SCHMIDT, Jean

SCHMIDT, Jean
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1951–

Biography

In 2005 Jean Schmidt, a former Ohio state lawmaker from the Cincinnati region, won a special election to the United States House. An outspoken abortion opponent who grew up around car racing and would go on to win several competitive re-elections, Schmidt summed up her work-first ethos for reporters after winning her first House race: “I’d rather smell ethanol than Chanel No. 5.”1

Jean Schmidt was born Jeannette (Jean) Hoffman on November 29, 1951, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is one of four children, along with a twin sister and two older brothers, born to Gus and Jeannette Hoffman. Schmidt spent her early years on the family farm in Clermont County where her father operated a savings and loan and also owned a sprint car racing team. While her family had a history supporting the Democratic Party, Schmidt identified with arguments made by Republican Richard M. Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign. She earned a BA in political science from the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1974.2

During college, Schmidt worked in her father’s savings and loan company, where she was employed as a branch manager until 1978. She also worked as a fitness instructor and a teacher. She married Peter Schmidt, a financial adviser with whom she has one daughter, Emilie. Schmidt began running daily after giving birth, having read that it helped mothers fight postpartum depression. Schmidt ran her first marathon in 1990 and, over the course of the next two decades, completed a total of 97 marathons.3

In 1989 Schmidt won election as one of two trustees for Miami Township, Ohio, finishing first of three candidates. During the next 11 years, she administered a budget of $17 million and helped build a new park. In 2000 Schmidt easily won election as a Republican to the Ohio state house of representatives from Miami Township. In the state house, Schmidt worked to make it easier for judges to sentence murderers who plead guilty to life without parole. In 2004 Schmidt decided not to seek re-election to a third term in the state house and ran instead for a vacant state senate seat. After a grueling GOP primary against a fellow state representative, Schmidt lost by only 22 votes.4 Afterward, Schmidt, who opposed abortion and the death penalty in all cases, became president of the anti-abortion Right to Life group in Cincinnati.5

In March 2005, President George W. Bush chose Ohio Representative Robert Jones (Rob) Portman as his United States Trade Representative. Schmidt took her daughter’s advice and announced her candidacy for Portman’s vacant seat in the House.6 Several other prominent Ohio Republicans entered the race, including former Congressman Bob McEwen and Pat DeWine, son of Ohio Senator Michael DeWine. Schmidt ran on her conservative record in the state legislature and won the primary with 31 percent of the vote.7 She then faced Iraq War veteran and former Marine Corps Major Paul Hackett III in the special election. For a conservative district—which voted for Bush’s re-election in 2004 by 64 percent—the election was unexpectedly close. After receiving national attention, Schmidt narrowly defeated Hackett with 52 percent of the vote in the August 2, 2005, special election.8

A month later, Schmidt was sworn into the 109th Congress (2005–2007) and received assignments on three committees: Agriculture; Government Reform; and Transportation and Infrastructure. Schmidt remained on the Agriculture and the Transportation Committees throughout her tenure but left the Government Reform Committee at the end of her first term. She was later appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee for the 112th Congress (2011–2013).9

Schmidt gained national attention during her truncated first term for a controversial speech defending the Iraq War on the House Floor. She quickly asked that her words be withdrawn from the Congressional Record, but reaction was loud and polarized. Her supporters touted what they saw as toughness, and Schmidt embraced the characterization. “You have to be [tough] in this environment,” she said. “Politics is not for the faint of heart.”10

Schmidt won a close re-election to a full term in the 110th Congress (2007–2009) during a mid-term cycle that saw Democrats take back the House majority. Schmidt won the GOP primary rematch against former Congressman McEwen before eking out a one-point win in the general election against Democrat Victoria Wulsin.11

In 2008 Schmidt had an easier time, and won reelection by seven percent.12 But that year David Krikorian, who had run against Schmidt as an Independent, accused the Congresswoman of taking money from the Turkish government to promote the denial of the Armenian genocide during World War I. Schmidt sued Krikorian before the Ohio elections commission over false statements. When the commission ruled against Krikorian, he appealed to the Ohio supreme court and sued the commission in federal court. In all these lawsuits, Schmidt was represented by lawyers from the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund (TALDF). Krikorian also filed a complaint against Schmidt with the Office of Congressional Ethics. Its findings led to an Ethics Committee investigation which revealed that TALDF had no intention of ever charging Schmidt for their legal work, estimated at $500,000. The Ethics Committee issued its report in August 2011 finding that Schmidt had violated House Rules by having benefitted from free legal services but had done so unknowingly. As a result, Schmidt was obligated to compensate TALDF, but the House took no other action.13

From her seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Schmidt worked to strengthen America’s levee systems and sought requirements for airlines that fly internationally to disclose why and how flights get delayed.14 Schmidt also supported President Bush’s tax cuts and submitted the FARA Sunshine Act to make public information available on foreign lobbyists and foreign agents in the United States.15 She garnered acclaim back home for her work with small businesses, and submitted bills to reduce fees and tariffs on materials important to businesses in her district.16 “Schmidt,” the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote in its endorsement of her in 2006, “has quietly been establishing herself as a working Congresswoman, becoming more focused on a range of serious issues.”17

Schmidt also offered legislation creating new services and programs for parents who place a child up for adoption, as well as for the adopting parents. Her Birthparent Assistance Act of 2008 called on the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create counseling services and establish a national help hotline for the birthparents of children up for adoption. Similarly, her Birthmother Assistance Act of 2008 created new tax credits for both the birthmother of an adopted child, as well as the parents who adopt that child. She reintroduced both bills in the 111th Congress.18

