Illustration by Bob AulIt's tough to decide whether the life of Orange County Congressman John Schmitz was more Greek tragedy or Shakespearean farce.
Schmitz died of cancer in January. Though an OC native, he'd been making his home in Virginia since being driven from political life. He was 70 when he died, and we are poorer without him.
The scandal that precipitated his fall is easily one of the greatest in county history: it was revealed that the rabid right-wing, family-values congressman loved families so much he had two of them. This was not some venal little scandal of bribes (see ex-Santa Ana City Councilman Ted Moreno) or other conflicts of interest (see Huntington Beach Councilman Dave Garofalo). This was an honest-to-God freak show. Can you imagine if in addition to her class-eeOval Office trysts, Monica Lewinsky had secretly borne Bill Clinton two children? Schmitz, in addition to the six kids he inflicted on his long-suffering, drill-tongued wife, had two more with one of his students at Santa Ana College. One of the legitimati grew up to be none other than Seattle schoolteacher-turned-convicted-child-rapist Mary Kay LeTourneau (who, you will remember, carried on the family tradition and bore her adolescent student two children). LeTourneau's story so gripped the USA that our national network--the USA Network--turned it into a surprisingly good TV movie, The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story: All-American Girl, starring Penelope Ann Miller as the 35-year-old teacher and Omar Anguiano as her 13-year-old love interest.
Whether tragedy or farce, her father's life never got the screen treatment. But that life was never, ever dull. Schmitz took the bland suburban scene of 1970s Orange County and livelied it up like a Bob Marley concert--without the black people, of course. Schmitz would have had some choice words to say about any black people who dared invade his pristine homeland. Schmitz once said he "would have voted for a three-tier system--have one school that the blacks could go to, one school that all the whites could go to, and those who want to mix go to a third school." (He also said, "Jews are like everybody else, only more so." Come on! That's hella funny!)
Schmitz was an OJB, an Original John Bircher, and the kind of blunt-speaking White Man OC has not lived down even decades later. "I may not be Hispanic," he once joked, "but I'm close: I'm Catholic with a mustache." He paved the way for looney birds like Bob Dornan (whom we also still haven't lived down). He ran for president once, losing by Ralph Nader-style margins. He ran for the U.S. Senate, too. And, um, didn't win. Perhaps it was the little mustache; Americans only forgive such mustaches on Walt Disney and the Village People.
Schmitz was censured by the state Senate when his aide wrote a press release calling Gloria Allred "a slick, butch lawyeress" and described pro-choice supporters as "a sea of hard, Jewish and (arguably) female faces." The headline at the top of the press release? "Senator Schmitz and His Committee Survive 'Attack of the Bulldykes.'" Bob Dornan himself practically plagiarized the Schmitz staffer when he called a Republican opponent's supporters "lesbian spearchuckers."
Allred, as is her wont, sued, and Schmitz apologized--a rare, rare thing. But, really, who is Gloria Allred to cage such a marvelous voice--a voice that should have rung free and wack for eternity?
We miss you, congressman. But we know you're in a better place, wearing that brown shirt up in heaven.