13 Children Add Up To Asset For Challenger

Date: 9/9/2001
Category: Editorial
Page: J1


SPRINGDALE -- Jim Bob Duggar looks calm. He might even be calm. There's not a strand out of place on his Ken-doll hair. This is remarkable not only because there are 13 children playing at his feet--his 13 children--but also because he's a state representative waging a long-shot campaign for the U.S. Senate.

585633: The Duggars: 20 and Counting!
The Duggars: 20 and Counting!
By Michelle & Jim Bob Duggar

There are people more stressed after a trip to the grocery store than this man seemingly is on his worst day. "I just feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing," says Jim Bob, a 36-year-old lifelong Springdale resident who has been known as a one-issue politician--a conservative Republican who cares only about stopping abortions.

Now, Jim Bob is known as the candidate with enough moxie--or perhaps not enough sense--to challenge incumbent Sen. Tim Hutchinson in the Republican primary.

Those 13 children, born during Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's 17 years of marriage, are family values personified. They're a highly visible asset facing a GOP incumbent viewed as politically vulnerable in 2002 because of his divorce and second marriage to a former Senate staff member.

16 Children and Moving In DVD
"16 Children and Moving In"
DVD from
The Discovery Channel
the Duggar family

"We're going to do it together as a family," Michelle, 34, says of the race. "It's not just, 'Daddy's doing this.' ... We stick together like glue."

The "we" includes Joshua, "Joshy," 13; twins Jana, "Banana," and John-David, 11; Jill "Muffin," 10; Jessa, "Blessa," 8; Jinger, "Jin-Jin," 7; Joseph, "Joe-Joe," 6; Josiah, "Siah," 5; Joy-Anna, "Jogees," 3; "The Dynamic Duo" twins Jedidiah and Jeremiah, 2; Jason, "Jay Bird," 1, who with "The Dynamic Duo" forms "The Three Musketeers"; and James, 8 weeks.

Jim Bob regularly brings his children, whom Michelle home schools, to Little Rock and the state Capitol where his eldest, Joshua, is known as "Governor."

"God put us in there," the Baptist says of winning his first political race in 1999. "We just knew this is the way our family is going to serve our community."

Jim Bob wasn't involved in politics until Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992.

"I saw how things were," he says.

He supported Republican Fay Boozman's failed U.S. Senate race. During this time, he went to a Little Rock rally to back a state ban on partial-birth abortions. Thousands of people showed for the protest, but Jim Bob says, "Still, a lot of those senators and representatives did not vote the right way."

So Jim Bob prayed.

"I prayed, 'Lord, I would be willing to run for office,' " he says. "I'd vote the right way."

Jim Bob didn't run the next election cycle because the timing didn't feel right. But he ran and won in 1999, when he temporarily moved his family to Little Rock for the legislative session and sold all his businesses to concentrate on politics.

He has had various jobs through the years. Michelle jokes that she read a list of the Top 10 worst jobs, and her husband has had seven of them, including insurance salesman and used car salesman.

The Duggars had a turning point in their lives 11 years ago when Jim Bob attended a meeting that discussed financial freedom through living a debt-free life. Michelle eventually attended the meeting, too, and now she and Jim Bob conduct the seminars out of their home.

By getting out of debt and not purchasing anything unless they have cash, the Duggars have saved enough to make investments in such things as rental and commercial property. Their investments have done so well that Jim Bob doesn't have to work a full-time job.

"I've learned self control and also a lot about construction," he says. And, "All these different businesses that I've been in have really given me a broad perspective of what the average person has to go through every day."

Because of his work situation, says Mary Duggar, Jim Bob's mother, "He probably gets to spend more time with his family than most men do."

"I'm very careful on what events I go to," Jim Bob says. "I just try to prioritize."

Back when the Duggars only had a few kids and were living at a home on their car lot, Jim Bob was the victim of an armed robbery during which he was bound and gagged. The incident helps him keep things in perspective today.

