanguard of the Republican Revolution.

In the 14 years since that star-crossed class arrived in Washington espousing an agenda that placed family values at its core, no less than a dozen of its members have been caught up in affairs, sex scandals or in messy separations and divorces from their spouses that, in more than a few instances, led to their political downfalls.

The problems started almost as soon as they took office, and by the end of their first year in Congress, the marriages of at least four Republican freshmen had collapsed.

One of the first to see his marriage unravel was Rep. Jim Bunn (R-Ore.) who, not long after taking office in 1995, divorced his wife, married one of his political aides, and later elevated her to chief of staff. Bunn lost his 1996 reelection bid.

Rep. Enid Greene, who became the first female member of Congress from Utah in 1994, spent most of her single term in the House dealing with a scandal of her husband's making. Joe Waldholtz, who married Greene in 1993, embezzled millions of dollars that he used to help finance her campaign. Once authorities finally caught up with Waldholtz, Greene filed for divorce and took custody of the couple's daughter. She did not run for reelection in 1996.

Former Rep. Jon Christensen (R-Neb.) was another high-profile casualty-he divorced his wife during his first term after she admitted to marital infidelity.

All of this came despite an acknowledgment at the start of the 104th Congress that the grueling pace of work in Washington could tear families apart. Then-newly-installed House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who later got divorced for a second time in 2000, even warned as much.

And Gingrich pledged to do something about it, setting up a bipartisan task force, the Family Quality of Life Advisory Committee, to rethink the congressional work-life balance.

"We have established the principle that we are going to set schedules we stick to so families can count on time to be together, built around school schedules so that families can get to know each other, and not just by seeing us on C-SPAN," Gingrich said in a speech at the opening of the 104th Congress on Jan. 4, 1995.

Several Republican members of the class said the ambitious push to enact the provisions of the Contract with America, coupled with the stresses of being a new member of Congress took a heavy toll on their personal lives.

Mark Neumann, a Wisconsin Republican who was elected to the first of two House terms in 1994, said that when he came to Washington, he initially had trouble balancing congressional duties with his responsibilities as a husband and father.

"It was extremely intense and there was a lot of pressure," said Neumann, who announced Wednesday he's running for governor in 2010. "The whole concept of being away from home and family was certainly difficult to adjust to. I'd never been away from my wife for more than a day at a time until then."

Neumann said he and his wife, Susan, eventually found ways to cope. They began to set aside a few days a month for family time - he called them "Green Days" - when he would keep official events off his calendar.

Even lawmakers without families recalled that it was difficult to cope, especially in the first 100 days. Michael Flanagan, an Illinois Republican who was a bachelor when he was elected in 1994, said if he had a wife during his first term, "I would have been divorced within a year."

"I've always maintained that members of Congress have a wonderful job and perfectly horrible lives," he said in an interview. "Your life is destroyed because you work for 750,000 people who generally don't care that you have a personal life."

Flanagan lost his bid for reelection in 1996 but for many of those who held their seats, things didn't get any better after the first two years.

Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) got divorced in 1999. Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and his wife Susan divorced after she accused him of having an affair with his former chief of staff, who he later married.

The GOP Senate Class of 1994 was not immune from family break-up either--Rod Grams, a conservative former House member, split up with his wife in 1996 and went on to marry a member of his staff. The well-publicized divorce was a significant factor in his 2000 re-election defeat.

Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who resigned his seat in 2006, was in a class by himself-he was forced to step down after becoming embroiled in a controversy involving sexually-explicit messages he sent to young Capitol Hill pages.

Democrats, some of whom privately referred to the mid-1990s rumors of infidelity and marital discord as "Fornigate," view the collateral family damage as the height of hypocrisy.

"They all came to town on this great family values train with Newt Gingrich as the engineer," recalled former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.). "Then it all started crumbling. It seemed like the louder they talked the more divorces they got."

Unlike other freshman classes, this one "came in high and mighty," Schroeder added, a consequence of the dramatic shift in the balance of power in Washington.

"They drank the Kool-Aid and believed their own press," she said. "Maybe they just thought 'I'm a much bigger deal than my family now.'"

Linda Killian, author of a book about the 1994 Republican class called, "The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution?" said the disconnect between the family values message the freshmen espoused and their messy personal lives has become all too glaring over the years.

"They came in with such high ambition and on such a self-proclaimed moral high ground," Killian said. "Especially for guys who professed that they were setting a higher standard, they failed at the benchmark they set for themselves."

Indeed, a decade-and-a-half later, some of their statements seem naïve-or just plain ironic. In a 1998 interview with Congressional Quarterly, Sanford and his wife, Jenny, spoke candidly about how serving in Congress was "not an ideal lifestyle," as Jenny put it at the time.

"Just look at the divorce rate of our class," then-Rep. Mark Sanford told CQ. "We're not exactly bettering the national average."
By Michael Falcone
  • Prerana Swami

Comments