In This Oregon Congressional District, Every Representative Gets Divorced

Call it the Curse of the Fifth.

By Ramona DeNies January 29, 2019 Published in the February 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Lars Leetaru

Maybe you recall Sen. Lindsey Graham’s red-faced spiel on national television back in September—the one where the famous bachelor wedged a sort of “hey, ladies” into his defense of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

It threw a few people: that apropos-of-nothing reminder that members of Congress can be single. (Around 18 percent of the House and 8 percent of the Senate is unmarried.) It’s true: American voters want their congressfolk hitched. Could it be because we care about their emotional well-being? (Nope.) Perhaps we’re worried that precious taxpayer time might be spent on Tinder. Or maybe we just prefer to view our reps as sexless legislating machines.

But for one Willamette Valley–straddling ward, nuptials don’t stand a chance. In the entire history of Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District—it’s the state’s newest, so just 37 years—all five elected representatives divorced while in office.

Call it the Curse of the Fifth. It started back in 1986, with the divorce of Denny Smith, a loose-cannon Republican who all but broadcast the end of his second marriage while campaigning for reelection, announcing to a crowd that if elected, wife Kathleen would be staying put in Salem. (“That’s the first time I’d heard that,” Kathleen later told the Register-Guard.) A Smith aide at the time was current Congressperson Greg Walden, today safely repping Oregon’s Second; Walden’s then-four-year marriage is still going strong. Mike Kopetski, the Democrat who defeated Smith in 1990, voluntarily left after two terms ... and a crumbling marriage. (A drunk driving arrest probably didn’t help.)

Then, in 1995, newly elected Republican representative Jim Bunn left his wife for his own chief of staff. Bunn lost his 1996 reelection bid to Democrat Darlene Hooley, who managed to hold on to the office for six terms, despite her own marriage dissolving halfway through her first term.

In November, veterinarian Kurt Schrader won reelection to his sixth term. True to the purplish hue of his district, the Dem ran a centrist campaign (forest management, ending “gridlock” and red tape) and loudly advocated against Nancy Pelosi’s House Speaker bid. (He voted for Marcia Fudge instead.) Something Schrader doesn’t talk about? His 2011 divorce and 2016 remarriage. (“The Congressman does not discuss his family publicly,” a Schrader spokesperson told Portland Monthly this past fall.)

“I know they call it a curse,” says Martha Schrader, a three-term Clackamas County commissioner and the congressman’s first wife. “But I wouldn’t say it’s the district—it’s just Congress that’s hard on relationships. I feel sad that our marriage didn’t survive it. I’m hopeful when Kurt retires, the next person elected stays married.”

Regardless of who follows Schrader, there’s the possible addition of a new district after the 2020 US Census. Political marriages in that newly consecrated Sixth District, now—totally gonna last forever.

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