John G. Schmitz, 70, a California Republican and former official with the ultraconservative John Birch Society who represented Orange County in the U.S. House of Representatives and received bursts of media attention for decades because of his quips and sound bites, died Jan. 10 at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He had cancer.
Rep. Schmitz, a former Marine Corps jet fighter and helicopter pilot, served in the California Senate from 1964 to 1970 and from 1978 to 1982. In 1970, with the backing of prominent conservatives, he won a special election to succeed Rep. James B. Utt (R), who died in office. He served in the U.S. House until 1973.
Rep. Schmitz was known for his stridently conservative opinions, which often garnered negative press. His views won him the 1972 presidential nomination of the American Independent Party, an organization started by Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, and he received more than a million votes. He quit the party in 1973.
He frequently made intemperate remarks about minorities, gay people and others whose political beliefs were anathema to him. He once called abortion rights activist Gloria Allred a "slick butch lawyeress"; the married Allred sued and won a $20,000 settlement and a public apology.
In 1972, the ardently anti-communist congressman angered President Richard M. Nixon by saying of the president's groundbreaking trip to China: "I have no objection to President Nixon going to China. I just object to his coming back."
Over time, he lost the support of the John Birch Society, which found him too conservative and dismissed him from its national council in 1982. Earlier, he had said he joined the society "to do something to get the middle-of-the-road vote in Orange County."
John George Schmitz was a native of Milwaukee and a graduate of Marquette University. He received a master's degree in education from California State University at Long Beach. He was in the Marine Corps from 1952 to 1960, and he retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990.
He taught political science and philosophy at Santa Ana College from the 1960s until 1990.
He received his first brush with notoriety while lecturing at a Marine Corps base in California. A burly, mustachioed and commanding figure, he used only his voice to disarm a man who had stabbed a woman near the base. Rep. Schmitz received much positive publicity for his action to aid the woman, who died.
Because of his reputation as a family man, Rep. Schmitz was unable to politically survive the revelation in 1982 that he had a mistress then pregnant with his second child.
A sex scandal would touch on his life again in 1997, when his daughter Mary Kay LeTourneau, a married teacher in Washington state, was sent to jail for having a sexual relationship with a teenage student. After serving six months on a second-degree child rape charge, she became pregnant again by the same teenager and was sentenced to seven years in jail, where she remains.
Rep. Schmitz settled in Washington in the mid-1980s, eventually moving into a house once owned by his hero, Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.). He also lived in Washington, Va.
He worked part time at Political Americana, a political memorabilia store, in the early 1990s and since 1995 has been president of Chapelle Charlemagne, a family-owned vineyard in Flint Hill, Va.
Among his publications is the book "Stranger in the Arena: the Anatomy of an Amoral Decade, 1964 to 1974" (1974).
Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Mary E. Suehr Schmitz of the District and Washington, Va.; LeTourneau and five other children, John Patrick Schmitz of McLean, former deputy counsel to President George Bush, Joseph E. Schmitz of Bethesda, Jerome T. Schmitz of Mesa, Ariz., Theresa Manion of Front Royal, Va., and Elizabeth Crnkovich of McLean; two brothers; three sisters; and 27 grandchildren. A son, Philip, died in 1973.