Sue Myrick, an advertising executive and former Mayor of Charlotte, won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 as part of the “Republican Revolution.” One of the leaders of the large GOP freshman class in the 104th Congress (1995–1997), Representative Myrick acted as a liaison between the leadership and a core group of conservatives and earned a powerful position on the Rules Committee. A fiscal and social conservative throughout her career, Myrick once observed, “I’ve never been called a moderate before in my life. I am a strong conservative.”1 Yet her personal battle with breast cancer led her to cross party lines, becoming one of the chief legislative proponents of bipartisan programs to combat the disease.
Suellen Wilkins was born in Tiffin, Ohio, on August 1, 1941, to William and Margaret Wilkins.2 She graduated from Port Clinton High School in Port Clinton, Ohio, in 1959, and attended Heidelberg College for two years. Wilkins married broadcaster Jim Forest, raised two sons, Daniel and Gregory, and was later divorced.3 Employed in a variety of jobs, she was an executive secretary for the Alliance, Ohio, mayor’s office, worked for the Ohio Court of Juvenile and Domestic Relations, and became a television personality in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In the early 1970s, she and her family relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she switched careers, eventually running her own advertising companies. In 1977, she married William Edward “Ed” Myrick, who brought three of his own children to the marriage.4
Sue Myrick entered politics after she and her husband had a dispute with the Charlotte City Council over a proposed property purchase. The experience convinced Myrick that government played a more immediate part in her life than she had previously believed.5 In 1983, she won a seat on the city council as an at-large member, serving until 1985. Myrick made an unsuccessful bid to become Charlotte’s mayor in 1985 but, two years later, she defeated the incumbent—Charlotte’s first African-American mayor, Harvey Gantt—to become the city’s first female mayor. During her two terms from 1987 to 1991, Myrick made major transportation and infrastructure improvements to Charlotte—the state’s biggest city and its financial hub—and enacted drug and crime fighting programs. She also helped lure a professional football franchise to the city. Her political idol was former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who had led a conservative revolution in English politics. “She stands up for what she believes and will fight for what is right, no matter the odds stacked against her,” Myrick explained to the Charlotte Observer.6
Myrick turned her attention toward national office in the early 1990s starting with an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. Under the slogan, “Senator Sue in ’92,” she and local businessman, Lauch Faircloth, rose to the top of a four-way race. Claiming to “represent the average person rather than lobbyist[s] and bureaucrats,” Myrick criticized Faircloth’s use of his personal wealth to finance his campaign. Faircloth, who had the support of sitting GOP Senator Jesse Helms, questioned Myrick’s populist message, as her advertising agency had made her millionaire. At the height of the contentious campaign, Myrick interrupted a Faircloth press conference, publicly challenging her flustered opponent to a debate. Faircloth prevailed with 48 percent of the vote (Myrick won 30 percent) before he defeated incumbent Democratic Senator Terry Stanford for the Senate seat in November.7
Two years later, five-term Republican Representative Alex McMillan announced his retirement from a House seat representing a heavily conservative area of Charlotte and Gastonia in south-central North Carolina. Myrick, who was initially considered “politically dead” following her bruising Senate primary loss, nevertheless entered the five-way GOP primary. Her name recognition—as a former mayor and statewide candidate—as well as early organization soon vaulted her to the top of the field.8 The May 3, 1994, primary gave Myrick 30 percent of the vote, just ahead of North Carolina state house minority leader David Balmer who garnered 26 percent. Since no candidate won 40 percent of the vote, North Carolina law required a run-off on May 31.9 Balmer’s campaign floundered after accusations that he padded a resume distributed to supporters, while Myrick campaigned vigorously. Citing pundits who believed turnout would be low on the Tuesday following the Memorial Day weekend, Myrick encouraged voters to “prove them wrong . . . when we honor those who fought and died to guarantee that right [to vote].”10 Predictions for low turnout proved true, but Myrick handily prevailed with 68 percent of the vote.11 She easily won the general election with 65 percent of the vote in her conservative district, besting Democrat Rory Blake. In her subsequent nine campaigns for re-election, Myrick won by comfortable margins of 63 percent or more.12
During her first term in the 104th Congress, Representative Myrick received assignments on three committees: Budget; Science; and Small Business. Though Myrick sought a position on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, the Budget Committee assignment proved a plum for a freshman lawmaker.13 She left those panels in the 105th Congress (1997–1999) when she received a seat on the prestigious House Rules Committee—which structured all legislation headed for floor debate. By the 108th Congress she served as vice-chair of the Rules Subcommittee on Technology and the House. Citing a desire to get more involved with the “front end” of legislating, Myrick traded her Rules Committee seat for one on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the 109th Congress (2005–2007). Her battle with breast cancer also inspired her to move to the Energy and Commerce because its jurisdiction also included healthcare. She picked up an additional assignment on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 111th Congress (2009–2011). Myrick eventually chaired that panel’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis, and Counterintelligence in her final term in office.14
Myrick’s fiscal conservatism defined her congressional career. Part of the “Republican Revolution”—a class of new GOP lawmakers who helped their party win the House majority for the first time in more than 40 years—Myrick arrived in Washington vowing to “fundamentally change how Congress does business.” For Myrick, that meant frank discussions on taxation and government spending: “It’s time to call an increase an increase, a tax a tax, and a cut a cut,” she declared.15 From her seat on the Budget Committee and then the Rules Committee, Myrick helped implement the “Contract with America,” personally focusing on welfare reform, and shaping the 1997 budget—the first in nearly 30 years which was balanced. Myrick later referenced that moment as a high point of her career.16
Her experience with advertising meant that Myrick was a frequent spokesperson for the conservative wing of her party. As one of two freshman lawmakers who acted as liaisons for her large freshman class, Myrick met regularly with key GOP leaders to discuss legislation and to express the resolve of fiscal conservatives in her first term.17 “I think she has done a good job,” noted fellow freshman Republican Linda Smith of Washington of Myrick’s ability to communicate with GOP leadership in 1995. “Sue’s a lot more cautious than I am. I probably would have killed leadership a few times this year.”18 During her House career, Myrick chaired the Republican Study Committee, a group of several dozen of the chamber’s most conservative Members. She also worked for the Republican Conference’s Communications Working Group. In 2010, Myrick also joined the conservative Tea Party Caucus.
