July 29 2012
Portrait of a Modern Feminist: Christie Schilling
“People always want to know about the candidate’s family, and I want them to know that, though ours may be shocking in size to some, we are pretty normal,” Christie Schilling says with a laugh.
Schilling and her husband, freshman Congressman Bobby Schilling, the Tea Party newcomer who won an upset victory in 2010, have ten children, ranging in age from two to twenty-six. And if that's not enough, Christie Schilling is a small businesswoman, amateur photographer, gardener, and blogger.
Christie Schilling’s blog, “10 kids of one mom,” shows life in a family of six boys and four girls. On it, she jokes about “raising ten kids and a congressman.” The photography is her own. “I really love photography and I wish I had time to really engage in it,” she says.
Not only does she run a large household, Christie Schilling helped start San Giuseppe’s Heavenly Pizza, the family business in Moline, Ill., and remained involved after her husband switched from pizzas to politics. It is a business the Schillings built from scratch. Prime assets at the beginning: a cache of recipes from Christie’s Italian grandmother and a willingness to work hard to succeed and support a growing family.
It is partly because of her experiences with San Giuseppe’s Heavenly Pizza that she was “put out” by President Obama’s recent “you didn’t build that” speech. She recalls that the husband and wife team did everything, including digging a ditch for drainage, to build their business. “That was Bobby and me digging that trench,” she says emphatically. “I don’t recall the government helping us.”
President Obama, according to Mrs. Schilling, got it exactly backwards when he attributed entrepreneurial success to help from the government. “If you have a government, you didn’t build that,” she says. “The people built it. It was business owners and other citizens who were paying taxes. We built the government, not vice versa.”
Although both Schillings have worked at the restaurant, including cooking, oldest son, Joseph, now manages its day-to-day operations. Christie Schilling, however, still has input. She is a slim, blonde woman in her forties who has been married to her husband for twenty-six years. She has no plans to seek office but could imagine herself running for a local office, school board member, for example.
Christie Schilling says she would “do anything for my country” and she believes doing what it takes to bring change to Washington is essential if small businesses such as her family’s restaurant are not to be strangled by taxation and regulation.
She praises her home town Moline as “the epitome of capitalism” and says, “Our community is blessed to have a lot of wealthy people who give to the community." She is therefore dismayed by President Obama’s relentless attacks on “millionaires and billionaires.”
Citing her town’s most famous business, John Deere, the giant equipment business that developed from blacksmith John Deere’s creation of a steel plow 1837, Schilling expresses her fear that, far from helping businesses, the government is destroying opportunity. “Can you imagine if the government had told John Deere ‘You can’t do this’ or ‘You can’t do that. You’re ruining the environment,' and started taxing and regulating him? His company would never have happened, and John Deere is a worldwide company.”
Just for the record, Mrs. Schilling isn’t an advocate of wrecking the environment: the Schillings live in an energy-efficient house built by the congressman. Mrs. Schilling says that more families would go green if motivated by the prospect of saving money on energy rather than being verbally assaulted by environmentalists.
Christie Schilling was as surprised as anybody when Bobby Schilling decided he had to run for Congress. “Bobby likes to tell people he was minding his business when a senator from Illinois started telling people that it was time to spread the wealth,” she recalls. “Our business was just starting to take off, we didn’t owe any money on it, and we were getting ready to take family vacation finally, after sixteen years of running our business. You can’t just take a vacation when you have a business—you are married to it.”
Christie and Bobby Schilling made the rounds to inform party official that the pizza shop owner intended to challenge incumbent Democrat Phil Hare, a leading progressive. Christie Schilling says that party officials were polite but “winked at us.” With strong support from the Tea Party, Schilling won in a landslide.
If Christie Schilling is certain that there is a war on business success, she is equally convinced that Democrat Party charges that the Republicans are waging a war on women are false. The rhetoric from the Democrats is “all about dividing people. It’s all about dividing woman against woman. It’s about dividing women against employers and us against ourselves and our own bodies. It starts with bitterness towards men.”
Schilling thinks that the most important question facing the nation is moral decline, and believes that the family is the bulwark against the growth of government. As for her own family, she has some interesting ways of instilling accountability: she gives her children three warnings when their rooms are messy. If they don’t act, she cleans the rooms herself—for a fee. It’s a sliding fee, based on the child’s resources. She once billed Joseph, who manages the restaurant, $100—at a rate of $20 an hour.
“They’ll come home to an orderly room, and they’ll have to pay me. My time is worth something. I could have been doing something else,” she says.
What, she is asked, should like-minded women be doing? “We should keep talking,” she says. “We should keep speaking out. If you are talking to somebody who is adamantly opposed to what you are saying, there is somebody behind or in front who is listening. You are planting seeds. It is our job to bring people back to the center and say that the current way isn’t working.” Perhaps the best thing about Schilling is that she is doing more than talking: She is showing women with her hard work and busy, impressive life what individuals can accomplish.