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Politics and Government

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder discusses her historic tenure, presidential run and more

The first congresswoman from Colorado weighs in on everything from women in politics to the end of bipartisanship in Washington

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Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder says American voters weren’t quite ready for a woman in the White House back when she ran for president in 1987, but she’s thrilled to see women becoming more politically powerful today.

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder

Schroeder, a Democrat who made history in 1972 as Colorado’s first woman elected to serve in Congress, also spoke about the end of bipartisanship in Washington, the right to bear a musket and tears on the campaign trail. She even joked about how letting the South secede might not be such a bad idea.

She talked about politics past and present Wednesday during two virtual events hosted by The University of Denver and The Colorado Sun.

Schroeder defeated a Republican incumbent in 1972 to represent Denver in the U.S. House, shocking the political establishment. She served for 24 years, championing the 1985 Military Family Act and 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act.

After her departure, Schroeder served over a decade as president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, fighting for strong copyright laws. Now 80, she lives in Florida and is on the board of the League of Women Voters. 

Here’s what she had to say.


Schroeder on running for Congress

“A lot of people say to me, ‘How in the world did you get elected in 1972, as a young mother with a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old?’ And my average campaign contribution was $7.50. That almost sounds like I was back with dinosaurs, right?”

“The way I made it was with this wonderful Fairness Doctrine, because there was always somebody on (TV) attacking me 24/7. And what I could do is then ask for equal time and say, “They said this about me, but let me tell you what I meant or let me tell you where I really am.’”

VIDEO: Watch a replay of former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder’s discussion of politics, Watergate and bipartisanship.

On coming into office

“When I first came in 1972, we had the Vietnam War going on. And when I went to the Nixon swearing in, there were National Guardsmen sleeping in all the tunnels. There were all the anti-war demonstrations going on. It was very, very tough. And then we also started with impeachment.”

On her 1987 presidential run

“I shed a few tears, and it was like the whole world exploded. ‘We can never have women again because they might shed tears, it’s gonna be awful.’ Well, you know, clearly, in 1987, they were not ready for a woman.”

“Being in the South, and being introduced by a Democratic chair of the state saying, ‘I like this woman, I would not mind having a woman for president.’ He said: ‘However, I do not want a man for First Lady.’ And (she says she thought) ‘Oh crap, now what am I gonna get up and say?’ So it was very clear: America was not ready.”

On Colorado politics and Lauren Boebert

“I think we’ve always been fiscally kind of conservative, but we have been very much about inclusivity, including people in everything.”

“I really am proud of Colorado, I think they’ve provided some great leadership, I mean, if we could figure out, there’s that one district on the Western Slope where we keep coming up with incredible individuals that I don’t know where they come from.”

Schroeder was referencing U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.

“You look at districts like that so often, and it’s amazing how much they need federal aid. And it’s amazing that very often the representatives aren’t doing a doggone thing that the district needs. You know, I used to sit there some days and say, ‘Why do we send all this money out to farmers, when the farmers can’t wait to vote against this and tell us how terrible we are?’”

“I don’t know whether they don’t know how the person votes or they really don’t care. And if they really don’t care, then I say, ‘Shut the money off. Who needs it?’”

“My son says, every now and then, ‘Maybe we should rethink the Civil War and just say to the South ‘go’,’ because the amount of money we pour into the South — we’re donor states. The northern states are all donor states to the South.”

On guns

“Well, I love that attorney in Boulder that put up the big signs that say, ‘You know, what if all our laws were frozen in 1791 when they wrote the Second Amendment?’ So what you’re talking about is we can’t do anything about guns because in 1791, they put in the Second Amendment. And we would never say that about anything else.”

“I’m good with everybody having a musket if they want it. I mean that’s when it was written. We have to look at these other things. To me there’s absolutely no reason we should have warfighting weapons.”

On bipartisanship in Congress

“The way we approached our job is entirely different than they do now. I could debate somebody on the war who was very different than my feelings about the war. I was like, ‘Well, they ought to come home.’ But they could say ‘No, they should stay.’ And then we could go to lunch together, and talk about other issues, or why we saw things differently, and on and on.

“And then in 1994, (Newt) Gingrich became the speaker and he changed the whole thing. … So rather than come back on the issue or why they thought that I was wrong, they come back and say, ‘No, you’re really a terrible person.’

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“And so after about one year of that, I came home and said to my husband, ‘You know, I feel like I’m in a junior high lunch room, having a good fight every single day. We’re getting nothing done.’ 

“So I decided I want to retire because I had enough of that.”

On being a woman in politics

“Remember when they shut the government down? It was women who got together and got it back going, again, even under the Republican administration. And they wanted to shut it down and show us all, these tough guys. And it was women who got back together, bless their hearts. But the women paid a high price for that. The Republicans were very tough on them. They haven’t given them chairmanships, they’ve ignored them.” 

“I think it is harder to get women to run.”

“I’ve seen women rising up. I thought the women’s marches that were going on are very interesting. Now I’ve seen women here who decided they’re going to organize their area. My area (in Florida) had never voted blue, and it did vote blue this time, because women are organized and they literally, during COVID, went door to door and said, ‘Look, Let me tell you, A-B-C-D.’”

On civics

“One of the things that I read last week that scares me to death is three-fourths of Americans don’t know what the three branches of government are.”

“I honestly worry that civics is hardly being taught anymore. You know, we started all the testing, and everybody starts teaching to the test, and the test isn’t about civics. Maybe we should be giving people that citizenship test, because most Americans who were born here could not pass the citizenship test.”

On money in politics

“My last two years, a freshman (congressman) sat down next to me and he said to me, ‘Can I ask a personal question?’ I said sure. He said, ‘How do you spend your salary.’ I said well I have two going to college. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I didn’t know you were one of those.’

“And I said, “Okay, well how do you spend your salary?” And he said, “I’m thinking about putting in a flower fund, so I would have money for flowers for people for funerals.’ Ha, OK. And if you look at it every year, there’s more and more millionaires and billionaires.”

“I’m so radical I wouldn’t have people take money from people out of their state. If you’re representing Colorado, why are you taking money from Pennsylvania, or somewhere else?”

On where she lives now

“I am in Florida, which is probably America’s insane asylum for politics right now.”

“One of the things that bugged me is nobody knows how anybody (in the legislature) votes in Florida. They all go to Tallahassee, which could be out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And if you look at a lot of states, their states are the same way. Their state capitals are way far away.”

“And the lobbyists control, totally. I mean the lobbyists are the ones that are there 24/7 — big, high-rolling lobbyists.”

“Now one of the other Floridians that you may have read about recently, who’s been in the news, is Representative (Matt) Gaetz. He has been in Congress for four years. He’s been on Fox News over 172 times, He’s not had one bill passed, and the main bill he introduced was to change the name of a post office in this district, but he hasn’t even been able to get that passed.”

“To him what’s important is to be out there and be on TV and to be you know, doing all these things. And I think, I’m not so sure the forefathers would agree with him.”

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