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THE SUNDAY PROFILE : Under Her Father's Watch, Andrea Sheldon Is a Relentless Crusader for Traditional Values : Flying Right

October 01, 1995|GREGG ZOROYA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WASHINGTON — The city is a swamp on the night before the House recess. Wilting, soggy lawmakers slouch through the clutching humidity and 90-plus temperatures, eager for the relief of the Capitol's air-conditioned chill.

The exception is Andrea Sheldon, quick-stepping it across the Hill in a short melon crepe dress, ear baubles in rhythm and Amerige by Givenchy in the air. The California Girl--or so say the plates on her sporty red Maxima--of Capitol Hill is completely unfazed by heat or by anti-feminist imagery. ("I'm more of a girl's girl," she likes to say.)

This is another red-letter day in a scarlet year for the religious right, and the 34-year-old lobbyist with the hot-pink nail polish is working another 15-hour day to sway and encourage members in God's direction.

Already this year in the House, Christian conservatives have witnessed enormous success in curbing abortion, crafting a religious freedom amendment, and overhauling welfare to discourage unwed parenthood and government dependency. All of it falls under the "family values" battle cry.

"Everything is happening here," Sheldon says, hustling after another House member, and maybe another vote.

As the roll call gets under way, there's a frantic sense of urgency in the halls. Yet congressmen, particularly Republicans, pause to chat with Sheldon. Ohio Republican John R. Kasich, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, pulls her aside for a five-minute briefing.

She slips into the familiar offices of Majority Whip Tom DeLay to return a Washington Post phone call and complain about Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's welfare proposal. "We're just disappointed with what he's done. The work provisions are a sham," Sheldon tells the reporter. "If you've got a bill that really doesn't address [illegitimacy], then you don't have anything."

The divine will evidently prevails with passage of a measure abolishing dozens of education, labor and health programs; restricting funds for nonprofit groups, and, most important, imposing still more restrictions on federal abortion funding.

"This is the beginning of the revolution," Sheldon says.

Her father would be proud. On Capitol Hill, she is the alter ego of the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, head of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition and crusader for moral reform. With the Bible as his platform, he stands for broader religious rights and prayer in schools, and against abortion and homosexuality. At his most extreme, Louis Sheldon has espoused segregating AIDS patients in "cities of refuge"--a euphemism for concentration camps, gay leaders say.

The minister has long and loudly claimed that House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) privately promised him months ago to hold congressional hearings on the alleged "promotion" of homosexuality in public schools. The wish will apparently come true on Oct. 13 with testimony before a subcommittee of the House Educational Opportunities Committee. "It's a definite," he says.

The elder Sheldon, who travels frequently to Washington and confers often with his daughter by phone, claims 31,000 churches nationwide behind his lobby. The TVC's annual budget is $2 million. From an office in a tidy, 19th-Century brick house just off Capitol Hill, the Sheldons generate a constant flow of literature to the churches: twice weekly tip sheets on legislative targets, voting guides and Lou Sheldon commentary--anything from atta-boys for pro-life lawmakers to diatribes on Disney's non-Christian portrayal of Pocahontas.

His success in generating grass-roots action and harnessing support from black churches in particular has earned him a niche of respect in conservative Washington, even if the giants of the religious right, such as Pat Robertson's 1.7 million-member Christian Coalition, still dominate.

Andrea Sheldon says her father is the real force behind TVC, but she is emerging from his shadow. Her energy, tenacity and access to Republican leaders impress both allies and enemies. Even those with unvarnished contempt for the TVC acknowledge Andrea's ability to disarm--and even to charm.

"There is no dispute that it is her entree; it makes it easier for people to have discourse with her," says a Democratic staffer.

"I love to sit down with people I don't agree with and have dinner and talk, because I learn and I grow from that," Andrea Sheldon says. "I don't like to be in a stagnant pool with only like-minded people."

Amid the drab, East Coast business raiment, where gray and rumpled are the color and texture of the hour, Sheldon's California silks, knits and leather skirts render her a beacon.

"They're very uptight here," says the former homecoming queen of Magnolia High School, class of '79, who once dreamed of a future in fashion. "I always get comments about my clothes."

Some view her showy, engaging image as a boon for the far right, which suffers from a dearth of female executives in Washington.

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