Michael Steele is a Republican political leader from Maryland who was Lieutenant Governor of that state from 2003 through 2007. In January of 2009 he became the first African American elected to chair the National Republican Party.
Born at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Steele grew up in the Petworth neighborhood of northwest Washington, D.C., which he describes as racially integrated and stable. He was adopted by his parents, William and Maebell Steele, but after his first adoptive father died, his mother remarried to John Turner. His sister, Monica Turner, a child of the second marriage, is a medical doctor who married and later divorced heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson.
Steele credits his mother as a motivating force for her children. Stressing that she always refused public assistance he quotes her as saying “I didn’t want the government to raise my son.” He was elected class president in his senior year in high school, a feat which he repeated in his freshman year at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Steele graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international relations in 1981 and entered the Augustinian Friars Seminary at Villanova University, but decided not to enter the priesthood and instead earned a law degree from Georgetown University in 1991. Between 1991 and 2002 Steele worked as a corporate securities lawyer in Washington, D.C.; New York City, New York; and Tokyo, Japan.
In 1985 he married Angela Derritt, an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance and a banker. The couple has two sons, Michael Jr., and Drew.
In 2002 Steele was elected to the position of Lieutenant Governor of Maryland running on a ticket with Robert Erlich who was elected Governor. This victory marked the first time the Republicans had captured the governorship since Spiro Agnew was elected in 1966, and it made Steele the highest ranking black elected official in the state’s history, and for a time, the highest ranking black Republican elected official in the nation. While in office Steele supported educational reform and incentives for small business. He and Governor Ehrlich balanced the state budget without raising taxes. The Republican Party chose Steele to deliver a keynote speech at its 2004 National Convention in New York City.
Michael Steele announced his candidacy in 2005 for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat in the election slated for the following year. While media commentators regarded Steele as a compelling speaker and personable campaigner, his anti-abortion stance did not resonate well with voters in Democratic-leaning Maryland and he was hurt by President George Bush’s growing unpopularity. Steele was defeated by Congressman Ben Cardin who won 54% of the vote.
In 1997 Steele co-founded the Republican Leadership Council which identified with the centrist segment of the Party, and patterned itself after the similarly moderate Democratic Leadership Council. Most of the Council’s members came from the northeastern states, and they characterized themselves as fiscally conservative, but moderate on social and family issues. In a February 1, 2009 interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Steele stated that he was willing to support candidates who supported abortion and gay rights despite his personal opposition, but did not look favorably on constitutional amendments on these issues in the belief that it was up to individual states to decide. He also stated that “….my partnership with Christy Todd Whitman (former New Jersey governor) was an effort to hopefully build a bridge between moderates and conservatives in the party. I’m a pro-life Roman Catholic conservative, always have been.”
Rising from head of the Prince George’s County Republican Party, to head the Maryland state party, he ran as a candidate for chair of the Republican National Committee in 2009. The announcement of his victory in January 2009 was widely viewed as a major shift in the direction of the Republican Party after its 2008 defeat.