Because we often see the same elected officials over and over again on cable news and in the newspapers, it is easy to forget that there are indeed 178 Republicans serving in the House of Representatives. Yesterday, I had the chance to speak with Congressman Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference; I also had the chance to speak with Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger.
The former mayor of Fort Worth, Texas was elected to Congress for the 12th District of Texas two years after the Republican Revolution in 1994. She now serves as the Ranking Member of the appropriations subcommittee on State-Foreign operations, and serves on the Iraqi Womens’ Caucus, on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and co-chairs the Anti-Terrorism Caucus.
I got the feeling yesterday that she wanted to talk about health care reform. After all, one of the first things Congresswoman Granger told me was that she wanted to highlight just how important it is, at this time, to “ensure that people have an understanding of what’s going on.”
Unfortunately, due to her credentials, my rampant Attention Deficit Disorder, and the fact that I had just beforehand spoken with Congressman Pence about health care, I ended up scrapping much of what I had prepared and engaged in more of a casual conversation about some of the others issues which fall in her wheelhouse. She was great, and I cannot thank her enough for speaking with me in the first place, nonetheless humoring my lack of experience with regard to congressional interviews.
When I look at the House Republicans, for the most part I see what she sees in that the party is coming together and unifying behind conservative principles. But she would know better than I — Congresswoman Granger saw firsthand the state of the GOP in the years following the Contract With America, and she also saw the GOP as it stood in the latter half of the Bush administration, when many ignored traditional conservative values in favor of giving in to the temptation of bigger government.
That was the essence of my first question for her.
America’s Right: You’ve been in Congress since 1997, so you’ve had a chance to see it from all ends. What do you see now, in the Republican Party, that you perhaps saw in the late 1990s that you might not have seen in 2006?
Texas Rep. Kay Granger: I see us really coming together in Congress on issues of limited government and fiscal responsibility. In this healthcare bill that was introduced last Friday and is scheduled for a vote this week, it’s one-sixth of our economy and it’s over one trillion dollars in new spending, I don’t think there will be a single Republican vote. We are united. And that is very, very important.
Before I came to Congress, I was Mayor of Fort Worth, Texas for three terms. So I came from local government to Congress. And this enormous reaction, the tea parties, the marches, the people standing up and saying, “I want to make sure that I can say to my children and my grandchildren that I didn’t just let this happen and not speak out,” it is incredibly positive. For the march that happened in my city in Texas, it was a rainy Saturday, it rained the entire time, yet 20,000 people showed up.
AR: It’s amazing, isn’t it?
KG: It really is. I had people that called me and said that they’d never been active before, that while they vote of course, they’d never been to parties, rallies or other such events, but they’ve discovered this whole sense of involvement in themselves.
AR: It’s just ordinary people. Amazing. Now, you’re a single mom, correct?
KG: I am.
AR: Now, you’ve been wildly successful in political circles, you were the first woman to be named to a major defense subcommittee – with the growth of that movement, with the people that you saw, I think you’re seeing a lot of single moms getting involved for the first time. What advice do you have for them?
They are. They are getting involved. Particularly on the health care issue. Eighty-five percent of family decisions on health care are made by women. That mom, single or married, is more often than not the one forced to ask “is this a cold, or is this the H1N1 virus?” I had to do that. I had to make those decisions: Do I go to the emergency room with my child? Or do I go to my doctor? Can I afford this? Is it covered?
And we’re also making decisions about our parents. People are living longer. And I did that. I took care of my mom following a stroke. I had little children, but she was by herself.
So what’s happening is that the decisions being made here on a daily basis are really affecting women, affecting families, and they’re standing up. They’re calling representatives like me and asking “Kay, are you going to vote against this?” And they know that I am.
AR: When you were elected to Congress in 1996, you took a lot of heat from Republicans saying that you were too moderate, even liberal. Since then, however, you’ve received great scores from the American Conservative Union, beating folks like Ron Paul, John Cornyn, Kay Bailey Hutchinson. We saw an interesting race in New York come to fruition yesterday featuring a Republican who was deemed too liberal leave the race and the seat eventually went to a Democrat. What lesson do you think there is, from not only your election and where you came from, but also from what you see from upstate New York?
KG: There was an enormous lesson in New York, in that we need to pay very, very close attention to who we support, not just as a party but with a focus on what they stand for and their record, what they’ve done and the positions they’ve taken.
In my own case, in Texas a mayor is not a partisan position. And so I never had my name with “Republican” attached, though it was obviously so. And I had to do a lot of talking and explain that, just because you stand up for kids does not mean that you’re liberal. In my case, my record was leading the highest crime reduction in the nation, and it was a pretty conservative position.