Yet Myrick’s dedication to reducing government spending eventually meant abandoning “caution,” a move that put her at odds with congressional GOP leadership. When House leaders scheduled debate on appropriations bills that Myrick and her fellow freshman conservatives found “halfhearted in their spending cuts,” she was among those who fought back. On refusing to vote in favor of a rule to call up the measures for debate—a move Myrick labeled “a real no-no” with her House superiors—she invoked Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia’s earlier career. “I looked back at what Newt had done when he was a back-bencher and I didn’t feel guilty,” she observed. “And we sent a message that we would not be taken for granted.”19 In 1997, she was part of a small group of disgruntled Republicans, disappointed by the slow pace of change since 1995, who sought to replace Speaker Gingrich.20 The group was unsuccessful and when Myrick sought a leadership position as Republican Conference Chair that same year, the conference chose Gingrich ally, Ohio Representative Deborah Pryce, instead.21 In 1998, following Gingrich’s resignation at Speaker, she ran for Vice Chair of the Conference, but lost in a four-way race.22 Myrick also sponsored changing the House Rules in the 108th Congress (2003–2005) to curb the power of House Appropriations subcommittee chairmen by her own party to rein in congressional spending.23 “We have put up with this spending, very frankly, for the last few years and none of us feel good about it,” Myrick noted in 2004.24
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Myrick was one of the most outspoken Members on terror threats from her perch as chair of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence (part of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence). Specifically, she advocated “Wake Up, America,” a call for investigations into the Council on American-Islamic Relations, members of which she dubbed “spies.”25 She also sought to cancel student visas from Saudi Arabia. In 2011, she expressed concern over Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, castigating President Barack Obama’s administration for labeling it a “largely secular” political organization.26
Representative Myrick was attentive to the needs of her North Carolina district. In an effort to reduce unemployment in the ailing North Carolina textile industry, she threatened to block President George W. Bush from fast-tracking trade agreements until his administration pledged to protect domestic textile manufactures. Myrick’s hometown of Charlotte housed the headquarters for major financial institutions. Though she was initially among 25 Republicans who voted against a $700 billion rescue plan for ailing U.S. banks, she switched her vote when a second version came to the floor. She claimed conversations with her constituents, who could not get credit, convinced her to change her vote. “I talked to people I trust,” she noted, “good solid businesses. They could not get credit.”27 Spurred by the disappearance of an 18-year-old college student in North Carolina, Myrick passed legislation to create a national clearinghouse for information on missing adults.28 Her social agenda also reflected her constituents’ support for prayer in public schools and opposition to abortion measures.
A personal health battle inspired Myrick to champion bipartisan efforts to fight breast cancer. Following her own diagnosis, in December 1999, Myrick underwent surgery. While receiving six months of subsequent treatments, she could be seen donning a pink surgical mask on the House Floor so as to avoid infections.29 Myrick’s successful battle against the disease reoriented her legislative focus. “It’s made me more aware of the issues people face,” Myrick admitted. “It’s been like walking in someone else’s shoes.”30 Grateful that her health insurance allowed her proper treatment after her diagnosis, Myrick shepherded a measure through the House that provided federally funded treatment for low-income women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer. In 2009, she fought back against recommendations that women reduce the number of mammograms they receive because of risks of false positives.31 Myrick and New York Democrat Nita Lowey worked together to create an interagency breast cancer research committee and, as co-chair of the House Cancer Caucus during the 107th Congress (2001–2003), Myrick doubled the budget of the National Cancer Institute.32
Despite offers to run for a North Carolina Senate seat and a chance to run for governor in 2008, Myrick remained in the House.33 “I’m working very hard to not get back in the same rat race,” she noted after returning to work following her cancer treatment. “Anybody who faces something like this, you look at the big picture. You look at your life, and you think about what’s important. What’s important to me is spending as much time as I can with family.” In February 2012, Myrick announced she would not be seeking a tenth term. “I look forward to a normal life where I don’t work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week,” she mused.34
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
[ Top ]