Fort Worth Business Press: Standing Strong
May 16, 2011
By: Celestina Blok and Jon Riskind
Former mayor, school teacher and small businesswoman and now U.S. representative – Kay Granger could not have imagined that she would be where she is now, playing a key role in the defense of the United States.
The recent death of Osama bin Laden only underscored the fact that defense has become a key priority in the congresswoman’s agenda.
“The death of bin Laden is the result of a decade of work by our military,” Granger said, in a statement following the bin Laden announcement. “This is a message to friend and foe alike: we will never allow terrorists like bin Laden to escape justice. Much work remains to be done. Al Qaida is still alive and the Taliban just announced its spring offensive. And while the death of bin Laden is a great victory for America, for the world and for the future, the fight to rid the world of terror must and will go on.”
Now in her eighth term representing District 12, Granger, 68, has made a name for herself in Washington D.C., with fellow lawmakers describing her as “pragmatist” with “common sense.” While she is a partisan Republican, Granger also maintains strategic and personal relationships with members on the other side of the aisle.?A close friend is Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on House Appropriation Committee’s State-Foreign Operations subcommittee. Their roles were reversed during the 111th Congress in 2009-10, when Lowey was the subcommittee chairman, but they have maintained a good?relationship regardless of who holds the gavel, according to a Lowey spokesman. That has allowed them to work on issues including support for U.S. allies combating al Qaida, aid for Israel and global efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.?“It is a pleasure to work with a colleague as committed, honest and?hard-working as Kay Granger,” Lowey said via email. “Regardless of who is in the majority, improving our national security is a priority that we work hard to keep nonpartisan. The rest of Congress should take a lesson from how well this New York Democrat and Texas Republican work together.”?House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called Granger a “common-sense, conservative leader in our conference” with a particular expertise in defense and foreign policy issues.?Granger says her roots on Fort Worth’s East Side prepared her well for what has become an international role in the defense realm.
A graduate of Eastern Hills High School and Texas Wesleyan University, her defense of the area and passion for helping it succeed helped pave the way for the rest of her career. Defense is Kay Granger’s ultimate priority. It’s what eventually led her to Congress to help defend a nation.
“There were initially no political ambitions at all, except I got very involved in the community where I’d grown up,” Granger said. “I felt like east Fort Worth wasn’t as involved in the city as they should be. If you looked at east Fort Worth geographically, it was a huge part of the city, but I felt like we weren’t getting what we should. So I decided to run for city council.”
Granger served on the council just one year before then-Mayor Bob Bolen talked to her about running for mayor. At the time, the former school teacher owned an insurance agency and was raising three children. Becoming the mayor of Fort Worth was never in her original plans, she said.
“He said, ‘I may not run again and you should seriously consider it,’” she said.
Granger was convinced to run and eventually served three terms as Fort Worth’s mayor, keeping her passion for security as the highest priority. In four years, the city’s crime rate dropped significantly, helping Fort Worth win an All-America City Award. When then-Rep. Pete Geren chose not to run for Congress again, he approached Granger in a manner similar to Bolen.
“I was finishing my third term as mayor and had done really what I wanted to do. We pulled together as a city and I knew we were on the right track,” Granger said. “I was making my plans to go back to my business, and then Pete Geren surprised everyone. He chose not to run again and encouraged me to do it.”
Granger had experience in dealing with Washington, and dealing with what it was doing wrong, she said. Many in Congress were attorneys or formers congressional staffers, or had served at the state level. Serving as mayor at the local level was an important difference for her, she says.
“I went to Washington with my experience in crime, making a safe city, and the economy,” Granger said. “I had no idea it would lead me to what I’ve done with national security.”
Because Fort Worth is home to Lockheed Martin and Bell Helicopter, Granger said, she immediately started lobbying to ?serve on the appropriations defense ?subcommittee.
“When you serve on Armed Services, you realize the programs we have in this district are the most important programs we have for our national security,” Granger said. “All of them: the V-22, the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-16, and at that time the F-22. I got involved in that immediately and was ?recognized in Congress for having the ?experience.”
Granger said she was quickly put on the pathway to become a defense expert. When the United States was dealing with drug cartel issues in Colombia, Granger was put on the task force. She now chairs the committee that funds Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel and Mexico, and meets with presidents and prime ministers regularly.
“I had no real idea how you work your way in committees, but now if I have a question about Afghanistan, I call Gen. David Petraeus [now nominated to head the CIA] personally and he takes the call. When he comes to Washington, I meet with him personally. That’s huge,” Granger said. “There are about 15 of us who make the decision on the safety of the men and women who serve, what equipment they’ll have, how many they’ll have. It’s very sobering to have that sort of responsibility.”
Granger’s defense interests don’t always lead her to faraway lands. She said her next priority is addressing the problems of violence in Mexico.
“Our neighbor is blowing up,” she said. “You want your neighbor to be safe, keep his yard clean and pay his bills. It’s literally imploding. I was there a month ago and asked, ‘What do we need to do? How do we need to help? Are we doing the right things?’”