"I feel like I'm living on overtime," Jim Bob says, "so politics is nothing."


Politics really does seem like nothing compared to a house almost literally full of children. Just ask Michelle.

She had a desperate, blunt conversation with God one day while standing amid piles of laundry--and this is back when she only had seven children.

"I love 'em, but I think I'm going to go crazy!" she cried to the Lord.

"It was a sacrifice to praise God at that point," Michelle says. But she did. She started singing a song to honor him. Within a week, the children's piano teacher, Ruth Anita Anderson, whom they've come to call Nana, made an offer to help with the laundry.

"God just provided Nana," Michelle says.

Her laundry room today is equipped with two washers and three dryers. There are bins and bins of presorted clothes with labels clearly addressing what clothes are where. Two deep freezers also happen to be in the room, which is just off the kitchen.

Off the other side of the laundry room is the family's closet--the only closet used for clothes in the entire house. Both for space and convenience, the family keeps its clothes together. They don't use dressers because there's more room without them. And the bedroom closets--the children share three bedrooms and lots of bunk beds--are used for storage for such things as each child's violin.

"We are working on a family orchestra," Michelle says. " 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' is about as far as we get."

It's amazing to watch 15 people in action in a 2,450-square-foot house. Eight recliners fill the front family room, but there are no coffee tables to clutter anyone's path. Michelle has packed away her knickknacks until the children are grown and gone. Family photographs and other pictures on the walls are some of the house's only decorations.

A photocopier adorns the end table next to Michelle and Jim Bob's bed, and there's a file cabinet in her closet.

The one-family closet works well in part since the kids are constantly growing and clothes are passed from one child to the next. Michelle and the children also make many of their own clothes and buy items from Goodwill. Jim Bob says he probably spends less for clothes on his 13 children than do parents of two children.

"Now, food's a different matter," he says. The Duggars spend an average of $1,000 a month on food.

Michelle goes to the grocery store every other day to pick up three gallons of milk and fresh fruits and vegetables instead of making one big weekly trip with four or five grocery carts.

"I don't like to do it that way," she says. "It just almost overwhelms the poor cashier when we come through."

If it takes this many special arrangements and this much preparation simply to live, why would Jim Bob complicate things by joining the Legislature and, now, running for the Senate? Doesn't he have enough to handle at home?

"Our family is our hobby," says Jim Bob, who doesn't have pursuits like golf or tennis. Though when the family does play sports, Jill says, "We have a whole team here."

"Two teams," Jim Bob says.


The former Michelle Ruark has an easygoing openness and friendliness that extends to each person she meets.

As she and Jim Bob sit on the plastic blue auditorium seats that serve as the family's dining room chairs, she rests her hand on her husband's leg and joyfully proclaims her beliefs in God, Jim Bob and the sanctity of family. Strains of "Amazing Grace" can be heard from the next room where her children practice piano and violin in one of the girls' rooms that doubles as a music room.

But Jim Bob doesn't for one second forget that a reporter is in the room, and he guards what both he and his wife say. When talk turns to his primary race against Hutchinson, Michelle starts telling of the day Jim Bob decided to challenge him.

Jim Bob quickly lets her know there's one part of the story they won't be telling. Michelle questions his decision, not seeing a problem with sharing it. But then, following a few brief whispers, she smiles and simply goes on with the part she can tell.

Michelle was headed out the door to a prayer meeting when Jim Bob brought up the idea of running for Senate. He said he felt pressed to run and asked Michelle to pray about it.

"I just felt like I should run," Jim Bob says. "It's not because I am so smart."

Jim Bob supported Hutchinson in past races. He says his decision to run now has nothing to do with Hutchinson's martial troubles, including his remarriage after divorcing his wife of 29 years. Jim Bob doesn't even bring up the issues, which have kept the state--specifically past and present Hutchinson supporters in Northwest Arkansas--talking.

State Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, Tim Hutchinson's son, practically was Jim Bob's legislative seatmate when Jim Bob made his Senate decision.

