U.S. Senator Mike DeWine was growing up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, he
would attend grade school Catholic catechism (CCD) classes every Saturday
morning at St. Paul’s Catholic Church. He didn’t go to Catholic school
“because there wasn’t one in Yellow Springs,” he explains. He continued
attending catechism classes in high school, too.
Those classes left a
deep and lasting impression on DeWine. “You don’t go through 12 years
of that kind of education, even if it’s three hours a week, without
it having some kind of impact,” he says.
“Clearly, part of the
teaching of our Church is, ‘You should help others.’ I have elected
to do that through my life in public service,” says Sen. DeWine.
“That is not the only
way to do it, but it’s the way I’m most comfortable, and the way that
I think I can be the most help. So I have chosen that path, and I
find it very rewarding,” DeWine says.
And the Bible stories
that emphasize the preciousness of life and the beauty and joy of
children must have left the biggest impact on DeWine because these
issues the senator now champions ever more firmly in his quiet, unassuming,
unpretentious and unheralded way.
Today, children are
greatly benefiting from the fruits of DeWine’s political labor. As
a Republican U.S. senator representing Ohio for the past six years
and just reelected last November to a second term, DeWine has become
a seasoned pro—one who is pro-life, pro-children and pro-family.
Partial-Birth Abortions and RU-486
Taking time out of a
very frenetic 2000 reelection campaign schedule, Sen. DeWine spoke
about his pro-life actions and his commitment to helping children.
He sat with a cup of coffee in the kitchen of his 177-year-old Cedarville,
Ohio, farmhouse, located five miles away from Yellow Springs.
A descendant of Scottish,
English and Irish immigrants, DeWine has been married to his wife,
Fran, for 33 years. They have had eight children, ranging in age from
32 to eight, and are grandparents of six.
Fran says, “My husband
lives his faith. Public service is what Mike does best. He’s there
to help make a difference for children.”
For DeWine, “helping
to make a difference for children” begins at the exact moment of conception,
when the seed of a child’s life is first planted. Although diminutive
in size, DeWine has exerted Herculean strength in fighting for congressional
legislation that promotes life and benefits children.
“I have always been
pro-life, and I have felt very strongly about this from the first
day I went to Washington, D.C., as a congressman in 1983,” says DeWine.
“I think I was in every
Washington, D.C., National Right to
Life March in January except one, and at that time I had to be
on the Senate floor for the impeachment hearings. Some years my children
have marched with me, and I have always spoken,” DeWine says.
Sen. DeWine has led
the fight against partial-birth abortion as well. “Last year, Sen.
Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and I spoke out against partial-birth abortion.
I probably was the second person on the Senate floor spending the
most time speaking out against it,” DeWine says.
When asked if speaking
out on the abortion issue took a lot of courage in today’s society,
DeWine will not accept that credit. “I think that there are certain
things that you decide ‘This is what I think,’” he says.
“Look, I’m 53. I pretty
much know what I think. I know what I believe. I know what I think
is important in life, and I think I’ve had a lot of experience,” says
the youthful-looking senator.
He also thinks the federal
Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision last September to approve
the new, controversial abortion drug, RU-486, was “a sad and tragic
decision.” (See "RU-486:
A Risk to Body and Soul") Before even one week had passed,
DeWine says that he called Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.), chairman of
the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, to challenge
the decision and ask that hearings be held.
DeWine’s efforts to
stand up for life have caught the congressional eye of both senators
and some very influential members of the House of Representatives
Renowned U.S. Congressman
Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) is one such person. He served with DeWine on
the House Intelligence Committee. “I found Mike to be a very thoughtful
conservative who has a high degree of idealism, and he has been an
influence for good,” Hyde says.
Rep. Hyde describes
DeWine as having a “rigorous conscience,” and being a strong pro-life
advocate, one who doesn’t hesitate to speak out. He found DeWine “quiet
and efficient” in his work, not flamboyant.
“We could use a couple
hundred more Mike DeWines,” Hyde declares.
Although DeWine’s fight
for the welfare and safety of children dates back to the 1970s, when
he first began his professional political career, his commitment to
children’s issues has grown keener and deeper since he has become
Prompted by the death
of a 13-year-old Greene County girl, DeWine has crusaded for school
bus safety, according to his campaign manager, Josh Rubin.
Along with Sen. Herb
Kohl (D-Wis.), DeWine has pushed through a law making it a felony
to cross state lines to avoid paying child support in cases after
one year or more than $5,000 in arrears.
“I put a lot of emphasis
on children’s issues. Children are many times ignored because they
don’t vote, and they don’t have lobby groups,” DeWine declares.
One children’s bill
that DeWine fought especially hard for—and that President Bill Clinton
signed into law last October—is the Child Health Act of 2000, which
contains four DeWine initiatives.
