Congresswoman Sue Myrick retires next month, after nine terms representing North Carolina’s 9th congressional district. Myrick cruised into Washington during the historic Republican sweep of the 1994 midterm elections. She offered a reliably conservative voice in Congress, and didn’t ‘hold back’ on the issues she felt most passionately about. WFAE’s Mark Rumsey has this profile of Myrick’s congressional career:
By the early 1990s, Sue Myrick’s political resume included one term on Charlotte City Council, and two terms as the city’s first female mayor. She also owned a Charlotte advertising firm.
In 1992, Myrick made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. But two years later, she had her eye on Washington again. Republicans were poised to take control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in nearly four decades. This was Myrick, during a debate with Republican primary runoff opponent David Balmer, aired on WFAE in May, 1994:
“I don’t wanna go up there and be part of the 'good ole system' that’s there because that isn’t working; I want to be part of the reform movement that is taking place." Today, Myrick recalls the Congress of the mid 1990s as a place where lawmakers were willing to work together, across the political aisle. But now, she says, the partisan divide is so deep, it helped nudge her toward retirement:
“It’s a very difficult place now too, and that factored some into my decision because I’ve worked bipartisanly, my bills that I sponsor are bipartisan and there isn’t an atmosphere in Congress anymore for bipartisanship and it’s pretty disturbing.”
When Myrick campaigned for her first term, she joined other Republicans in supporting the newly-unveiled Contract with America – which propelled the GOP to a sweeping mid-term victory. The Contract outlined a conservative agenda that included tax cuts, a balanced budget, the line-item veto and term limits. The Contract proposed a maximum of six terms for U.S. House members. Here’s Myrick again, from that 1994 debate:
“Politics isn’t a career with me. I’d like to serve and come home in the tradition of Congressmen McMillan and Martin,” Myrick said in that 1994 debate.
Myrick’s 9th district predecessors, Republicans Jim Martin and Alex McMillan served six and five terms, respectively. But today, Myrick makes no apologies for accumulating nine terms in Congress:
“I advocated term limits and I said if term limits are enacted I will abide by them, but they weren’t enacted and so, life goes on; and the people have term limits every two years, they could have turned me out of office if they wanted to – they chose to keep me,” Myrick says.
And keep her, they did. Ninth district voters repeatedly re-elected Myrick by big margins. That doesn’t surprise Jim Gimpel. He teaches government and politics at the University of Maryland, and wrote a book about the early days of the Contract with America. Gimpel says Myrick built a long career in Congress by successfully representing the views of her constituents:
“I think that’s because her previous political experience gave her insight into just how to represent that constituency, and then her time in congress –she spent additional time studying it; this is what long-serving members do, you know, to maintain their positions,” Gimpel says.
During her tenure, Myrick achieved mid-level leadership roles in the House. She was one of several deputy whips chosen to help top leadership drum up support among party members for legislation.
As for her own legislative accomplishments, Myrick’s most proud of a bill she sponsored in 2000 to extend Medicaid coverage for women with breast or cervical cancer. Myrick herself had been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous year: “Once I became a cancer victim myself, as they say, it made me realize how horrible that would be; it would be like a death sentence, if you didn’t have money and somebody said ‘I can’t help you.’”
The bill passed, and all 50 states adopted the expanded coverage. September 11, 2001
After 9/11, Myrick’s focus changed. She became an outspoken and controversial voice in discussions on terrorism and homeland security. She warned repeatedly of threats from what she called “Islamo-fascist infiltrators.” In an online video message, shortly after a terrorist tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day 2009:
“There are people that are literally willing to blow themselves up like this guy did to commit jihad because they believe in a bigger cause, and that cause is – what they want to do to us; they want to destroy Western democracies, they want to bring down America, they want us to live by their rules,” Myrick said.
Myrick gained a seat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence – and she wrote the "foreword" to a controversial book called “Muslim Mafia.” The author alleged that the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations is part of a conspiracy to support Islamic terrorists and bring Islamic jihad to America.
While Myrick insisted that she was not painting the majority of Muslims with the “terrorist” brush - many Muslims felt otherwise:
“I think she helped lead the charge in a fear campaign against Muslims,” says Jibril Hough, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte.
In 2010, Hough helped organize a town hall meeting between Myrick and the local Muslim community. But, Hough says, the meeting didn’t change anything.
“It’s sad, because even after our engagement, I think Sue Myrick thinks there is an agenda - a conspiratorial agenda behind most Muslims, especially those Muslims who choose to be involved in the political process,” Hough says.
Myrick still maintains that continued terrorist incidents justify her concerns. And last week, she was awarded a Public Service medal by the Director of National Intelligence for her support of the U.S. Intelligence community.
Come January 3, Sue Myrick will be a former member of Congress. As boxes were being packed-up around her office in south Charlotte , Myrick had this advice for anyone considering a run for Congress.
“I’m not the right person to ask,” Myrick says, chuckling, “because right now I would say ‘don’t do it’ because it’s very hard to be effective and you can be effective in other ways.”
Myrick says she wants to stay involved with issues she cares about - such as - removing the ‘stigma’ from mental illness. While she may be more cynical about Washington politics than she was in 1994, Myrick still hopes other people will get involved in public service.
“If running for office is what they feel they need to do then I encourage them to do that. But they need to know it’s not an easy road.”
Myrick wouldn’t explicitly rule out a future bid for elected office herself. But she won’t elaborate on that.