"It's nothing against you or your family," Jim Bob told the younger Hutchinson, who wasn't happy but listened.

Next, Jim Bob called Tim Hutchinson.

"I hope you can relate to this a little bit having been a pastor before, but I feel called to run for a seat--your seat," Jim Bob told him.

"I'm just gonna run a clean race," Jim Bob continued. "Are you committed to running a clean race? "And he said, 'Oh, yeah,' [and] kind of laughed," Jim Bob says.

Hutchinson didn't return a call for comment for this story.

An editorial cartoon that ran in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette when Jim Bob announced his candidacy hangs on the Duggars' dining room wall. It shows Jim Bob as a tiny Republican elephant kicking a huge boxer, who represents Hutchinson. The caption reads: "The first challenge came from unexpected quarters."

"We're not in it to kick [anyone]," Joshua says in defense of his father. "We're in the race because we feel God has told us to run. We're not against any of our opponents in any way."


The Duggars consider the Bible something of an owner's manual, a how-to for life. They sometimes employ "time outs" to discipline their children, but they also think the Bible teaches parents to spank and even instructs on how to do it.

The children and Michelle recite a new Bible passage each morning, and they have actions to go with the words. For instance, when reciting Exodus 20, verses 1-17, the children run a finger along their necks in a quick swipe, as if killing themselves, as they read the passage, "Thou shall not kill."

Religion wasn't always the focal point of Michelle's life.

She was 15 and had been living in Springdale since age 4 when a friend talked to her about a movie that told of the end of the world. Michelle wanted to make sure she'd be ready, so when her friend invited her to a revival, she eagerly went.

Jim Bob and a friend were making visitations to reach out to potential church members, and his friend said that a girl named Michelle had just committed her life to God. He also mentioned that she was a cheerleader.

"Well, let's go see her!" Jim Bob said.

They were married 2 1/2 years later.

Jim Bob, who has only one sibling, and Michelle, who is the youngest of seven, didn't know how many children they wanted to have. And they didn't have any for the first four years they were married. They even used birth control until they decided the pills weren't right for them. They decided having children was for God to control--not them.

"I would like to have more," Michelle says.

They don't always agree, but Jim Bob and Michelle try to resolve disputes before the sun goes down each night, which they say the Bible instructs them to do. Michelle also believes she is to be submissive to Jim Bob, which she says does not mean he treats her like a doormat but that he is the head of the household.

"We don't have a perfect marriage," Jim Bob says. "There's not a perfect marriage out there."

Nor are there perfect children. But the Duggar children, at least on the surface, appear to come awfully close.


The older Duggar children all take care of the younger ones through a buddy system.

"The little guys just think the big guys hung the moon," Michelle says.

Without being asked, the older children will get the younger ones' meals or change their diapers. Each child has particular chores, like taking out the trash, that he or she automatically does. Josh is the family grill expert and makes dinner so his parents are free to visit.

"You're my buddy," Jim Bob smiles and says to Michelle as he brings her lunch.

Joshua leads an eloquent, heartfelt prayer while everyone joins hands around the table to pray. All the children seem to be more articulate than others their ages.

When 1-year-old Jason falls to the floor and starts throwing a fit, one glance from his mother and quick wag of her finger ends the incident almost even before it begins. His training should be through by age 12, when Jim Bob and Michelle hope all their children are trained well enough to stand alone.

"I don't want them to be just good kids," Michelle says. "I want it to go deeper than that." Michelle says the desire to see her children be successful, "That's what keeps me going."

Joshua was 5 when the Duggars made the decision to home school their children. They clearly are careful about their children's outside influences. Though the family owns a TV, it's rarely on, even when their father makes an appearance.

"There's a lot of attitudes and actions that we just don't want the children to imitate," Jim Bob says. When a proposal he made in the state Legislature wound up on Politically Incorrect, Jim Bob had to call a friend to tape it for him.

Jim Bob and Michelle are willing to share their lives with readers because they want to encourage them, through their story, to turn to God. But even by standards of an average Christian household, the Duggars are extreme.

