MYRICK, Sue

Image courtesy of the House Photography Office
MYRICK, Sue
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1941–

Biography

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” that saw the party capture the House majority for the first time in four decades. One of the leaders of the large GOP freshman class in the 104th Congress (1995–1997), Myrick acted as a liaison between the leadership and a core group of conservatives and earned a powerful position on the Rules Committee. “I’ve never been called a moderate before in my life,” Myrick once said. “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.

Sue Myrick was born Suellen Wilkins in Tiffin, Ohio, on August 1, 1941, to William and Margaret Wilkins—one of four children.2 She graduated from Port Clinton High School in Port Clinton, Ohio, in 1959, and attended Heidelberg College for two years. Myrick 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 when she made an unsuccessful bid to become Charlotte’s mayor. Two years later, however, 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 programs to fight drugs and crime. She also helped lure a professional football franchise to the city. Myrick tried to shape her own approach to government after 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, Duncan McLauchlin (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, given that she was a millionaire. At the height of the contentious campaign, Myrick interrupted a Faircloth press conference, publicly challenging her flustered opponent to a debate. Faircloth prevailed in the GOP primary with 48 percent of the vote (Myrick won 30 percent) and won the Senate seat that November.7

Two years later, five-term Republican Representative John Alexander (Alex) McMillan III announced his retirement from a House seat representing a conservative area of Charlotte and Gastonia in south-central North Carolina. Myrick, who many counted out following her bruising Senate primary loss, entered the five-candidate GOP primary. Her name recognition as well as her campaign’s early organization soon vaulted her to the top of the field.8 Myrick took 30 percent of the vote on the May 3, 1994 primary, just ahead of North Carolina state house minority leader David Balmer who garnered 26 percent. Because no candidate won 40 percent of the vote, North Carolina law required a runoff at the end of May.9 Myrick campaigned vigorously while Balmer’s campaign began to flounder after accusations that he padded his résumé. The runoff was scheduled for the Tuesday after Memorial Day, and amid concerns about low turnout, Myrick encouraged voters to “prove them wrong … when we honor those who fought and died to guarantee that right [to vote].”10 Myrick captured the nomination with 68 percent of the vote, and easily defeated Democrat Rory Blake with 65 percent of the vote in the general election.11 In her subsequent nine re-elections, Myrick won by comfortable margins of 63 percent or more.12

During her first term in the 104th Congress, Myrick received assignments to 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 powerful 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 House Floor debate for all legislation. By the 108th Congress (2003–2005), she served as vice chair of Rules’s Technology and the House Subcommittee. 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 included health care. She picked up an additional assignment to the Permanent Select Intelligence Committee in the 111th Congress (2009–2011). Myrick chaired that panel’s Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis, and Counterintelligence Subcommittee in her final term in office.14

Myrick’s fight to lower taxes and reduce spending defined her congressional career. Part of the “Republican Revolution”—the 1994 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 House GOP’s ambitious agenda called “Contract with America,” personally focusing on welfare reform, and shaping the 1997 balanced budget—the first balanced budget in nearly 30 years. Myrick later referenced that moment as a high point of her career.16

Myrick’s experience with advertising meant that she was a frequent spokesperson for the conservative wing of her party. Myrick met regularly with key GOP leaders to discuss legislation and the ambitions of her large class of first-term lawmakers.17 “I think she has done a good job,” noted fellow freshman Republican Linda Smith of Washington 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.19

Yet Myrick’s dedication to reducing government spending eventually meant abandoning “caution,” a move that put her at odds with congressional Republican 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. When she refused to vote in favor of a rule to call up the measures for debate—a decision Myrick described as “a real no-no” with her House superiors—she pointed to the early career of Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia. “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.”20 In 1997 she was part of a small group of frustrated Republicans, disappointed by the slow pace of change since 1995, who sought to replace Speaker Gingrich.21 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 D. Pryce, instead.22 In 1998, following Gingrich’s resignation as Speaker, Myrick ran for vice chair of the Conference, but lost in a four-way race.23 Myrick also sponsored a rules change in the 108th Congress to curb the power of House Appropriations subcommittee chairs in her own party to rein in congressional spending.24 “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 2004.25

Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Myrick, as chair of the Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence Subcommittee (part of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence), was one of the most outspoken Members on America’s national security vulnerabilities. She cofounded the House Anti-Terrorism Caucus and called for investigations into certain foreign policy groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which she accused of harboring “spies.”26 She also sought to cancel student visas from Saudi Arabia. In 2011 she expressed concern over Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, castigating the Barack Obama administration for labeling it a “largely secular” political organization.27