While in the minority, Schmidt focused on serving her constituents and fighting Democratic proposals for comprehensive health care reform, voting against the Affordable Care Act in the spring of 2010.19 A few months later, during the 2010 midterm elections in which Republicans flipped more than 60 seats in the House to take back the majority, Schmidt defeated Democratic challenger Surya Yalamanchili with 23 percent of the vote.20 In the majority, Schmidt worked to help her party repeal the Affordable Care Act. When the Supreme Court upheld much of the law in 2012, she insisted, “That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”21

In 2012 Schmidt faced Brad Wenstrup in the GOP primary. Wenstrup, a business owner and former combat surgeon, had the backing of the small government Tea Party movement. He singled out Schmidt’s votes to raise the debt ceiling and had the backing of a powerful antiincumbent political action committee.22 Schmidt, who had spent the day before the primary election attending a House Republican Conference meeting and casting votes on the House Floor, lost to Wenstrup, 49 to 43 percent. Wenstrup went on to win the general election.23

The controversy from Schmidt’s 2008 election continued to follow her. Eventually the Federal Election Commission conducted its own investigation into the TALDF matter, finding in June 2016 that Schmidt had violated federal campaign laws and fined her $2,500 for not reporting TALDF’s legal assistance; the Turkish Coalition of America Inc., the parent organization of TALDF, was fined $25,000.24

After leaving the House, Schmidt focused on running and teaching, and became an advocate for prison sentencing reform. In November 2020, Jean Schmidt won election to return to the Ohio state house of representatives.25

Footnotes

1Howard Wilkinson, “A Pair of Fighters,” 24 July 2005, Cincinnati Enquirer: E1.

2Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2011): 762; “Jean Schmidt,” Center for Women and Politics of Ohio, Baldwin Wallace University, accessed 5 November 2019, https://www.bw.edu/centers/women-and-politics-of-ohio/bios/07-schmidt-jean.

3Erin Mershon, “Schmidt Finds Strength in Running,” 25 April 2011, Roll Call: n.p; “About Congresswoman Jean Schmidt,” official website of Representative Jean Schmidt, 11 December 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20121211221228/http://schmidt.house.gov/about-me/full-biography.

4Wilkinson, “A Pair of Fighters.”

5Politics in America, 2012: 761.

6Wilkinson, “A Pair of Fighters.”

7Jack Torry, “DeWine No Shoo-in to Fill House Seat,” 11 June 2005, Columbus Dispatch: A3; Gregory L. Giroux, “Schmidt Beats Bigger-Name Candidates With Decisive Win in Ohio GOP Primary,” 14 June 2005, Congressional Quarterly Today: n.p.

8Lauren W. Whittington, “A Politician Used to Grueling Runs,” 8 August 2005, Roll Call: n.p.

9Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Joint, Select) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present.”

10Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 784–785.

11Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

12Ben Fischer, “Schmidt's Win Leaves Democrats in Shock,” 8 November 2008, Cincinnati Enquirer: A1.

13House Committee on Ethics, In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Jean Schmidt, 112th Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 195 (2011).

14National Levee Safety Program Act of 2007, H.R. 1587, 110th Cong. (2007); To require certain air carriers of foreign air transportation to disclose the nature and source of delays and cancellations experienced by air travelers, H.R. 7337, 110th Cong. (2008).

15FARA Sunshine Act of 2006, H.R. 4679, 109th Cong. (2006).

16Editorial, “2nd: Re-elect Schmidt,” 29 October 2006, Cincinnati Enquirer: 2E; To suspend temporarily the rate of duty on certain warp knit open-work fabrics, H.R. 5497, 112th Cong (2012); To suspend temporarily the rate of duty on plastic laminate sheets, H.R. 5498, 112th Cong. (2012).

17Editorial, “2nd: Re-elect Schmidt.”

18Birthparent Assistance Act of 2008, H.R. 5640, 110th Cong. (2008); Birthmother Assistance Act of 2008, H.R. 6014, 110th Cong. (2008); Birth Parent Assistance Act of 2009, H.R. 1505, 111th Cong. (2009); Motherhood Fairness Act of 2010, H.R. 5251, 111th Cong. (2010).

19Politics in America, 2012: 761.

20“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

21“Court Ruling Doesn’t Mean Obamacare Is Good Idea,” official website of Representative Jean Schmidt, press release, 29 June 2012, https://web. archive.org/web/20121214033929/http://schmidt.house.gov/court-rulingdoesn% E2%80%99t-mean-obamacare-good-idea.

22Paul Kane, “One Super PAC Takes Aim at Incumbents of Any Party,” 7 March 2012, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/onesuper-pac-takes-aim-at-incumbents-of-any-party/2012/03/07/gIQAhOfwxR_story.html.

23Chris Cillizza, “Who Had the Worst Week in Washington? Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio),” 9 March 2012, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/who-had-the-worst-week-in-washington-rep-jean-schmidt-rohio/2012/03/08/gIQAcA6J1R_story.html.

24Jeremy Fugleberg, “FEC Settles Jean Schmidt Ethics Case,” 20 June 2016, Cincinnati Enquirer, https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2016/06/20/fec-settles-schmidt-ethics-case/86136138/.

25Tyler Buchanan, "Key Takeaways from the 2020 Ohio Statehouse Elections," 4 November 2020, news5cleveland.com, https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/election-2020/key-takeaways-from-the-2020-ohio-statehouse-elections; Jessie Balmert, "Meet Your New Lawmakers: A Congresswoman, Superintendent, veteran and newcomer head to Columbus," 4 January 2021, Cincinnnati Enquirer, https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2021/01/03/meet-your-new-lawmakers-congresswoman-superintendent-veteran-and-newcomer/3882339001/.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Jean Schmidt" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Agriculture
    • Nutrition and Horticulture - Chair
  • House Committee - Foreign Affairs
  • House Committee - Government Reform
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
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