The headlines for Rep. Kat Cammack’s life story write themselves: “From homeless to the House,” trumpeted Newsweek.
“Congresswoman Kat Cammack,” echoed a Fox affiliate, “goes from homeless to the House.” “Only in America’ is this possible,” Cammack told the TV reporter.
Cammack, 32, became the youngest Republican woman ever elected to Congress in November when she won the race to represent Florida’s 3 rd congressional district in the 117 th Congress. She succeeds former Rep. Ted Yoho, who retired and whom she served as deputy chief of staff. She was so skilled in her job that Yahoo News once dubbed Cammack Yoho’s “secret weapon.” She walloped her Democratic opponent in last year’s general election.
Cammack’s political views and ambitions were formed by the loss of the family ranch and its aftermath. She blames the loss on an Obama-era program.
Cammack had lived on the 55-acre cattle ranch near Castle Rock, Colo., since her mother, a single parent, bought it in 1992, when Cammack was 4. “It was a small ranch, but we did have horses and cattle and chickens and dogs.” When they hit hard times financially, Cammack’s mother resorted to a program known as HAMP, the Home Affordable Modification Program. HAMP, set up in 2009, was supposed to help struggling homeowners in the wake of the financial crisis.
HAMP afforded lenders inducements to refinance home mortgages. Critics say that it led to more foreclosures than it prevented. People were often trapped in a labyrinth of paper work before being denied help. A common complaint, reported in the media, was that banks lost the homeowner’s paperwork, leading to foreclosure.
“The experience of losing the ranch put it over the edge with regard to how I viewed big government, which doesn't always have the answers.”
Kat’s family lost the ranch in 2011. “I was a full-time college student at Metropolitan State College in Denver,” Cammack recalls, “but I was also working full-time, I was trying to help pay bills and go to college. We hadn’t taken out extra loans or anything like that. It was supposedly just a re-modification process.” She charges, “Mortgage portfolios took advantage of the program. HAMP basically became a scheme of sorts where banks would put homeowners through a ‘remodification process,’ but lose the loan at the end and deem it unfavorable because they found that they could collect far more money, as part of tax credits and whatnot, by losing these loans rather than actually working to remodify them.
“We were part of that. My mom was calling the bank for the umpteenth time, and to this day we still have stacks of paperwork. My mom has been a very diligent notetaker for her entire life. And so, she would always document–I called today at this time. I spoke to this person. They told me this. And she was calling them back to make sure that they had received the latest round of paperwork that they had requested. And they informed her that the property that she was enquiring about and talking about was no longer hers.
“And I got a call from her. Yeah, it was the most awful, awful sinking feeling. She called me crying saying that we lost the ranch. And yeah. I am getting emotional right now talking about it.”
Cammack and her mother learned that they had 23 days to vacate their ranch, which already had been sold. Theirs was not on-the-streets homelessnessness, but it was nevertheless traumatic. Kat and her mother spent several months in cheap, pay-by-the-week motels in unsafe neighborhoods. They shared a room.
“The worst part of it is not so much the surroundings,” Cammack recalls, “being in a not great place, in a rundown extended stay motel, it is the uncertainty of not having a home. There’s so much uncertainty and it’s very unsettling. We weren’t under a bridge; we were thankful, but we knew that, at any moment, if we couldn’t make that week’s rent in this extended-stay motel, we were out of luck. So, yeah. Definitely a life changing experience.”
It also helped shape her political beliefs. “The experience of losing the ranch,” Cammack says, “definitely made me very politically active in conservative politics. I started seeing how detrimental the one-size-fits-all approach is to your everyday working-class family. My family had also once had a commercial sandblasting business where you’re dealing with all kinds of regulations—EPA, Department of Labor and OSHA. That was naturally making me more conservative and favorable to less government involvement. But really, the experience of losing the ranch put it over the edge with regard to how I viewed big government, which doesn’t always have the answers. And big government programs that are intended to help the people often don’t actually help the people.”
“We weren’t under a bridge; we were thankful, but we knew that, at any moment, if we couldn’t make that week’s rent in this extended-stay motel, we were out of luck. So, yeah. Definitely a life changing experience.”
