Chairman of the House Republican Committee
Born Deborah D. Pryce; July 29, 1951, in Warren, Ohio; married Randy Walker (divorced, 2001); children: Caroline, Mia. Education: Ohio State University, B.A., 1973; Capital University Law School, J.D., 1976.
Addresses: Office —204 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515. Website —www.house.gov/pryce.
Administrative law judge for the Ohio Department of Insurance, 1976-78; held several jobs in Columbus (Ohio) City Attorney's Office, including first assistant city prosecutor, senior assistant city attorney, and assistant city manager, 1978-85; Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court judge, 1989, 1990 and 1992; elected to U.S. Congress, 1992; sworn in, 1993; became House Republican Conference Secretary, 1997; vice-chairman of the House Republican Conference, 2000; became House Republican Conference Chairman, 2002.
Awards: Inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, 2001.
Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, chairman of the House Republican Committee, is, as Elizabeth Auster of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland wrote, "the
Pryce, born in 1951, grew up in Champion, a small town in northeast Ohio. She is the oldest of five children. Her parents were both pharmacists, and she spent some of her childhood helping out at their pharmacies. She got her undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and her law degree from Capital University Law School, both in Columbus, Ohio. After working as an administrative law judge for the state government, she spent several years working for the Columbus city attorney's office.
For most of her political career, Pryce has been known for being shy and not particularly aggressive. She has attributed her shyness in public to her mother, who used to make comments about women who were dressed too audaciously in church. Pryce first ran for a judgeship at the suggestion of her boss in the city attorney's office, joining the Franklin County municipal bench in 1989. The next year, she and her husband Randy Walker, a real estate developer, adopted a daughter, Caroline.
When a veteran Republican congressman from suburban Columbus retired in 1992, Pryce ran for his seat. She was unopposed in the Republican primary, but in the general election, in addition to facing a Democrat, she had to contend with an independent candidate who ran on an anti-abortion platform after finding out Pryce supported abortion rights. Pryce beat her two opponents with 44 percent of the vote.
Pryce was sworn in as a representative in 1993. She tried to get a seat on the House Judiciary Committee, thinking she was a natural choice since she used to be a judge. But she did not get the position because she supported abortion rights, and the chairman of the committee, Henry Hyde, was strongly anti-abortion. That year, Pryce, who was part of a wave of new female lawmakers elected in 1992, got 34 of her Republican colleagues to sign a petition protesting Rep. Fortney Stark's comment that Rep. Nancy Johnson, one of the Republican caucus' health-care experts, had learned about a health-care issue during "pillow talk" with her husband, a doctor. "When it's said in a public hearing to a woman, it denigrates all the women in the House and all the women in America. This is the kind of thing we just need to be vigilant about," Pryce told Kevin Merida of the Washington Post.
But Pryce was not an outsider for long. Two years later, when the Republicans took over Congress and Newt Gingrich became speaker of the house, Gingrich asked her to serve on a committee that looked at the rules and laws involved when control of the House transfers from one party to the other. Next, Gingrich put Pryce on the powerful Rules Committee. Pryce, in return, told the New York Times that she valued Gingrich's ability to listen to advice and suggestions.
In 1997, Pryce won her first leadership post in the House as secretary of its Republican conference. She was still famously ambivalent about being a public figure; former congresswoman Susan Molinari had to coax Pryce to run for the job. She ran for secretary in part because she felt the party leadership at the time needed to speak more to the party's "quieter, hard-working tax-paying moderate middle," as she put it to Pat Griffith of the Toledo Blade. Pryce proudly called herself a moderate, especially on social issues, but she was conservative enough that she won the trust of the party's conservatives. She was loyal to Gingrich and the Contract With America, the platform he championed, and she beat an anti-Gingrich candidate for the secretary post. It was a time of chaos among House Republicans. Moderates in the House had tried and failed to remove Gingrich as speaker. So the first leadership meeting Pryce had to organize was dedicated to confronting the coup plotters; while doing so, she found that both Gingrich loyalists and moderates trusted her.
Pryce became known as a specialist on legislation about adoption, health, and crime. She was also known for getting representatives on different sides of divisive issues to compromise, a talent she had developed during her years as a judge. "She's very smooth," Rep. John Boehner, a fellow Ohio Republican, told Auster of the Plain Dealer. "She's always moving, always seeking higher ground, and she does it in a way that doesn't threaten people."
In 1998, Pryce's life turned tragic. Her eight-year-old daughter, Caroline, was diagnosed with a cancer called neuroblastoma that attacks the nerves. Pryce took a leave of absence from Congress for two months to care for her. Her condition seemed to improve after treatment, but in August of 1999 doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her spine; one month later, she died. In Caroline's honor, Pryce and her husband started a charity for childhood cancer patients, Hope Street Kids. Pryce also became a leading advocate in Congress for cancer patients and sponsored a bill for improving the end-of-life care of terminally ill children; at one point, when Caroline was near death, a hospice denied Pryce's request for more pain medication for her, and Pryce moved her daughter home and enrolled her in a home hospice program with different rules about dispensing drugs.
Two years after Caroline's death, Pryce announced that she and her husband were divorcing. Pryce later explained that the stress of Caroline's death hurt their marriage, and that she wanted to adopt again, while her husband, who was in his 50s, did not. "Randy just wasn't ready for another child," Pryce told the Plain Dealer 's Auster. "I came from a big, close, wonderful family and I just can't imagine going through life without that."