Myrick was attentive to the needs of her North Carolina district. 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 U.S. banks amid the financial services collapse in 2008, she switched her vote when a second version came to the floor. She claimed conversations with her constituents, who could not access credit, convinced her to change her vote. “I talked to people I trust,” she noted, “good solid businesses. They could not get credit.”28 Following the disappearance of an 18-year-old college student in North Carolina, Myrick also passed legislation to create a national clearinghouse for information on missing adults.29 Her social agenda also reflected her constituents’ support for prayer in public schools and opposition to abortion.30

A personal battle with breast cancer inspired Myrick to champion bipartisan efforts to fight the disease. Myrick underwent surgery in December 1999, and while receiving six months of treatment, she could be seen donning a pink surgical mask on the House Floor to avoid infection.31 Myrick’s successful battle against breast cancer 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.”32 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 recommendations that women reduce the number of mammograms they receive because of risks of false positives.33 She encouraged women to have frequent breast cancer screenings, noting that “when you have a position where you’re a public figure, you also have a responsibility to use that in a way, for good.”34 Myrick and New York Democrat Nita M. 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.35

Myrick passed on chances to run for the Senate and for governor in 2008, and remained in the House.36 “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 seek 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.37

Footnotes

1Keith Bradsher, “… And One Who Tries to Work Things Out,” 31 October 1995, New York Times: A22.

2Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2009): 759.

3“Impeachment’s Toll,” 12 January 1999, National Journal’s House Race Hotline: n.p.; “Under the Dome,” 9 April 2002, The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC): n.p. Daniel Forest won election as North Carolina’s lieutenant governor in 2012. See, for example, Jim Morrill, “Political Education Continues for Lt. Gov.-Elect Dan Forest,” 21 November 2012, Charlotte Observer: n.p.

4Jim Morrill, “Myrick Spends Most on Family Business,” 23 March 2012, Charlotte Observer: n.p.

5Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2011): 737.

6“Candidate Q&A: 9th Congressional District,” 3 November 2002, Charlotte Observer: 6R.

7Thomas B. Edsall and Maralee Schwartz, “Clinton, Bush Add 3 More Win Columns,” 6 May 1992, Washington Post: A13; “North Carolina: ‘Senator Sue in ‘92,’” 3 October 1991, The Hotline: n.p.; “Washington and the World; Election ‘92,” 26 April 1992, Washington Times: A4; “Ex-N.C. Official Edges Myrick in Senate Race,” 6 May 1992, USA Today: 4A. For results of the primary, see “NC Senate: Faircloth Wins Bid to Face Sanford,” 6 May 1992, The Hotline: n.p.

8“North Carolina: Close Races Expected in Both the 2nd & 5th,” 2 May 1994, The Hotline: n.p.; Tim Curran and Karen Foerstel, “Mann and Myers Top Endangered in Tuesday Races Ohio, N.C., Indiana Head to Polls,” 2 May 1994, Roll Call: n.p.

9“North Carolina: GOP Runoff in the 9th,” 4 May 1994, The Hotline: n.p.

10Tim Curran, “N.C.: Blamer Dogged by Resume Inflation in GOP Runoff,” 16 May 1994, Roll Call: n.p.; Tim Curran, “N.C.: Myrick-Balmer Runoff Still Close for Open 9th Seat,” 26 May 1994, Roll Call: n.p.

11“Former Charlotte Mayor Wins Runoff Election for Congressional Seat,”1 June 1994, Associated Press; Tim Curran, “Myrick Wins N.C. Runoff,” 2 June 1994, Roll Call: n.p.

12Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

13Ellen J. Silberman, “Burr, Myrick Get Committee Plums, Coble, Ballenger Subcommittee Chairs,” 8 December 1994, States News Service.

14Tim Funk, “Inside Your Washington,” 31 January 2005, Charlotte Observer: 2B. Myrick was also assigned to the First Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, which convened from September 21, 2005 to February 15, 2006. For committee information, see Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Members’ Committee Assignments (Standing, Joint, Select) in the U.S. House, 1917–Present;” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives, “Women Who Have Chaired Subcommittees of Standing Committees in the U.S. House, 1947–Present.”

15Kenneth J. Cooper, “House Freshmen Couldn’t Wait to Get Down to Business,” 8 January 1995, Washington Post: 8.

16Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “The Nation: Breaking Rank; Shrink Government, the Right Tells the Right,” 4 January 2004, New York Times: WK1.

17Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011): 1228.

18Bradsher, “… And One Who Tries to Work Things Out.”

19Tim Funk and Jim Morrill, “Rep. Sue Myrick Will Not Seek Another Term in Congress,” 7 February 2012, Charlotte Observer: n.p.; Josh Lederman and Cameron Joseph, “Rep. Sue Myrick Plans to Retire at the End of Term,” 8 February 2012, The Hill: 23.

20David S. Broder, “Rebels,” 31 December 1995, Washington Post: L10.

21Jackie Koszczuk, “Frustration Sparks Rebellion, Discontent Fuels Smoldering Fire,” 36 July 1997, CQ Weekly: 1752–1753.

22Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 761; John E. Yang, “Gingrich Gets Boost Despite GOP Intrigue,” 17 July 1997, Washington Post: A1.

23“For New Republican Leaders, Watchword is Realism Not Revolution,” CQ Almanac 1998, 54th ed., (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1999): 7-7–7-12, https://library.cqpress.com/.

24Politics in America, 2004: 761.

25Stolberg, “The Nation: Breaking Rank; Shrink Government, the Right Tells the Right.”

26Franco Ordonez, “Controversy and Constituent Service Marked Sue Myrick’s 9 Terms in Congress,” 29 December 2012, Charlotte Observer: n.p.; Maria Recio, “Granger Announces Anti-Terrorism Caucus,” 31 January 2007, Fort Worth Star-Telegram: A4; “The Honorable Sue Myrick Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (14 March 2016): 36. The interview transcript is available online.

27Politics in America, 2012: 736.

28“Congress Clears $700 Billion Bailout of Financial Services Industry,” CQ Almanac 2012, 64th ed., (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 2009): 7-3–7-6, https://library.cqpress.com/.

29“Kristen’s Act Passes in House,” official website of Representative Sue Myrick, press release, 28 February 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20090228194831/http://www.house.gov/list/press/nc09_myrick/02112009_KristensAct2009.html.

30Richard L. Berke, “The 1994 Elections: The Voters; Defections Among Men to G.O.P. Helped Insure Rout of Democrats,” 11 November 1994, New York Times: A1; Bradsher, “… And One Who Tries to Work Things Out.”

31Politics in America, 2012: 736.

32John Wagner, “Sue Myrick—Party Shaper,” 31 July 2000, Raleigh News & Observer: A1.

33Politics in America, 2012: 736.

34“Myrick Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 42.

35Congressional Record, House 106th Cong., 2nd sess. (30 March 2002): 1624; Politics in America, 2004: 761; Politics in America, 2012: 736.

36Almanac of American Politics, 2012: 1128.

37Rachel Weiner, “N.C. Republican Rep. Sue Myrick Retiring,” 7 February 2012, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/post/nc-republican-rep-sue-myrick-retiring/2012/02/07/gIQA08fzwQ_blog.html; Ordonez, “Controversy and Constituent Service Marked Sue Myrick’s 9 Terms in Congress”; Rebecca Baird-Rembs, “Take Five with Rep. Sue Myrick,” 3 December 2012, Roll Call, https://www.rollcall.com/2012/12/03/take-five-with-rep-sue-myrick/.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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External Research Collections

University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Special Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library

Charlotte, NC
Papers: 1987-1991, 5 linear feet. The papers of Sue Myrick document two mayoral terms (1987-1991) of the first female mayor of Charlotte, N.C. The collection contains no records concerning her city council tenure (1983-85), her campaigns for the U.S. Senate (1992) and the U.S. House of Representative (1994), or her professional career as an advertising executive.

University of Oklahoma
The Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive, Department of Communication

Norman, OK
Videoreels: 1996, 7 commercials on 4 videoreels. The commercials were used during Sue Myrick's 1996 campaign for U.S. Congress in District 9 of North Carolina, Republican Party.
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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Sue Myrick" In Profiles in Character: The Values that Made America. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.

"Sue Myrick" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - Energy and Commerce
  • House Committee - Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
    • Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis, and Counterintelligence - Chair
  • House Committee - Rules
  • House Committee - Science
  • House Committee - Small Business
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Related Media

Freshman Class Liaison

The Honorable Sue Myrick remembers interacting with leadership as a freshman.

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Responsibility of Public Figures

The Honorable Sue Myrick remembers speaking out about her experience with breast cancer and the effect it had on her female constituents.

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