The girls exclusively wear dresses and skirts. The children wear wet suits instead of bathing suits when they go in the water in order to be modest.

"When they get a little older, they'll have to make the decision on what they want to do," Jim Bob says of wearing swimsuits.

For now, the kids don't appear to mind. Instead of recognizing that they're different, they seem to recognize how lucky they are in some ways.

"You always have someone to play with," Jill says. "And there are lots of birthdays."

When the Duggars went on vacation in 1999 to Washington, D.C., they got attention wherever they went. They walked in a single-file line through the city's sidewalks so they wouldn't take up too much space. Each child wore the same color, and Joshua brought up the rear to make sure everyone stayed together. His parents couldn't understand why he kept stopping to talk to strangers.

"I've had several people ask me when we go out, 'Now, what school is this?' or, 'What organization are you in?' " Joshua says. "Somebody's always asking us something."

The family can all travel together in one vehicle because the family car happens to be a church van, which sports a Bush bumper sticker and another one that says: "Evolution is a Lie: Save America Please."

When the Duggars dine out as a family--and they can tell you exactly which restaurants have children's specials on which nights of the week in the Springdale area--heads turn when they walk in. Waiters literally stop and stare.

"We do make a bit of a commotion when we enter a place," Michelle says. "We're a little hard to forget."

A majority of the children sit at one table, with the rest at the adult table. Jim Bob and Michelle hardly have to even bother turning around during the meal to check on anyone's behavior.

"The buddies will usually inform us if we need to help with somebody," Michelle says.

Since the birth of 8-week-old James, Michelle has had a particularly difficult time breast-feeding. Every two hours she's in considerable pain, but it doesn't seem to affect her countenance.

During a family portrait, Jim Bob gives Michelle a playful kiss, and she looks at him with the love and happiness of a newlywed--rather than a woman who has been married for 17 years, is home schooling 12 children, breast-feeding a 13th and is helping launch a Senate campaign.


She's in a minority, but Michelle confidently declares, "It is a winnable race."

Not that the family is depending on it. "If we win, wonderful," Michelle says. "If we lose, wonderful. We just wanna serve."

Speculation is Jim Bob won't get the chance this time. One poll shows he has only 4-percent name recognition in the state. He points out, though, that fellow Republican and former Gov. Frank White likes to say he only had 3-percent recognition when he went on to beat Clinton.

Marty Ryall, executive director of the Arkansas Republican Party, thinks differently.

"Tim's campaign would have to implode," he says of Jim Bob's chances.

"There's probably a handful of people ... that may still be angry with Tim," Ryall says. "Tim has made amends with most of those. I know he's visited with a lot of them."

Ryall tried to talk Duggar into running for another position--any of five open races across the state.

He "just encouraged him to lower his sites a little," Ryall says. "He told me he was determined to run for the U.S. Senate. ... He's really doing what he feels like he is compelled to do."

Jim Bob accepts campaign contributions, but he doesn't solicit them. Hutchinson has $1.5 million in his coffers. Jim Bob has $250,000--all his own money.

"People with money are going to support the incumbent," Jim Bob says. "They just don't want to burn a bridge with the incumbent."

Some of those same people have assured Jim Bob that he'll get their support should he defeat Hutchinson, he says.

Jim Bob has been told it takes a minimum of $500,000 to win the seat.

"Money isn't everything," his mother says reassuringly.

Jim Bob argues that a third of the primary is in conservative Benton County, where he thinks he'll have a chance of competing strongly. If he beats Hutchinson in the primary, he'll face Attorney General Mark Pryor in the general election. Pryor, of course, starts the race with extra name recognition thanks to his father, former U.S. Sen. David Pryor.

"Jim Bob's at peace about it," Mary Duggar says of whether her son wins or loses.

"I know everybody believes this is totally impossible, a total long shot," Jim Bob says.

But he has 14 extremely strong supporters living in his own house, even if only one of them can vote.