Pryce adopted a newborn daughter, Mia, becoming a single mom at age 50. Her job and her daughter have helped distract her from her grief, she told Auster of the Plain Dealer. "If I didn't have this other stuff going on, I couldn't stand it. I'd have a lot more time to feel sorry for myself, and that wouldn't help the situation." One of her close friends and several members of her family watch the baby while Pryce is working. Mia is African American, so Pryce tries to make sure her daughter grows up with a knowledge of African-American culture, buying her children's books with black characters and taking her to a multicultural church in the Columbus area.
After more than a decade in Congress, Pryce is still generally considered socially moderate and conservative on foreign policy and economics. In 2003, for instance, she said she was in favor of war with Iraq and President George W. Bush's economic plan, was personally opposed to abortion but not willing to make it illegal, and in favor of stem cell research. She and other Republican congresswomen have worked to include more child-care funding in welfare reforms.
In 2000, Pryce moved up to the number-five position in House Republican leadership, vice-chairman of the House Republican Conference. In 2002, Pryce beat two men more conservative than her to become chairman of the conference, making her the fourth most powerful House Republican, one of the "Big Four" leaders who determine the House's agenda. She said she hoped to help the Republican Party speak to a broader audience and not be led only by conservative men. "If you talk about tax relief in terms of a mom trying to make ends meet and paying the grocery bills, it's a different message than just talking about it in terms of business and stocks and bonds and that type of thing," she told the Plain Dealer 's Auster. She often told fellow Republicans, during closed meetings, not to use language that might alienate female voters. Pryce also founded a political action committee, VIEW PAC, to help female Republican candidates.
Still, Pryce could fight with Democrats and stand by Republican leadership's decisions as well as any conservative. When asked if the leadership's attempt to pass a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning contradicted its pledge to focus on bills that affect people's everyday lives, she told Mike Allen of the Washington Post, "This is probably as relevant to people's lives now as any other time because of what's going on with Democrats putting everybody in the world before our soldiers and the American safety." She suggested that Democrats were overly worried about conditions in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "And the flag has a place in that debate."
Pryce also became a crusader in the fight against the trafficking of women. She wrote a bill to fight sex trafficking, held congressional hearings on the subject and led a tour of congresspeople who went to southern and eastern Europe on a fact-finding mission about such crimes. She also arranged for surgery for a woman from Moldova who was severely injured while escaping from a forced-prostitution ring. "A nation that stands for the freedom and dignity of every human being cannot tolerate the degradation and exploitation of the innocent going on on our own soil," Pryce said, as quoted by Sabrina Eaton in the Plain Dealer. Congress passed Pryce's bill in 2005 and Bush signed it into law in January of 2006.
Around the same time, when some Republican moderates voted against Bush's budget-cutting package, which imposed new rules on welfare, Medicaid, and student loan recipients, and other Republicans questioned the prudence of a new round of tax cuts, Pryce stood up for both bills. "American taxpayers, and anyone concerned with the nation's long-term fiscal stability, have won a great victory today," she said when the budget cuts passed by two votes in February of 2006, as quoted by Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post.
As 2005 ended, Democrats hoping to win Republican seats in Ohio's 2006 elections became optimistic that they could unseat Pryce. Though she had been considered unbeatable in past elections, she won in 2004 with only 60 percent of the vote. Because of Republican scandals in Washington and Ohio and many voters' disenchantment with the president and the Iraq war, many Democrats believed their challenger to Pryce, Mary Jo Kilroy, president of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners, could beat her. However, Pryce said she felt the tide would turn back toward Republicans by November, once statewide scandals receded and if progress were made in the Iraq war. "I think that things will change enough that Ohio won't be quite as fertile as the Democrats believe it is right now," she told Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times. Pryce dodged what would have been a serious setback to her career in February of 2006, when she held onto her leadership position after a brief period in which it appeared she might be challenged. Even if she retains her seat, Pryce's allies wonder how much higher she can rise in House Republican leadership, considering her support of abortion rights. She is unlikely to ever become speaker of the house, for instance. However, when asked about her future, Pryce did not rule out a run for another position, such as a statewide office.
Blade (Toledo, OH), October 12, 1997, p. F2.
Cincinnati Post, June 8, 2000, p. A3.
Dayton Daily News (Ohio), February 6, 2006, p. B1.
Good Housekeeping, September 2004, pp. 134-37.
Lancaster Eagle-Gazette (Ohio), September 19, 2003, p. A4.
New York Times, December 26, 1994; August 9, 1997; December 3, 2005, p. A16.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland), March 16, 2003, p. 8 (Sunday magazine); January 11, 2006, p. A9.
Washington Post, March 30, 1994, p. A1; April 29, 1998, p. A19; November 15, 2000, p. A5; June 22, 2005, p. A8; December 8, 2005, p. A1; February 2, 2006, p. A1.
"Biography," United States House of Representatives, http://www.house.gov/pryce/biography. htm (February 25, 2006).
"Pryce, Deborah D.: Biographical Information," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/ biodisplay.pl?index=P000555 (February 25, 2006).
— Erick Trickey