The first initiative
is entitled “The Pediatric Research Initiative,” which authorizes
$50 million over the next five years for the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) to “conduct, coordinate, support, develop
and recognize pediatric research.”
“The NIH was spending
only about 12 percent of its budget on children, yet children comprise
30 percent of the population. With this initiative, we are saying
that children’s health deserves more attention from the research community,”
A second DeWine initiative
to the Child Health Act is “The Children’s Asthma Relief Act,” which
provides resources to help children with asthma (which DeWine himself
has) receive the care they need to live healthy lives.
DeWine says that there
is a high incidence of asthma in U.S. cities among young children,
particularly African-American children. “Sometimes these young children
cannot get help unless they are having an asthma attack and are rushed
to the hospital.
“Now, with this initiative,
it will be possible to manage or prevent asthma attacks in children.
Here’s something that, if we get at it, we can make it so that the
child isn’t absent from school as much. We can cut down on the number
of children who die from asthma attacks,” DeWine says.
The third DeWine initiative
requires that the secretary of Health and Human Services comply with
regulations “governing the protection of children involved in research.”
And the bill includes
what’s called the “Graduate Medical Education (GME) Reauthorization”
initiative, which extends the GME program in children’s teaching hospitals
another four years.
DeWine’s fight for children’s
hospitals to get more help was partly inspired by a personal experience.
Eight years ago, he and his wife had to rush their youngest daughter,
Anna, to a children’s hospital in Dayton, Ohio, when she was only
six months old. “The staff was great there,” DeWine says.
comprise less than one percent of all hospitals, yet they train five
percent of all physicians, nearly 30 percent of all pediatricians,
and almost 50 percent of all pediatric specialists.
“By providing our nation
with highly qualified pediatricians, children’s hospitals offer children
the best possible care and offer parents peace of mind. They serve
as the health-care safety net for low-income children and are often
the sole regional providers of many critical pediatric services,”
Own Family's Influence
As a child growing
up in Yellow Springs, young Mike DeWine witnessed a strong and unified
“I’m influenced by my
parents and my grandparents. It was a very close and unique family
relationship that I saw. My four grandparents went out to dinner every
Saturday night together. Now what are the odds of that?” DeWine asks
Sen. DeWine believes
that this influence is still with him today. “We’re all products of
our past, our own experience and our own environment,” he adds.
DeWine’s wife is another
major influence in his life and in his extra-special care for children.
As private citizens, Mike and Fran DeWine have helped Sister Veronique
who runs an orphanage in Haiti.
“Fran’s a strong person.
She’s done a lot in raising our children, and she’s a fantastic campaigner!”
As DeWine and his family
go door-to-door campaigning, Fran hands out a cookbook that she has
created. “Campaigning should be fun. You should give people something
to make them smile, and something that they can keep,” Fran says.
She also hosts a huge ice-cream social in the summer.
Mike and Fran have known
each other ever since first grade. They bowled together in seventh
grade, and in high school they went out for ice cream together after
Wednesday evening catechism classes.
While attending Miami
University of Ohio, they got married between their sophomore and junior
year of college in 1967. They wasted no time in starting their family.
“Fran and I tell people
we had a ‘productive’ four years in college—we ended up with two degrees
and two children by the time we left Miami,” DeWine says with his
characteristic dry wit and a straight face.
“I’m influenced by my
children. Each is different and unique,” says Senator DeWine.
Patrick, 32, the DeWines’
oldest child, is an attorney who is on the Cincinnati City Council.
Jill, 31, is a homemaker,
with four children six years old and under.
Becky, who would be
29, was killed in a car wreck on a rain-slick road, after having recently
graduated from the College of Wooster. She had just completed an internship
for a Xenia, Ohio, newspaper.
John, 26, is a botanist
who works in the Grand Canyon in revegetation.
Brian, 22, is a sports
marketing major at Clemson University.
The DeWines still have
three children at home, including Alice, a senior at Bishop Denis
O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia, Mark, 13, and Anna,
eight, who both love sports.
During the congressional
and school sessions, the DeWines and their three school-aged children
live in Annandale, Virginia, to keep the family close together. The
rest of the time is spent in their Cedarville, Ohio, home.
The death of Becky was
very difficult and devastating for the DeWines. Fran DeWine says that
Becky’s death on August 4, 1993, had come just after the DeWines announced
in June of that year that Mike was going to run for U.S. senator.
At first, Mike DeWine
thought about pulling out of the race. He and his wife talked it over
with their children. “It was our oldest son Patrick who said, ‘This
isn’t what Becky would have wanted. She would want you to run for
United States senator,’” Fran DeWine explains.