During college, Cammack had been an intern in the local office of former Republican Congressman Mike Coffman. While living her precarious life in the dingy motel, Cammack was contacted by a friend whose uncle was running for Congress in Florida. The friend said, “I think you’d be a good fit. You’re very motivated to take on government. You’re not married. You don’t have kids. You should go down there and just take a chance. And so, I drove 1,700 miles and showed up on Ted Yoho’s doorstep at two o’clock in the morning. And the rest is history.”
Cammack had packed hurriedly, putting everything she owned into the car. Her beloved fishing poles were sticking out the rear windows when she arrived. At 24, Cammack became campaign manager of Yoho’s longshot campaign; when the big animal veterinarian won, she became Yoho’s deputy chief of staff, a post she held throughout Yoho’s four-term tenure in Congress. In her personal life, Cammack concentrated on saving money to rebuild her own life and to put a down payment on a house in Florida for her mother. She also obtained an M.S. degree in national defense strategies from the Naval War College.
Yoho had signed a term limits pledge, and when he announced that he was retiring, Cammack jumped at the chance to run. Although other Republican candidates heavily outspent her in this strongly Republican district, Cammack handily won the GOP primary. She spoke about her reasons for running with the Gainesville Sun. The ranch was key. “From the day we lost our ranch, I became fully committed to become part of the solution to ensure others never experienced what I did because of the failures of Washington. I will never waver in that fight.
“Looking ahead, I believe the greatest threat to America is more than just the growth of government we have been fighting for years. Today, it is socialism, and if we do not act now, this country will be one that turns its back on our founding beliefs.
“Our values truly have the potential of become a distant memory in the history books. That is why it is imperative for us to join in this fight not for Republican or Democratic ideas, but for the actual soul of America.”
There were colorful moments in her campaign. Cammack released an ad titled “Chicken” that compared Washington politicians to chickens, who, she said in the ad, were too “chicken (bleep)” to stick up for conservative ideals. The chickens, by the way, sported ties and belonged to Kat’s own flock. The star was Flipper, Kat’s favorite, a family pet.
The Congresswoman explains the rationale behind the chicks. “I’ve had chickens my whole life and they’re hilarious little birds,” she says. “They really do have their own personalities. When we put our TV commercial together, we wanted to use chickens because it was very much an authentic representation of who I am and my family and how we live. We also thought it would be kind of funny to incorporate that, especially in 2020 where everything has kind of been very dark.”
She won her race with 57 percent of the votes, becoming one of the record number of GOP women in the 117th Congress. “If you look just two years ago,” she told a Florida news outlet, “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.”
Cammack describes herself as a “constitutional conservative,” and is a staunch supporter of a secure Southern border and Second Amendment rights. She asserts that the Green New Deal represents “the antithesis of American values.”
Cammack lives in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband, Matt Harrison, a firefighter and a SWAT team paramedic now in his 14th year in the department. They met in 2014 in a Publix grocery story. He was shopping for firehouse groceries, and “in my very young sassy way, when he asked for my number, I gave him my business card.” She thought he was “a jerk” on their first date, but apparently things smoothed out. They married in 2017. They enjoyed an extensive European wedding trip—but hardly Grand Tour style. They cobbled together the means from frequent traveler miles and by asking for donations instead of other presents on a site called Honeyfund.
“Our values truly have the potential of become a distant memory in the history books. It is imperative for us to join in this fight not for Republican or Democratic ideas, but for the actual soul of America.”
They wanted to get to Europe to indulge their love of Formula One racing, the most arduous form of single-seat automobile racing in the world.
“We love Formula One racing. And one of Matt’s bucket list items was going to the Grand Prix in Monaco. And so, for years, we had been saving up points and airline miles and, for our wedding registry, we had asked friends and family like, hey, you know, help us chip in for this dream, you know, vacation/slash honeymoon that we want to do. And so, we ended up going and spending a week in the south of France and Nice. We stayed in Nice because we certainly couldn’t afford to stay in Monaco, at all. “It was a grand adventure, built on airline miles, credit points and gifts from friends.”
The experience Kat faced with the family ranch might have embittered others, but she has turned it into something positive, and her joie de vivre (as they say in Nice) always comes through. She will bring a commitment to conservative values and a much-needed ebullient spirit to the 117th Congress.