Historic Tidbit: It’s a long way from Texas to Washington State but Vice-President John Nance Garner had a nephew, who bore his name, who twice very nearly won a seat in Congress — as a Republican. In 1976, he nearly took advantage of backlash that Congreessman Lloyd Meeds suffered as a result of support of an Alpine Treaty that pitted Indians against non-Indian, thereby creating a “fish-war.” Meeds hung on by 529 votes. He retired two years later but Garner was back, and raised similar issues against Al Swift. But Swift won 51-49%. The area was big for national namesake. The eruption of Mount St. Helens claimed a man who refused to heed the warnings and leave. His name was Harry S. Truman.
Connie and Mary Bono Mack, now divorcing, were among three Congressional colleagues to marry while in office. Bill Paxson and Susan Molinari tied the knot in the 1990s, and remain happily married today. But they were proceeded by a third couple which provoked much eyebrow raising by colleagues, the press, and constituents.
The year was 1975 and Indiana Democrat Andy Jacobs married his freshman colleague, Martha Keys of Kansas. Technically, Jacobs had been a freshman as well, having returned to the House in 1974, two years after he had lost a close race necessitated by redistricting to William Hudnut, who would later become Indianapolis’ Mayor. But unlike Molinari/Paxson, Jacobs/Keys was criticized for it’s timing, and ultimately, did not last.
Jacobs long had a reputation for a sense of humor, but also for frugality. He once refused to board a plane because it had only first class seats available. The plane later crashed, killing everyone on board. And he returned special interest money and often, portions of his Congressional budget.
In a sign of everything being relative, Keys is the sister of Gary Hart’s wife, and began her political involvement via her encouragement: by running George McGovern’s Presidential campaign in Kansas (Hart was McGovern’s national director of course).
Keys had won her relatively conservative seat in the Watergate year, somewhat defying the odds. John Peterson was only 26, but he was already a State Representative. He had more money than Keys, and as a conservative, seemed more in line with the district than Keys, who campaigned on campaign finance. But Congressional Quarterly said Keys “is credited with a non-stop campaign that began the day after the primary.” Her slogan, “I shop where you shop,” was aimed squarely at middle America. And the territory overlapped with the Democrat she was trying to succeed, Bill Roy, who was mounting a fierce challenge to Bob Dole and running strong in the district. With her husband Sam Keys the Dean of Kansas state, Keys could count on a big student turnout. But her 55% win was unexpected.
Within a year, Keys announced that she’d be divorcing Keys and would marry Jacobs immediately upon the divorce being finalized, which she did. Many in her conservative leaning district frowned on that, and that was a partial factor in her struggle in her first re-election bid. She won just 52-48%.
Her opponent did the divorce/remarriage an issue, but ran ads with his family. But many freshman from the Watergate class saw declines from their previous wins, as the climate for Republicans had improved.
What Keys said was not known that “can’t be blamed in my case at all. The voters knew I’d been married for 26 years,” she adds, “except that it had been a non-marriage for many years.” Jacobs complained to People Magazine about a It’s the old double standard that says a married woman can’t be an independent thinker,” he fumes. “I haven’t heard anyone in Indiana complain about my having a wife in Kansas. But in Kansas they are banging her over the head with it.”
Democrats were not thrilled either. Initially fearing that it would hurt their prospects for holding the already iffy seat, a number of county Chairman began reaching out to Roy, who had ended up losing to Dole 51-49%. The Lawrence World Herald commented on a poll that showed 31% of voters would likely oppose Keys on this issue, and that 49% had hoped to see Roy run.It was noted that when Keys brought well respected Congresswoman Lindy Boggs to the district, only one county committeewoman attended. Roy declined.
Gender was a factor as well, with one advertisement asking, “isn’t it time we had a Congressman?”
Keys was only the second woman to gain a seat but was immediately heralded. “She’s been an absolute star of the committee,” “She’s not a lawyer and not an economist, but she’s not only held her own but stood out in a very fast league. Andy’s more vocal on the floor, a conscience voter.”Jacobs said, “If a person came to me and said, ‘Sign here and she’ll win her election but you’ll forfeit yours,’ I’d sign.
But the climate for Democrats in 1978 was even less favorable, and her voting record may have been too liberal for a district that gave Ford 55%, but Nixon 70%. Keys taunted businessman Jim Jeffries for not debating. But he hit her on voting for aid to New York City and for voting for benefits for draft-dodgers. And he turned her ’74 slogan against her with his own: “Martha doesn’t shop here anymore.” Keys carried Topeka and Manhattan but was crushed in the rural areas, which ultimately reversed the 52-48% margin (and 6,000 votes) that had secured her ’76 win.
Ultimately, though, Keys blamed the money, saying, “you just couldn’t compete with the constant barrage of negative campaigning when you’re being outspent by three to one.”
In all likelihood, holding her seat would have been immensely difficult even without the marriage issue in a year that conservatism was on the rise (Jeffries made his support of Kemp/Roth a centerpiece. Jacobs meanwhile, established a lock on his suburban district that would make his re-election anti-climactic until his final re-election in 1994.
She told Peoplethat, “the only obstacle to our romance was Abner Mikva, ” who sat behind the pair on Ways and Means. He agreed to move his seat.
Actually, the large nature of the class may have factored in as much as anything, as Ways and Means rarely is awarded to frosh.
Married couples don’t agree on everything and Congress is no exception. In fact, they tell People that they disagreed on the first bill up on Ways and Means when they served together, providing solar tax credits.
Jacobs knew Keys was the one when she was giving a speech to the Brookings Institution. I slipped into the back of the room and listened and fell in love.”
Congreesional life would prove hectic. Keyes would fly with Jacobs to Indianapolis, then go on to Kansas, most every weekend. They’d be together four days a week at their Virginia home, which Martha said was “safety valve for all the pressures.” They had a private “warm line” for their offices and would kiss in the halls when no one was around. “We knew we had them when we married and knew what they entailed.”
Jacobs had once asked jokingly, “if we run for President, do we flip a coin to see who leads the ticket?” Solving that dilemma would never prove necessary. The marriage continued a while until 1981, when they split.Once Keys was beaten, however, they went about their separate ways and divorced in 1981.
Jacobs would remarry and have a son named Andy He left Congress in 1996,. At 81, he lives in Indianapolis. Keys became Assistant Secretary of Education Education and a Director of the Center For A New Democracy. At 83, she also lives near Washington.