Problematic Women: Meet One of Congress’ Youngest New Members

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Rep.-elect Kat Cammack, R-Fla., faults an Obama era policy for leaving her and her mother homeless in 2011. After spending months living in a motel, an opportunity arose for Cammack to work on the successful campaign of Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla.

Cammack’s passion for politics only grew as she continued to work for Yoho after his election to Congress. Today, she joins the show to explain how her love of America and passion for good policies ultimately led to her own run for Congress. In January, Cammack, 32, will be sworn in as one of at least 17 new conservative female members of the House of Representatives.

In this episode, we also break down actress Melissa McCarthy’s apology for supporting an organization fighting human trafficking that also happens to be pro-life. And as always, we’ll crown our Problematic Woman of the Week.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.

Lauren Evans: While the presidential election is still being contested, one thing is for sure: 2020 was a banner year for conservative women with 17 and counting Republican women winning their elections and … joining the legislative branch next term. One of those women is Kat Cammack, fellow Floridian who won her election in Florida’s third district. Kat, welcome to the show.

Rep.-elect Kat Cammack: Thank you so much. Pleasure to be here.

Evans: So Rep.-elect, I’m sure you don’t get tired of hearing that right now. Your story to political office really starts in 2011 when your family ranch fell on some hard times due to Obama-era policies. Can you explain?

Cammack: Yeah, I grew up the daughter of a single mother and we had a small family business. I’m a third generation commercial sandblaster, and we grew up on a small cattle ranch, and it was April of 2011 that I got word through my mom that we were losing our home. And it was because we had undergone a remodification process, which so many homeowners across the country, especially after the ’08 crash, were doing, trying to get some relief.

And President Obama had at that time instituted his signature housing initiative. But what no one realized was that this 1800-page bill incentivized big banks to encourage people to get into remodification loans and then put them through that process for about six to eight months. And then at the end, they would lose the loan because they would get a credit from the federal government for every home that couldn’t “be saved.”

And so us along with seven million other Americans around the country, we lost our homes. And it wasn’t because we weren’t qualified for the loan. It was because this government program had been written in such a way that it was incentivizing banks to make more money by pushing people out of their homes. And so it really was a failure of a one-size-fits-all program. And we found ourselves homeless for several months. And it was during that time, I had just graduated college and my mom and I, we found ourselves staying at an extended stay motel. It was a pay by the week type of establishment, a little bit in a rough neighborhood.

And I decided at that point in time that my plan to take over the family business and to get involved in possibly the energy industry was no longer an option. And I decided to get involved. And I had a family friend that called me and said, “My uncle is running for Congress in Florida. And we think you’d be a great fit. He needs a campaign manager.”

And at that point in time, I was exceptionally motivated, very angry at government and frustrated with the way things have been going in our country. And so I … made a hard right and drove to Florida, showed up on Ted Yoho’s doorstep at two o’clock in the morning and joined his campaign team. Once we won—we took out a 24-year incumbent—I joined the official office and for the last seven years have served as his deputy chief of staff. And so that brings us to today.

Lauren Evans: Well, Ted Yoho was such a principled conservative and it was definitely a loss when I heard he wasn’t running for re-election. How do you think working for him really prepared you for this election and to win and eventually join Congress?

Cammack: Well, I served as his deputy chief and primarily in the district. And so that gave me the opportunity to really get to know every inch of our district, every neighborhood, every issue, a lot of the folks that were movers and shakers in our region and that was of course very helpful. But what I learned from Ted was beyond politics, a lot of life lessons and he was a mentor for me in so many ways in just how you deal with people and how you approach issues. And certainly as a principled conservative, he faced some pretty tough adversity on Capitol Hill.

He had been a large animal veterinarian for 30 years. And when you have that autonomy and you’re by yourself and you’re making decisions running your business, it can be hard to be thrown into a situation where you’re a team player and all of a sudden you’re negotiating and maneuvering for legislation. So he taught me how to get things done without compromising my principles. And he built an incredible team and I’m very fortunate that many people in that team are sticking with me through this next chapter. It’s exciting.

He was very much a guy who would tell you not necessarily what you wanted to hear, but he would always give you his word. And up here, what I am learning very quickly now as a member is that once you give your word and then you break it, you can’t get it back and it’s under a microscope on Capitol Hill. So it’s very important to me to say what I mean and mean what I say and follow up on that.