AR: I mentioned your spot on the defense subcommittee. You were outspoken in your criticism of the administration’s decision to abandon ground-based missile defense sites in Europe. I was actually in Poland a few months ago—my wife is Polish—and had the chance to speak to some folks there the best I could. They remembered all too well the way the Russians responded when Polish leadership agreed to host the sites to begin with. And I know from Polish media that, in the aftermath of Obama’s decision, they felt abandoned. We saw the same thing from a number of Eastern European leaders who wrote a letter to President Obama about the apparent shift of focus in American foreign policy and their own feelings of abandonment. Is that a valid feeling?
KG: It is a valid feeling. And that’s why I spoke out about it. I argued that we cannot do this and think there somehow will not be a reaction, and commitments that we make, alliances that we make as a nation cannot be abandoned as we go from one administration to another without repercussions. It is extremely important that we have to be firm—which I don’t think we are doing—and I was very concerned about the decision.
AR: I might be wrong, but I call it a “détente-at-all-costs” approach to foreign policy. Do you think that President Obama’s willingness to make concessions and sit down where his predecessor certainly would not is indicative of a certain naivete in the White House?
KG: It could be considered that. It could be considered what I’m afraid is a very different direction. To be apologetic about who we are and the positions we’ve taken, and the fact that we’re the only remaining superpower in the world, I think it puts us in a dangerous position.
AR: Was your subcommittee involved in the F-22/F-35 debate?
KG: I represent Lockheed Martin. It’s in my district. And yes, I was involved. I am a strong supporter of the [F-35] Joint Strike Fighter – to keep our air superiority is extremely important, and we cannot abandon every project. And so the decision was made to stop the F-22, so that means we have to keep the Joint Strike Fighter. We have to watch the cost, of course, for any of those programs and make sure they stay within the budget and the time frame.
AR: I read somewhere that for every hour the F-22 is aloft it requires something like nine hours of maintenance. It sounds like my family’s minivan. Was the decision made on the F-35 based upon cost and those maintenance factors, or were you concerned about capability as well?
KG: There was capability involved, and there was some duplication between the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter. You know, in a time like this when we’re at war, we have to have the best equipment, we have to have the best protection for our troops, but we have also been overspending on just about everything. We went into a financial crisis which was very real, and when that happens we just cannot spend our way out of it, you have got to establish priorities.
I had to do that as mayor. There were programs that we really liked, and we couldn’t afford to keep them. And that is a situation that we have to reconcile in ensuring that we have the best equipment, but we also have to do this development a whole lot faster. If it takes fifteen years to develop a program – our world is changing faster than that, so part of it the way we develop these, whether it’s the Joint Strike Fighter, the V-22 Osprey, the F-22. We must reform our acquisition and development.
AR: You recently voted against a Defense Authorization Bill, a first for you since you’ve been in Congress. I already know the answer, but humor me – why?
KG: It was the hate crimes legislation. And I think it is outrageous. Outrageous. I use that term very purposely when it comes to putting something like the hate crimes legislation onto a defense authorization. And you’re right – I’ve never, ever voted “no,” but the games that are being played by the Democrats who are saying that “we can’t get this any other way, so we’ll attach it to something so people will not vote against it” is absolutely awful.
AR: Well, surely this wasn’t the first time that an amendment with a spurious connection at best to a primary bill was included in legislation, right?
KG: It wasn’t the first time. But it was nature of the hate crimes legislation. It would likely not have passed on its own.
Crimes are crimes. We have a justice system and a penalty system for crimes, and so if you say we’re going to judge the intent—and a lot of times, the judgment is based upon an assessment of what a person was thinking—I think that’s a dangerous road to travel down.
AR: Switching gears a little bit – I had the opportunity to speak with Congressman Pence a little while ago, and I asked him this same question, and I’m curious to hear your take as well. I believe that next year could be a good year for the GOP and, consequently and most importantly, for America. If the Republican Party is able to make gains in the House and Senate and possibly even regain a majority, how do you avoid the big government pitfalls we saw during the latter half of the Bush Administration? How do we ensure the representation of conservative values?
KG: By electing conservatives. By being very careful with regard to who we support, who we encourage. And the other thing is learning our lesson. And we have. It was a very painful lesson to learn.
I’m from Texas. We had a president from Texas. We had a Republican House, a Republican Senate, a Republican administration and we disappointed people, and we can never do that again.
AR: What are the keys to being able to engender support for limited government among the Republicans who are already there?
KG: We stick to our basic principles. There is a lot which has been talked about in terms of brands and contracts – it’s our basic principles as conservatives. And those principles include less regulation, less government, less spending, less interference in people’s private lives. We don’t want a government that is running the auto industry, running health care.
The reason I am in Congress now is because, during my third term as mayor, I looked at that Republican Congress then and said: “you know, that Republican Congress really means it when they talk about balanced budgets and local control.” I just wanted to be a part of it then, and that’s the kind of Republican majority that I want to support.