Fiery O.C. Ultraconservative Schmitz Dies


John G. Schmitz, the ultraconservative Orange County politician whose fiery rhetoric and flamboyant antics defined right-wing Southern California Republicanism for nearly two decades, died Wednesday. He was 70.

“Congressman John G. Schmitz played a significant role as a state senator and a member of the House of Representatives during a very colorful era of politics in the Orange County community,” Thomas A. Fuentes, Orange County Republican Party chairman, said in a statement released late Wednesday. “His sense of humor, intelligence and enthusiasm will long be remembered by his Orange County friends.”

Schmitz, who associates said had been suffering from cancer for some time, died about 1:45 p.m. in Washington, D.C., where he had lived for many years, according to a statement from the local party.


Schmitz led a colorful life during his political career, which ended in scandal when it was divulged that he had a mistress who bore two of his children. Years later, his daughter was also embroiled in scandal when she was convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student.

Schmitz first made the headlines in 1962 while stationed at El Toro as a Marine officer teaching other Marines about the dangers of Communism. Using nothing more than the sheer authority of his voice, he disarmed an assailant who was stabbing a woman by the roadside near the Marine Corps base. Although the woman died, Schmitz’s reputation as a hero--and the roots of his political career--were made.

The next time his picture was on the front page was in 1964 as Orange County’s newest Republican state senator, a position to which he was reelected in 1966.

By then, Schmitz had attracted the support of such wealthy conservatives as fast-food magnate Carl Karcher, sporting goods heir Willard Voit and San Juan Capistrano rancher Tom Rogers. So when the county’s longtime conservative Rep. James B. Utt died and local Republicans needed a successor, Schmitz--by then a national director of the ultraconservative John Birch Society--was a natural choice.

Using such slogans as “When you’re out of Schmitz, you’re out of gear,” a parody of a well-known Schlitz beer commercial, the Wisconsin native who had grown up scrubbing beer vats won easy election in 1970 and moved his family to Washington.

Schmitz soon established himself as one of the country’s most right-wing and outspoken congressmen and just as quickly enraged his most famous constituent, part-time San Clemente resident President Richard Nixon.

Of Nixon’s historic visit to China, Schmitz, whose political hero was Sen. Joseph McCarthy and who considered the visit a sellout, quipped, “I have no objection to President Nixon going to China. I just object to his coming back.”

The congressman’s fellow Birchers laughed, but the president was not amused. By election day, neither was Schmitz, who lost his seat to a more moderate candidate.

But his political career was far from over. In 1972, after Alabama Gov. George Wallace was seriously wounded when shot by a would-be assassin while campaigning for president, Schmitz was drafted by Wallace’s American Independent Party to run against Nixon. He collected more than a million votes but lost much of his longtime Orange County support.

“He was operating on a higher level of politics than any of us had the guts for,” recalled former Schmitz campaign treasurer Tom Rogers. “His philosophy was unbending, even for his fellow Republicans, and he never doubted his own abilities and was never humble . . . until it was too late.”

In 1978, Schmitz won a second state Senate seat, representing Newport Beach as a Republican. By then, though, caustic remarks about Jews (“Jews are like everybody else, only more so”), Latinos (“I may not be Hispanic, but I’m close. I’m Catholic with a mustache”) and blacks (“Martin Luther King is a notorious liar”) had grown so outrageous that he was beginning to lose the support of even the John Birch Society, which eventually dumped him.

He also got into trouble with feminist attorney Gloria Allred after criticizing her support of abortion rights by calling her a “slick, butch lawyeress.” A lawsuit she filed resulted in a $20,000 judgment against him and a public apology. Schmitz drew fire as well by issuing a press release referring to the audience at a series of hearings he chaired on abortion as consisting of “hard, Jewish and (arguably) female faces.”

But the scandal that ultimately brought his downfall was the 1982 revelation that the politician who so loudly espoused family values also had a secret life that included a pregnant mistress and a 15-month-old son. “It was an unimaginable shock,” Santa Ana lobbyist and former Schmitz aide Randy Smith later told The Times. “It was simply unbelievable.”

When Schmitz’s mistress, a 43-year-old German immigrant, was charged with neglecting their son, the former congressman stepped forward to defend her and to identify himself as the father. Although the neglect case was eventually dropped, the damage to Schmitz’s political career was permanent.

Schmitz moved back to Washington, where he purchased a house once owned by McCarthy, and worked part time at Political Americana, a memorabilia store in Union Station.

But there was to be yet another scandal involving his family. In 1997, Schmitz’s 35-year-old daughter, Mary Kay LeTourneau, a teacher in Washington state at the time, was convicted of carrying on a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student whose child she ultimately bore. LeTourneau, married and the mother of four children when she became pregnant by the boy, served a six-month jail sentence in 1997 after pleading guilty to second-degree child rape. After her release on probation, she became pregnant by the teen a second time, drawing a seven-year prison term which she is still serving.

Schmitz is to be buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.


Times staff writers David Reyes and Nancy Wride and correspondent Pamela Warrick contributed to this report.