Evans: Well, I can’t imagine what your life has been like for the past couple of months campaigning, but also you are married to a first responder. I mean, obviously we’ve all been struggling with COVID and that makes his job even more dangerous. And now the anti-police sentiment that’s really unfortunately growing across the country. How have you been able to handle all of that at one time?

Cammack: I don’t think there’s anything that pisses me off more than the defund police movement. I’m sorry to be so coarse, but I cannot wrap my head around the notion that the very people that put their lives on the line for our communities every single day, that there are people in our country and our communities that want to do away with that. And it’s very frustrating just as a patriot, as an American citizen, it’s frustrating to hear that.

My husband and I, we have a nonprofit organization that exists for the sole purpose of supporting police and fire departments. We purchase critical life-saving equipment that departments can’t afford, mostly in rural areas. And we’ve been facing this uphill battle for years, but especially this year—seeing the divisive rhetoric and nature of what’s unfolding in our country has been so disheartening.

And it really does. It gets to me in a way that is very, very personal. The very first thing that I see in our kitchen when I wake up in the morning is my husband’s SWAT vest on our kitchen table. And it is a constant everyday reminder of the sacrifice that our men and women give to our communities every single day, going out the door, not knowing if they’re going to make it back, because every day is something new and it could be that one patrol stop. It could be that one fire, it could be one SWAT call-out that goes wrong and they may not make it home that night.

Typically I ask a lot of these folks, “Have you ever done a ride along?” And they say, no. I say, “Go do a ride along and come back to me after you have done an entire shift with first responders, and then tell me how you feel about them.” It’s just something that really gets to my core. My dad was a police officer and it’s something that I’m going to fight tooth and nail here on Capitol Hill … protecting and advocating for our first responders.

Evans: Oh, well, before we go any farther in the interview, can you let our listeners know where they can find more information about your organization?

Cammack: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s called the Grit Foundation. It is thegritfoundation.org. We are the official charity for 14 police and fire departments in north central, northeast Florida and we’re growing. We found very early on that there were tremendous amounts of grants out there for police and fire departments, federal grants. But by the time they went through the process of applying and had gone through all the hoops, the strings attached to these federal grants were so burdensome and it was just so involved that they had to hire more people just to manage the grant. So it was kind of a defeating process.

So we wanted to make an effort to really provide the critical equipment that our departments need. And every department is different. We have purchased everything from canines for police departments, to help stop the opioids and the drug problems in our hometown, to particulate-blocking hoods, which prevents cancer in our fire service, which that is a huge silent killer of our first responders, our firefighters.

… [Also] ballistic vests. It’s really important that we are outfitting our men and women in uniform with the necessary tools and resources to get the job done safely, not just for themselves, but also for their crews, their partners, and for our communities. So thegritfoundation.org, you can learn more about us there and it’s all private dollars. We don’t accept a single cent of federal or state money. And that was by design. I think that it’s so much better when we have the communities coming together to support our department so.

Evans: Wow. Well, thank you for that. That is so interesting and so important. I wanted to pivot. After the election, you’re now a congresswoman-elect. What has it been like? I mean, are you traveling from your district to D.C.? Is it just lots of meetings? Can you give us a little inside peek?

Cammack: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, I’m in Washington D.C. right now for freshmen orientation and we have a bipartisan freshmen orientation. So it’s really exciting to meet all of my colleagues and the 117 freshmen class on the Republican side as well as the Democrat side. And one thing that I wanted to do right out the gate was bring people along on this journey with me. So I had basically been blogging every day, taking behind the scenes photos, doing Facebook Lives in different parts of the Capitol and some of the House office buildings, showing people what it’s like to go through freshman orientation as a member elect.

And I’m sharing that on Instagram and on Facebook. So I encourage people, if you are curious about the process from when you get elected to the day that you swear in, make sure you follow us. Because it’s so many things that people don’t realize from setting your office up to the technology, the outfits you choose, to the ethics trainings, to doing things like this. I’m sitting right now in a hotel media room and my husband is here with me and it’s just really interesting stuff. And the different trainings, especially in the COVID era, how House admin is really adapting to all of these changes that we have had to make as member elects and we’re coming into this next class.

