Return to Kay Granger's biography
Participate in our weekly roundtable with new Congressional members.
Scrutinize the work of several major Congressional committees in online forums with the chairs and ranking members.
Return to the @ the Capitol Homepage.
Talk with most politicos and commentators from Fort Worth and you'll get the perception that the real contest in the 1996 12th District Congressional race was not between Democrat Hugh Parmer and Republican Kay Granger, but between the Democratic and Republican parties who fought to have Representative-elect Granger run on their ticket.
"Kay Granger is the Dwight Eisenhower of Fort Worth," Jim Riddlesperger, political science professor at Texas Christian University, said. "Everyone in Fort Worth knew she was going to run for (Pete) Geren's seat, the question was what party would she do it with. Both parties very much wanted her, and for a few days it seemed up in the air."
Retiring Democratic Congressman Pete Geren confirmed that Democrats and Republicans had tried to woo Fort Worth's Mayor Kay Granger.
"She had genuinely been an independent mayor and when she decided to run, a lot of party leaders came calling," Geren recalled just before leaving office. "I know [House Minority Leader Richard] Gephardt and Vice President Gore had spoken with her from the Democrats and I think [Texas] Governor George Bush had spoken with her from the Republicans."
Granger contends that what party she would run with was never in question, only the decision of whether or not to run was.
"There was never any question that I would run as a Republican. I had actually declared I was a Republican to run for the board of trustees of the U.S. Conference of Mayors," Granger said from her district office. "I believe that we need a government that lives within its means. We need a balanced budget and need to have some fiscal restraint. It was these fiscal issues that made it clear to me that if I were to run, I would do so as a Republican."
But many of her co-workers and associates were not as certain as Granger of her party affiliation.
"I think everyone was surprised when she declared she was a Republican," Mary Palko, neighborhood association leader and long-time Granger associate, said. "Even though Texas appears to be going Republican, Newt's popularity is very low and so is the opinion of a lot of the freshmen from the last Congress. She is very conservative, but I think she believes you must take care of people."
Most political observers say that Granger has always played the two parties against each other during campaigns.
"Whenever she ran in an election she courted both parties. She would go to Anne Richards and say 'I am thinking of becoming a Democrat' and then she would go to a Phil Gramm and say 'I am thinking of becoming a Republican,'" Bud Kennedy, columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, observed. "She dangled herself like a carrot before the two parties."
Local Democrats in the district remember with anger their initial support for Granger during her first City Council race.
"She has basically skated in most of her elections. The one elections she almost lost was her first run for the city council. She was opposing a staunch Republican and she came to the Democrats for help," Art Brender, the Democratic Party chairman for Tarrant County, said. "She asked us to write a letter in support of her and send it out to the party people. Pete Geren was the one who set it all up. We wrote the letter and sent it out to all our party people in the council district and she won by a few hundred votes. She would not have won if it were not for our work."
While it is not surprising that Democrats would not welcome Granger's decision to run as a Republican, what surprised many was the reaction of local Republican party officials. Steve Holern, chairman of the Tarrant County Republican Party, distributed a three page memo in which he outlined what he called Kay Granger's "extremely troubling" voting record.
"Not only does the record disclose that she is neither an economic nor a social conservative, it also discloses she is not a Republican," Hollern wrote.
Granger defended herself at the time saying she is a philosophical moderate, but a fiscal conservative. Looking back at the campaign, Granger said the Holern criticism hurt her initial efforts.
"What it did was it made some of the other people stay away," she said. "So during the primary several of the people who I thought would support me, hung back and waited until the primary was over."
Geren, who had made a career of being one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, contends Holern's attack on Granger helped Granger more than it hurt.
"[Granger] got the same grief from the right that I got from the left," Geren said. "But that type of grief helps to define who you are. It is not a lot of fun, but having the Buchanan-types beating up on you helps establish you as a moderate."
Once the controversy over the picking a political party died down, Granger turned to the campaign and defeated Hugh Parmer by some 17 percentage points. Her campaign had focused on two major areas: her accomplishments as mayor and returning power to the local communities.
"Just like how my business experience showed me how government impacts business, working as the mayor I saw how the Federal government imposes itself on local governments," Granger recalled. "I saw an arrogance that I really disagreed with."
Even before Granger was sworn into her first term, people began looking at her chances of staying in Congress. Most people in Fort Worth say the district is her's, barring any unforeseen problems.
"The 12th District is a safe Kay Granger seat, not necessarily a safe Republican seat," Tom Pauken, chairman of the Texas GOP, admitted. "She will succeed if she does what she has always done, focus on the issues facing Fort Worth."
And Democrats can only talk of her leaving Congress of her own volition.
"I don't know if Congress is going to be her cup of tea. I don't think she will like the scrutiny," Brender said. "I don't think she has an overriding policy drive to change the face of the country, like a Dick Armey and Joe Barton. I just don't see her staying that long. It is one thing to be mayor and cut ribbons and stay out of the way of the developers, it is another to be out there taking stands on controversial issues."
Other officials and observers say it is simply the Texan way of doing things.
"Fort Worth has the tendency to send someone to Washington and leave them there and I think that is part of the reason why Texas has a larger than life influence in Congress, from Lyndon Johnson to Jim Wright," Kenneth Barr, the man who replaced Kay Granger as Fort Worth Mayor said. " I see the same thing happening with Kay."
Her only remaining hurdle, say most, is establishing herself in Congress.
"The other threat she faces is that she does not want to become the Other Kay," Riddlesperger said, refering to Texas' Junior Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. "We have two blond-haired, blue-eyed legislators in Congress and she will need to establish herself or she will always be the Other Kay. She hasn't defined her Congressional persona."
Regardless of how she compares Senator Hutchinson, Kay Granger has carefully cultivated an image as a different kind of Republican.
"She is more of a hybrid Republican," local activist Palko stated. "Our opinions of Republicans are shaped more by the Steve Holerns of Fort Worth. Kay Granger may really change the shape of the Republicans in Fort Worth."