The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington April 13. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

US Senator Mike DeWine: Pro-life, Pro-children, Pro-family

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Against 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 as well.

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.

Crusading for Children

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 a senator.

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,” DeWine says.

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.

“Children’s hospitals 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,” says DeWine.

His Own Family’s Influence

As a child growing up in Yellow Springs, young Mike DeWine witnessed a strong and unified family unit.

“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 rhetorically.

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!” says DeWine.

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 moment.

Bipartisan Efforts

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.

DeWine’s intelligent, 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 and principles.

“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,” DeWine says.

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 permanent homes.

Anti-Drug 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 children.

“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,” he says.

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.”

Taking Action for the Good of All

DeWine’s commitment 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, John Glenn.

No Idle Silences

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 today.

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.

St. Anthony Messenger