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NJ Daily / PEOPLE

The Voice of the House

Schroeder: Back in her days on the Hill.(AP Photo)

September 10, 2012

See more coverage of the people who influence politics and policy in Washington, D.C., on National Journal's People page.

Former Rep. Patricia Schroeder’s four grandchildren were “really spooked out” when they first heard their grandmother’s voice coming from the iPad. Her son and daughter got a kick out of introducing their offspring to The House That Went on Strike, an interactive book available through an iPad app narrated by Schroeder.

Schroeder, 72, is best known for 24 years in Congress as a Democrat from Colorado that ended when she decided not to seek a 13th term in 1996. She’s also known for crying when she withdrew her candidacy for president in 1987.

“That was an insane moment,” she says. She no longer receives hate letters charging her with supposedly setting back the feminist movement by breaking down on a huge public stage. Schroeder says it’s either because people are now accustomed to politicians showing emotion or that “people now look at their government and they all start crying.”

 

The book-narration gig was a natural progression of Schroeder’s life after Congress. For 11 years starting in 1997, she was president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, and much of that time she focused on piquing kids’ interest in reading.

The app, developed by Jumping Pages, combines music, words, and interactive elements to teach kids the importance of keeping things neat and tidy. This, too, is an area where Schroeder has valuable experience: When she first took office in 1973, her children were 2 and 6, making her an expert on the struggle to keep a home clean.

“I always spent half my time threatening to put orange crime tape around my kids’ bedrooms,” Schroeder says, “threatening them that I was going to call the EPA and have them shut them down.”

She says the iPad app does a good job of focusing on the words of the story, not just the interactive elements. In one passage of the story, a house, which goes on strike against a messy family, complains, “My appliances were dragged through all kinds of hoops, their cables and cords were left tangled in loops. The fridge had a meltdown, the washer was choking and forgot all the clothes still dirty and soaking.”

Schroeder’s grandchildren are constant visitors to her home in Celebration, Fla., conveniently located near Disney World. The long-time Westerner would never have envisioned herself settling in the Sunshine State. “It’s funny how life makes those turns,” she says.

Schroeder and her husband, James, made the move for her father, whose lung cancer required a lower altitude, and they stayed after her father’s death. Life in Florida offers more than desirable family destinations; it means an onslaught of campaign ads as well. Schroeder lives in the I-4 corridor, a section known as the swing part of the state.

“If I see one more campaign commercial, I may hurl,” she says. “I think I’m going to unplug all the TV sets until after the election.”

Schroeder decided to end her political career when then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was elected House speaker, “because I figured the place wasn’t big enough for both of us.” Given the down-and-dirty state of politics today, Schroeder says she is happy her own political career is over.

As for what she considers her biggest accomplishment, well, that would be the 50-year wedding anniversary she’s celebrating this year and “getting through all this and still hopefully being a fairly sane person with a marriage intact and wonderfully healthy children and grandchildren,” she says. “That’s kind of like winning the lottery.”

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