Fort Worth Business Press: Bridging the Gap

May 23, 2011

By Jon Riskind and Celestina Blok

In Congress, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth) is a generally reliable Republican vote, a fiscal conservative with a more moderate record on social issues such as federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

But her fiscal conservatism hasn’t meant eschewing earmarks, at least until House GOP leaders placed a moratorium on them. From her perch on the House Appropriations Committee, Granger has won millions of dollars worth of earmarks, money that lawmakers steer directly to local projects rather than allowing federal agencies to decide how the money is spent.

Last year, for instance, Granger’s list of earmarks for area projects included $750,000 toward building an Alliance Airport runway extension, $443,000 for a science and math research project at Southwestern University and $336,000 to help fund the Richland-Chambers Reservoir watershed protection plan.

But Granger hasn’t just used her position on the Appropriations Committee to win local earmarks. While she is on the appropriations panel’s defense subcommittee, an important position from which to watch over dollars for Fort Worth area military installations and defense contractors, Granger has also risen to chair the subcommittee overseeing the State Department and foreign operations spending, and in that role she focuses much of her efforts on national security and foreign affairs.

Granger says that the issue of earmarks needs to be dealt with but that members of Congress first need to define the term.

“I think that’s the first thing, is that we define [earmarks],” Granger said. “And in defining we say, this is what we don’t want. But if we don’t address this, it’s possible we will stop every major water project in the U.S.”

Granger remains a strong supporter of the Trinity River Vision project, a $909.6 million [in 2021 dollars] plan to re-route and change how the Trinity River flows through downtown Fort Worth. The project continues to cause debate in Fort Worth because of rising costs and the economic development aspects of the plan. Granger is the focus of much of the criticism, particularly because her son, J.D. Granger, is executive director of the project.

Opponents of Trinity River Vision say it is more of an economic development project than a flood-control plan, as designated by the Army Corps of Engineers, and that costs will rise considerably, particularly for local taxpayers. Granger, however, believes the project is a national priority.

 “The Corps of Engineers was created to deal with the Congress and Congress’ priorities on water issues,” she said. “So we have to ask if this water project authorized by the Congress, like the Trinity River Vision was. It means the Congress says, ‘This is a national priority.’ If the Congress then authorizes it, it should continue, making sure it has local support like the Trinity River Vision certainly does.”

But the Trinity River Vision is not Granger’s only priority.

During the 2007-2008 session of Congress, Granger held a spot on the House GOP leadership team, assuming the role of Republican Conference vice-chair until she stepped aside from leadership after the 2008 elections.

“She is a problem-solver who is always a passionate champion for her district,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said via email.  “She diligently makes sure she has all of the facts before she makes a decision and she says what she means.” 

Former Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), who retired ahead of the 2008 elections, said in a phone interview that Granger was “one of my favorite people” while they served in the House together, “and just one of the most steady members, I think.”

Granger came to Congress in 1997 viewed by some Republicans as a moderate but quickly “earned her stripes as a solid Republican,” said Pryce. What Granger brought to Congress was a mayor’s “local approach, where you have to have been bipartisan to make things work,” Pryce said. “I thought of her as a pragmatist, someone who found solutions, who didn’t engage in negativism.

“She just kind of worked on things until she got to a resolution, as opposed to fighting things.”

One of Granger’s policy priorities has been combating sex trafficking. Pryce recalled a 2005 congressional trip she and Granger took as part of a bipartisan group of female lawmakers to scrutinize the sex trafficking problem in several countries, including Moldova. While in Moldova, they helped rescue a girl who had escaped from a sex trafficking ring by jumping from a sixth-story window, breaking her back. Pryce said that she arranged for an Ohio life flight service to get the girl back to the United States, and that Granger arranged for a doctor at theTexas Back Institute to do surgery on her spine.

“She has as big heart and she is a really astute politician, too,” Pryce said. “She is beloved in her district, from what I can tell.”

Certainly, Granger has never had a problem getting re-elected in the solidly Republican 12th Congressional District. After winning her seat in 1996 with 58 percent of the vote, she has never fallen below 62 percent, and last November won her eighth term in the House with 72 percent of the vote.

Congress is not without its frustrations, Granger said. Government is too big, she said, not only because of its spending but because of its effectiveness. What government does well is provide safety, she said, whether at the local or national level. In Congress, she said, meeting with 434 other members who all have personal agendas can be frustrating. But she doesn’t plan to leave Congress anytime soon
Granger said her biggest successes have been in national security, but she’s also managed to help make a name for Fort Worth. During the 110th Congress, she served as vice chair of the House Republican Conference, acting as a spokesperson for the party. Although she only served for one session (the role was taking time away from her district, she said), she was able to promote and highlight Fort Worth in a way that further set the city apart from Dallas, she said.

“When I was first elected mayor, and even when I went to Congress, people would say, ‘Fort Worth? Oh yeah, that’s close to Dallas.’ That’s not true at all now. People know Fort Worth well,” Granger said.