By Benjamin Mann
Leah Campos Schandlbauer, a Catholic mother of four, hopes to represent Arizona in the U.S. Congress, after serving the country for over 10 years as an international agent in the CIA.
“The most accurate way of describing it is by my professional title – which was ‘Operations Officer’ in the National Clandestine Service,” Schandlbauer told CNA on June 13. “But we are otherwise known as ‘spies.’”
In the “fiercely patriotic” state of Arizona, the aspiring Republican candidate for the newly-formed Ninth District says she gets plenty of positive feedback about her background with the foreign intelligence agency.
“They’re really grateful for my service – which is humbling to me,” she said.
Schandlbauer left her CIA position six months ago, as her husband Alfred prepared for a one-year deployment in Afghanistan. The Catholic couple prayed extensively over Leah’s decision to seek political office.
On August 28, she will contend for the Republican nomination, as one of seven choices in the party’s primary election. The choice, she said, was heavily influenced by her time as an officer in Western Europe and Latin America, which left her concerned for her own country’s future.
“A lot of the rhetoric that I heard coming out of Washington sounded a lot like what we were hearing from the likes of Hugo Chavez – really divisive, ‘class warfare’ type rhetoric.”
“In countries like Argentina and Venezuela, the government divides the people along the lines of class, race, and other categories,” she noted. “They kill the unity of the people. It’s very manipulative of the government, for political gain, to control the discourse and pit people against each other.”
“I see that happening here now, and it is frightening.”
She also notes that the “cautionary tale” of Europe’s cultural and financial crisis “is ours to learn from, or be the next victims.”
“I was there,” she recalled, “and I saw a lot of the false promises that come out of a statist, European-style ‘social democracy.’”
A lifelong Catholic, Schandlbauer learned her faith partly from her mother, who teaches as a catechist. Leah’s sister, Rachel Campos-Duffy, is a Catholic author and blogger.
The political hopeful’s Catholic faith has shaped her own pro-life and pro-family positions, as well as her advocacy of free-market economics. Following the Catholic free-enterprise proponent Arthur Brooks, she sees property rights and personal initiative as safeguarding human happiness and dignity.
“As Christians, we celebrate the notion of freedom,” she said. “This election year is about us making a full-fledged defense of freedom. I think that is an obligation for us, as Christians.”
Schandlbauer is also a critic of President Obama’s approach to religious groups, particularly the “horrible situation that Obama gave us with the HHS (contraception) mandate.” Religious freedom, she said, is in “crisis” because of the mandate.
But she believes the crisis may also be “a great opportunity.” As controversy grows over the contraception mandate, Schandlbauer sees “a lot of unity among Catholics in America on this issue.”
This show of public unity on the Church’s part, she said, is “such a beautiful thing. And I hope it’s a taste of what’s to come.”