So I encourage folks to please follow us and you’ll get a really cool insider look on some of the things. And of course the Capitol Hill complex is basically shut down. So we’re making an effort to open up the People’s House and give them behind the scene tours on Facebook Live, because it’s frustrating. The Capitol should never be shut down. This is the House of Representatives, the People’s House that belongs to us and we the people. And so any effort that we can bring people along and show them really behind the curtain of what’s going on, we want to do that.

Evans: And that gets right into my next question. You and I are about the same age in our early thirties. And more millennials are getting elected to Congress. What do you think, how do you think millennials are going to govern and what kind of unique experiences is our generation going to bring to the table?

Cammack: Well, I take the title and the responsibility as the youngest Republican woman in the country very seriously. At 32, I will be the youngest Republican woman in Congress, both House and Senate. I think that that is a responsibility that one, gives young women, conservative women, a seat at the table. And for the last two years with the rise of the squad [Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley], I felt that a conservative woman’s viewpoint was lost in the mix. I always would turn on my television and I would see members of the squad and I would say they don’t represent me.

And it was frustrating because I would talk to people and they say, “Oh, well you’re like AOC.” I’m like, “No, not quite,” but I think it’s important. We as millennials and the Gen Zs that are coming right behind us, we’re inheriting all of it: good, bad indifferent, all of the decisions of our predecessors, $27 trillion in debt… record deficit spending, a broken healthcare system. These are all issues that are really going to impact us the most. And so the decisions that are being made today by folks that are at retirement age or older, they’re not going to have to live with the decisions that they’ve made.

The votes that I cast are tremendously personal because they’re going to impact me and my colleagues and millennials. And like I said, Gen Zs coming up right behind us. So we have some very serious decisions to make.

And I think that my colleagues on the left, I met the youngest Democratic woman from the 117th [Congress], Sara Jacobs out of San Diego, California. When we started talking about the issues that we cared about, we actually found some common ground. Even though I’m on the right and she’s on the left, I think when we take the politics out of it and really focus on the policy and we don’t go after the personalities, we’re able to actually get something done.

So millennials, we grew up in a different era where we had friends of every color, every creed, every background. And so the social issues I don’t think are going to be as prominent as they have been in previous generations. But I think … we’re going to make some tremendous headway on the things that have been left broken for decades.

Evans: Well, and I wanted to talk to you about your priorities going into Congress. What are some of your top issues and the issues that are really close to your heart?

Cammack: So I’ve got some national priorities, as well as some state and district priorities. In my district, we have a pretty suburban and rural area. And with COVID, it was really highlighted, pretty astutely, the need for access to high-speed reliable internet … there are people in my district that still have dial-up if you can imagine. And so that has been a tremendous challenge for not just my district, but rural communities all across America.

It’s 2020. It’s time that we invest once and for all in in making sure that people have access to high-speed internet. In order to compete, we are going to have to do that. And I liken it to the early 1920s when rural co-ops really electrified America. And so this is really that moment in our nation’s history I believe in getting everyone connected and really bridging that digital divide.

Evans: My sister lives in rural Lakeland and she actually does not have access to high-speed internet. She has to have that satellite internet and I cannot FaceTime with my niece. So I have to say this is a very personal issue to me.

Cammack: Exactly, exactly. Case in point right there. I mean, it’s wild to me to think that in 2020, we have areas that are not connected or don’t have the ability to be connected. And I myself personally, when my husband and I bought a house several years ago, they told us, “No, you have to get satellite internet.” And I said, “Well, that’s not going to work. It’s not fast enough. And I have work to do.” … So yeah, that’s something I’m very passionate about because I think it’s a great equalizer.

I like to say America is based on people opportunity, not equal outcome. And if everyone has access, that equal access to internet, the sky’s the limit truly. And it doesn’t have to be a government response either. There’s so many ways that we can really bridge that digital divide using private sector technology. Microsoft, for example, has a great plan to make way on this issue using white spaces through public access channels. And just a few short years ago, we were working with the Federal Communications Commission to make sure that the regulatory environment was conducive to that.

We’ve got some regulations taken off the books to allow them to do it. …. There’s private sector solutions that we need to be harnessing and leveraging before looking to the government to provide this infrastructure. We just have to be a facilitator to making sure that the regulatory environment is conducive to letting private sector innovate and then basically getting out of the way so they can get it deployed.

Evans: So what does it mean to you that the people of Florida’s third district trusted you with the responsibility of representing them?