Mike DeWine says Becky
was a very loving and caring person. “She was always trying to help
others. Fran and I have tried to do things for others and for children
in memory of Becky,” says her father in a very quiet and reflective
Sen. DeWine is a friendly
person with a slightly folksy manner, who loves Ohio. “I represent
a very diverse state of farms and cities with 11 million people. It’s
a microcosm of the country. It has a significant ethnic population,
and it has a significant African-American population. It’s a great
state!” he exclaims.
articulate, witty and humble. He’s been called a “mainstreet Republican,”
a “mainstream Republican,” a “conservative,” “courageous,” “reliable,”
“center-right” and an “independent” who is “bipartisan at times.”
“I think those descriptions
are all fair,” meaning accurate, he says.
When asked about his
ability to be bipartisan, DeWine says, “I try to approach each issue
based on what the facts are and then apply those facts to basic values
“I’m really results-oriented.
To get results in the Senate, the best way is to reach out to members,
regardless if they’re Democrat or Republican. I’m a pragmatic Ohioan,”
And reach out he has.
Teaming up with Sen.
John (Jay) D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), DeWine says that the two of them,
plus the late John H. Chafee (R-R.I.), worked on a child adoption
bill (The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997) that was passed
several years ago.
According to DeWine,
one result of this bill is that the adoption process is sped up for
children who were abused or neglected previously. “We’ve been seeing
adoptions increase in this country by 30 percent in the last couple
of years,” he says.
Further, DeWine says
that there was a federal law passed in 1980 that said, when the courts
take a child out of a home due to abuse or neglect, the state must
make “reasonable efforts” to put that child back in the home.
“There’s nothing wrong
with that language, but I believed something needed to be added
to that. I had a lot of opposition at first, but what I had written
into the new bill was, ‘Notwithstanding any of the above, the safety
of the child will always be paramount.’ So that made it clear, the
safety of the child is number one,” DeWine explains.
Another piece of legislation
that Senators DeWine and Rockefeller worked on together was called
the Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act, which became law last
September. The law will improve the effectiveness of the nation’s
abuse and neglect courts, and help to provide children with safe and
Fight for Kids
In 1976, DeWine was
elected county prosecutor of Greene County, Ohio, and served in that
capacity for four years. He thinks that his job as county prosecutor
was an extremely important period in his life in public office, especially
in his fight to help children.
“Greene County, at that
time, had a population of 130,000 people. You would see many of the
same problems that you would see in an urban area,” he says.
Not only did DeWine
prosecute all felonies back then, he also dealt with the child-abuse
cases and child-custody cases. He handled drug cases that affected
“Being county prosecutor
was a very, very valuable experience that really has shaped my perspective
on what I see every day. There isn’t a day that goes by in the Senate
that I don’t relate something I’ve learned as a county prosecutor,”
Last summer in a major
anti-drug effort, DeWine accompanied President Clinton, along with
other U.S. representatives, on a trip to Colombia to help stop the
illegal drugs that find their way into the United States.
“I’ve been involved
in this anti-drug effort in Central and South America because I know
that virtually all illegal drugs on the streets of Cincinnati or Detroit
or New York or Los Angeles come from this hemisphere, whether it’s
cocaine or heroin,” says DeWine.
“But, of course, I also
know that if people weren’t consuming these drugs, they wouldn’t be
coming in here.”
Besides supporting financial
aid to Colombia, DeWine, who has served on the National Commission
for Drug-Free Schools, says that we also need to help with the fight
against drugs in other ways.
“There are four things
we can do to help people,” DeWine says. Holding up one finger at a
time for emphasis, he elaborates, “We do it, number one, through treatment;
number two, through education; number three, through domestic law
enforcement; and number four, through international interdiction.”
Action for the Good of All
to children is certainly evident throughout his work, but he has neither
forgotten nor neglected the adults of his home state. That might be
assisting the Ohioan who wants to donate a ramp to a senior citizen
home or calling for immediate help for tornado victims in Xenia. He
also hasn’t forgotten to work on job training bills or The Older Americans
Act, or to make tougher laws against drunk drivers.
He remembered to add
provisions to the Higher Education Act, which helps students to repay
college loans, encourages alternative certification of teachers and
creates public-private partnerships to train teachers.
DeWine was instrumental
in getting a Cleveland federal courthouse named after the late Mayor
Carl Stokes of Cleveland, and the Cleveland area NASA research center
named after his one-time political opponent and retired colleague,
One of DeWine’s favorite
books is entitled For Every Idle Silence, written by Congressman
Hyde. There Hyde speaks out against abortion and discusses other pertinent
religious issues of the mid-1980s that are still relevant and debated
The book’s title comes
from a quote by St.
Ambrose which says, “Not only for every idle word but for every
idle silence must man render an account.”
Expanding on the essence
of St. Ambrose’s quote, DeWine says, “We are judged not just by what
we do, but we are also judged by what we fail to do.”
Most folks agree that
Mike DeWine will not be judged and found silent.
Guerrino Thomas Rich is a freelance writer from Stow, Ohio, where he lives with his wife and two children and is a member of Holy Family Parish.