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Know the West

Pat Schroeder: Tougher than Teflon

  Colorado can be proud of sending Democrat Patricia Schroeder to the House of Representatives in 1972. There, she battled the Old Boy network with wit and, more important, grit. Two years ago she retired, and now she's published a book, 24 Years of House Work ... and the Place is Still a Mess: My Life in Politics. As always, she doesn't mince words. Here's Schroeder's account of sharing one chair - literally - with California Democrat Ron Dellums while serving on the House Armed Services Committee. Chairman F. Edward Hébert of Louisiana didn't like uppity newcomers, especially a woman and a black man, and he wouldn't sanction the extra chair.

Schroeder recalls: "Shortly after I was appointed, I tried to come to some sort of truce with Hébert. I paid a call on him at his office. He was the only congressman with a patio entrance and a seven-room suite including an "adultery" room with nude paintings, a bar, a couch and no windows." Schroeder says there were hundreds of pictures of Hébert in his office. "He was an ego run amok. He had long ago lost all sense of the Armed Services Committee as a democratically run body. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," he told me. "And here, I am the Lord." "

Schroeder says that as a naive first-termer she thought the Constitution's system of checks and balances worked. When she found it didn't, she understood she had nothing to gain by acting demure. She did her homework, and challenged the country's military-industrial complex. Though she may have failed at running for the U.S. presidency, Schroeder succeeded admirably as a fighter for women and families, as well as for the democratic process.

*Betsy Marston