By Bryan Stevens
U.S. Rep. David Price (D-NC) has released a largely new fourth edition of his book, “The Congressional Experience,” in which he reflects at several points on his upbringing in Erwin, Tennessee.
Price, one of four Unicoi County natives to have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, said that it has been more than 15 years since the last edition of the book. “The country’s more polarized and divided,” he said. “There have also been three turnovers in House leadership in the last 15 years.”
Price noted that the Trump Administration broke many Constitutional norms, as well as established norms between the Congress and the office of the President.
He said he felt the need to write the book because Congress and other institutions are in a transitional period.
The book serves almost like a blueprint to “how Congress needs to function and how it should function.”
“I love the institution of the Congress, but I am a critic of it,” Price admitted.
There are usually three types of critics. Two – the loveless critic and the uncritical lover – are bad participants in the process, according to Price. The third, a category in which he places himself, is the “loving critic,” who can critique Congress while still respecting and loving the institution.
“There needs to be constant emphasis on reassessment and reform,” Price said.
One thing that has pleased Price is the fact that his book is often used in classroom settings.
He estimated that at least half the material in the latest edition of the book is entirely new.
“I started out reluctantly,” he said. “I wrote the book at a friend’s urging.”
The cover of the book features storm clouds building over the familiar Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
“My wife and I picked that image deliberately,” he said, nothing that he wanted to emphasize the transition and change taking place in the nation.
“The country,” Price predicted, “is going to have to make difficult decisions.”
He also said that there has never been a time when a sound basic education has been more necessary. “You need,” he emphasize, “to understand history.”
Although he no longer has family living in Unicoi County, Price said he has “kept an eye” on the county over the years.
For instance, he said that he got involved in the effort to preserve the Rocky Fork lands that eventually became one of Tennessee’s most recent state parks.
“I’m glad that we were able to preserve that tract of land,” he said.
He also teamed with former U.S. Rep. Phil Roe several years ago. “We nipped in the bud some plans to close the National Fish Hatchery in Erwin,” Price said.
While the book is not a personal memoir, he did touch more in this edition on the subject of his Erwin upbringing.
Price is the son of Albert Price – Unicoi County High School principal and later head of purchasing at Nuclear Fuel Services – and Elna Harrell Price, long-time UCHS English teacher. He reflects on his upbringing in Erwin’s First Christian Church, his early experiences as a part-time announcer at WEMB radio, and his three-year effort through House appropriations to fund the purchase of the Rocky Fork tract, alongside the Appalachian Trail in Unicoi County.
“Erwin was a wonderful community to grow up in,” Price said. “It gave me a sense of values.”
Leadership positions during high school and being a native of a “nurturing, wonderful town” also paved the way for his work as an adult as a public servant.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1986, Price represents the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina and chairs the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee.
Incredibly for how small Unicoi County has been, Price is one of four county natives to serve in the U.S. House. The others include John Q. Tilson (R-CT), who served 1909-13 and 1915-32; James J. Britt (R-NC), who served from 1915-17; and David Davis (R-TN), who served from 2007-08. Davis, however, is the only one of the four to have served as representing Unicoi County. The others, like Price, were former Unicoi Countians when elected.
Price noted that his father knew Tilson.
“My dad used to tell me he remembered John Q. coming into town every summer,” Price said. Price said that Tilson could often be found at A.R. Brown’s, a well-known hardware and mercantile store that was a fixture of downtown Erwin for decades.
According to Price, Tilson grew up in the mountains of southern Unicoi County in the post-Civil War period.
“He went to Mars Hill College, and then to Yale,” Price said.
He described Tilson as a “substantial” member of Congress, where he represented New Haven, Connecticut, for many years.
Price said that he even got the opportunity to visit with Tilson’s son once in New Haven.
Price represents North Carolina’s Fourth District – a rapidly growing, research-and-education-focused district that includes Durham, Franklin, Granville and Orange counties, as well as parts of Chatham, Wake, and Vance counties. He received his undergraduate degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and went on to Yale University to earn a bachelor’s of divinity degree and a doctorate in political science. Before he began serving in Congress in 1987, Price was a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University. He is the author of four books on Congress and the American political system.
Price serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is the chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. He also serves on the House Budget Committee and is a member of the Appropriations subcommittees on homeland security, State Department, and foreign operations. He is a recognized leader in foreign policy, serving as the chairman of the House Democracy Partnership, which he initiated to help strengthen parliaments in emerging democracies.
“Our country has got a role it needs to restore and regain concerning human rights and democracies,” Price said. “We’ve got to engage with these emerging democracies. My heart is really in this work.”
He acknowledges the deep partisan divide that exists in the nation at this particular time in history, but he focuses when he can on areas where bipartisan cooperation can be achieved.
“The areas where I have assumed leadership are not the most partisan,” he said. His work with appropriations is one that he described as “less partisan.”
He said that his North Carolina constituents know him as a strong supporter of education, accessible health care, affordable housing, clean air and water and improved transportation alternatives.
Price and his wife Lisa live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
After being a stay-at-home mother for many years, Lisa worked for Chapel Hill Mayor Ken Broun and then went on to help to found North Carolinians Against Gun Violence. She was its executive director until retiring in 2007. The Prices have two children: Karen, a documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles, and Michael, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Brunel University in London. The couple have three grandchildren.
Price is a member of Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, where he has taught Sunday School and chaired the official board.
In addition to his leadership on the Appropriations Committee and the House Democracy Partnership, Price serves as a vice chair on the House Democracy Reform Task Force, a vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and a co-chair of the Democratic Policy Group. Price also co-chairs the Democratic Caucus Faith Working Group, the National Service Caucus, the Congressional Vision Caucus, the Congressional Humanities Caucus, and the Moldova Caucus.
Price’s book is available on Amazon.