WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep.-elect Kat Cammack says she hadn’t thought about becoming involved in politics until her family lost its cattle ranch, which she says was the result of a poorly run federal program intended to help troubled homeowners rework their mortgages.
After watching her family’s experience in 2011 with the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program, Cammack shifted her plans. In January, the 32-year-old will become the youngest Republican woman in the U.S. House of Representatives.
She’ll be succeeding her former boss, retiring Republican Rep. Ted Yoho, in representing the Gainesville-based 3rd Congressional District.
States Newsroom talked with Cammack in a phone interview this week about being part of the record-setting number of House Republican women in the next Congress, and her approach to working in a polarized Washington.
Here’s our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity:
States Newsroom: You’re part of a record number of Republican women in the next Congress. What does it mean to have more female lawmakers among House Republicans?
Cammack: “If you look just two years ago, Republican women in the House only made up about 2.3% of the entire Republican conference. And that is certainly not reflective of conservative women across the country. In my area, the electorate, women make up 55% of our voting base, and having a voice at the table and someone who not only is a woman but shares that political philosophy and those values as a person is so important.
“Talking to several of my friends and colleagues, we would turn on the news and we would have the Squad” — Cammack was referring to the nickname for four Democratic lawmakers elected in 2018: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — “and that was really what was shown as women in America.
And I would say, yes, they are women, but they don’t represent me. So I think it was important for women not just in my home district, but across the country to see that there were incredibly talented, accomplished women in their own right that were stepping up to the plate and were ready to lead.”
Cammack’s former boss, Yoho, in July had a widely reported interaction with Ocasio-Cortez in which a reporter overheard Yoho calling the congresswoman a vulgar name. Yoho disputes that he used that terminology.
SN: You’re also going to be the youngest Republican woman in Congress. What perspective does that bring, having more younger voices in an older-leaning body of government?
Cammack: “For so long, particularly with millennials, we have yearned for a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. In the past, there were generations making decisions that we’re living with: $27 trillion in debt … we’ll never see a balanced budget unless we get very serious about it. Crazy things — a broken immigration system, broken health care system. Problems that have been kicked down the road for decades.
“And when you look at millennials, we are very unique in that we have lived in two different eras, one being analog and the other digital. So we understand the old way of doing things, but we also understand the new way. That is definitely an advantage. And by our very nature, we want to know why.
“So when I talk to my friends, the people I grew up with, the question is always, ‘Why are we doing it this way?’ And the answer has been, ‘Because we’ve always done it this way.’ That doesn’t fly for us.
“I think this is an opportunity, especially being the youngest Republican woman on Capitol Hill, this is an opportunity for us to really put forward policy that we ourselves are going to live under.”
SN: You grew up on a cattle ranch, your family lost that ranch, and you were homeless for a period of time. How did that experience shape how you’ll spend your time in Congress?
Cammack: “That is what inspired me to get involved. When my family, we found ourselves homeless, it wasn’t an anger toward a particular person or even a bank, it was anger toward a failed system and a failure of our leaders in Washington to really look out and see beyond the writing, the legislative text. Because the implementation from text in a bill into the agencies is really where things can get sideways.
“I felt like no one was really speaking out about it. There was one congressman, Patrick McHenry, from the Carolinas, and after I was elected, I had a conversation with him, and I said, ‘I want to thank you. You were the only member of Congress who I ever saw speaking out against this garbage program called (the Home Affordable Modification Program).’ And he’s like, ‘It was the worst program in the world.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s actually why I’m one of your colleagues.’
“I had no plans to get involved in politics. I wanted to take over our family business and get involved in the energy industry. I was so angry that something like this could happen in America that I decided I was going to get involved, come hell or high water.”
SN: What are the top policy priorities you’ll be focused on once you are sworn in?
Cammack: “One of the big issues that I’m really working hard on is rural broadband and internet access across America. Especially under COVID, we all saw, and I had been working on it for a couple of years, but under COVID, a glaring light was shined on it. Whether it was commerce, where it was education, where it was health care, if you didn’t have access to reliable, high-speed internet, you were automatically at a disadvantage.
“And it was frustrating coming from a rural district, having constituents that, because they were just in an area that wasn’t served by any of the telecommunication companies … heck, we still have some areas in our district that have dial-up, if you can imagine that. There’s not a lot of public transit, so with folks that are not able to really get around, there were parents that weren’t picking up paper packets for their kids and kids didn’t have a way to engage in class work online.
“For so many of our small-business owners, and a lot of them being women, whether hospitality or retail or services, they were shut down and trying to run a business from home, and it was virtually impossible. So in 2020, if we can put a man on the moon in the ‘60s, we can absolutely connect every American family in 2020. That is going to bring so many people into so many different new opportunities.
“I like to say that America is about equal opportunity, not equal outcome. It is our job to facilitate, not necessarily even pay for it, but facilitate a private transaction of sorts, private-public partnerships where we can deliver this kind of critical infrastructure for our constituents all across America.”
SN: You’ll be taking office as part of a House of Representatives where Democrats will hold a very narrow majority, and in order to have your legislation signed into law, you’ll be working with a Democratic White House and a Senate where party control won’t be decided until January, What is your approach to working in a very politically divided Washington?
Cammack: “The Biden administration remains to be seen. We’re going to let the legal process work that out. But as far as working bipartisanly and across the aisle, especially when it comes to millennials, we see things as more single-issue items. I shudder at comprehensive bills, comprehensive health care, comprehensive immigration. That is a recipe for disaster, in my opinion.
“I would like to see us really break apart these issues into smaller issue segments, because that is where we can actually look at a problem from all angles and not have any poison pills attached to it.
You can actually say with your Democrat colleagues or your Republican colleagues, ‘Hey, this is a problem. Can we all agree that this is a problem and this is how we should fix it?’ And then once you are able to piece all that together, you ultimately have solved a major problem. But we’re trying to take on these mammoth tasks by putting every wish list attached to it, and if we can just come at it one bite at a time, I think we can actually make progress that the American people expect us to make.”
SN: Are there particular issues where you can see finding agreement across the aisle?
Cammack: “I think with infrastructure, that’s an opportunity for us. On health care, when I talk to my Democrat colleagues, we agree on a tremendous deal, covering pre-existing conditions, really making health care more accessible and more affordable. How we get there? There’s typically a big divide.
But if we can just come to a general consensus on these key issues, coverage of pre-existing conditions, we can go forward and really make progress. But I think health care is going to be a big one for us. Infrastructure is going to be a big one for us.
“I think some of the more controversial issues right now, dealing with packing the court and some of the socialist, more progressive things, you’ll see some pretty fiery debates on the House floor.
To which I’ve told people, I will never attack a person personally, but rest assured we are definitely going to have some very, very tough family discussions about policy. So I’m like, well, C-SPAN is probably going to look a little more like Pay-Per-View in the coming months. But honestly, it’s the debate that the American people are looking for. They are hungry for true collaboration and they are sick and tired of a one-sided approach to things.”