Cammack: It’s probably the nonprofit. It is the most humbling experience of my life. For sure. I tell people that I am exceptionally grateful for this opportunity. And as every day goes by as we go through orientation, I become more and more convinced that this is a very serious and very humbling experience. … And I feel every day that I tell myself, “Well, you got to work harder than you did the day before.” Because this is one of those experiences that you have a lot of people counting on you. And there’s 710,000 constituents in our district in the third congressional district of Florida.

And when you have had 200,000 plus people vote for you and they put their credibility in you and given you a stamp of credibility, it’s a very heavy burden. I take it very seriously. And we’re working through building a team that also shares that. And I walk around the Capitol complex through orientation and I look at some of the greats that have walked the halls before me, and I really dig deep in thinking this is my constitutional duty. And any opportunity to serve our country is one that is an experience and a humbling experience of a lifetime.

So I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity. I haven’t even been able to find the words and you can probably tell right now. I just haven’t been able to really find the words to express how thankful I am, but people ask me that question. And like I said, it still hasn’t hit me. It’s a little surreal. So I’m working on trying to find the words.

Evans: Well, frequently on the show we talk about how being pro-life is really the most pro-woman stance. And you released this campaign ad that, I mean, it’s really moving about how your mom was encouraged to get an abortion with you and how she chose life. So how does that affect how you’re going to think through pro-life legislation and really just every part of you being a member of the House of Representatives?

Cammack: … Prior to this election it was just one of those things that … always our family knew it, but I never really shared it, particularly in conservative circles. Because I never thought that it was my story to tell. And my mom is an incredible woman who has had the most amazing life and overcome so much. And so I hope one day someone tells her life story.

When I launched the campaign, I asked her if it would be OK to share the story. And then she gave me permission and I didn’t expect it would hit people the way that it did. …

When my mom was pregnant with [my older sister] and suffered a stroke—and to this day, she still has some remnants of that stroke, she has some vision issues on her left side. And when she got pregnant with me and the doctors told her to abort me because she wouldn’t survive the pregnancy [and] nor would I, that was one thing.

But I think the thing that hurt her the most was when my grandmother, her mother, told her to abort me, and instead she chose life. So the story is very personal. And I think as a young woman, it’s important that I share that story now. Because I do believe that it’s really young women that are most affected by the issue.

But beyond that story, beyond my personal testimony, I think that government is notorious for hypocrisy. And when I look at our federal government and their response to things, I think how is it that we can possibly classify bacteria on Mars as life, but we will not classify a fetus in the womb as life? I find that exceptionally hypocritical … And if you look at the [Justice Department] and their classification for a double homicide, a pregnant woman who is murdered, that is a double homicide. The DOJ recognizes that fetus in the womb as life. But yet it’s not the case if it’s the woman who decides to make that choice.

I do think that there’s things that we need to look at differently when we talk about this issue beyond our personal testimony because we can move the needle on this issue, I do believe we can and it’s so important because it is in our founding ethos: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It starts with life and we need to do everything we can to protect it and show that every life is precious and valuable and worthwhile.

So I think that, again, we talked a little bit about finding the words to describe how I’m feeling about the trust and confidence that my constituents have put in me, this is part of it. And really trying to find a way to articulate the responsibility that I’m feeling about these very core issues that make up not just who I am, but who I believe we are as a country.

Evans: Yeah. Well, thank you and thank to your mom for sharing your story and your passion on that issue. My final question is a question we ask all the women who come on the show, and my favorite question to always ask is, do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Cammack: I never have traditionally thought of myself as a feminist because I felt like the left kind of kidnapped or corrupted the word feminist. But a few weeks ago, I had lunch with a family member, an aunt of mine who is a member of the Green Party. She’s exceptionally liberal, a lovely, lovely woman, but she said, “I’m so proud that we will have a Republican feminist in the family.”

And I thought about that for a minute and I do think that there is a role and room for conservative women in the feminist movement. Because if you look at really the genesis, it’s about choice and diversity of thought and making choices for yourself. And so I do think that a conservative label does apply. I’ve just never typically used the term.

Evans: I love it, I love it. We get such good answers and I think that’s such a great conversation you had with your aunt. Kat, I am so excited to see what you’re going to do in Congress. And just thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Cammack: OK. Thank you so much, Lauren. It’s really good to talk to you and best of luck. I’m so excited to follow your career.

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