The struggling, single mother of three who worked her way up in the House

Standing in front of 3,000 insurance agents at a conference in Texas, the former schoolteacher-turned-saleswoman thought to herself, “My gosh. I did it.”

It was that moment in 1986 when then-keynote speaker and now-Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Texas) said she realized her long struggle to survive as a single mother was just a memory.

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Sitting in a well-tailored striped blue suit during an interview with The Hill, Granger described her life as a young educator left with three small children in Fort Worth, Texas, following a divorce.

“I was a high school teacher with three children, a 2-year-old and six-month-old twins, and my husband left. I was making $13,000 a year,” she said. “It’s the reason I talk so much to working mothers … you just fight your way through the day.”

In the beginning, it was not easy. Granger worked from home, selling commercial insurance.

She studied at night. And when the business expanded, she opened an office in Arlington, Texas.

Her mother, Alliene Mullendore, who moved in with Granger after a stroke, helped keep an eye on the kids.

“Although she was basically bedridden, she had a very strong personality,” Granger said. “The children were very close to her. She would teach them lessons and read to them.”

She added, “There were times when my mother was very ill and I had a nurse care for her during the day, so there was always another adult in the house.

“It was complicated,” she said.

Granger’s challenging personal experiences prior to public life have helped her in her role as vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.

As the highest-ranked Republican woman in the House, Granger has advocated for issues affecting families, co-chairing the Iraqi Women’s Caucus and the Women Impacting the Nation (WIN) coalition.

Elected the mayor of Fort Worth in 1991, Granger inherited a city in distress. In a 1994 article, the Dallas Morning News wrote of an expected budget shortfall of $27 million and a crime rate that was one of the highest in the country. The city was facing a military base closure that would cost the city thousands of jobs.

“When I ran for mayor my issues were economic development and crime — they were always hard issues,” she said. At the time, Granger was not affiliated with either party.

Army Secretary Pete Geren, who held Fort Worth’s congressional seat at the time, recalled, “All of the sudden, Fort Worth took a nosedive … They canceled the A-12 [bomber] … every major bank in town went insolvent.

{mosimage}“It got to be so tough that we wondered what else bad could happen,” he said.

Granger oversaw the creation of a “crime district,” designed to pay for crime-fighting tools — such as increased police presence and community centers — through a tax increase.

“Kay was really regarded as a mayor that got things done,” said Bill Meadows, a former city councilman who sat next to Granger during her two-year tenure there.

Meadows credited Granger for instituting the reforms that turned the city around.

“By the time she left to run for Congress, [the crime] was significantly less,” Meadows said.

When Geren retired, Granger was courted by both sides of the aisle to take over the seat once held by former Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas).

“I’m sure it was a very tough decision for her,” Meadows said. The issue of fiscal responsibility ultimately caused her to choose the GOP.

“I was committed to balancing the budget. I had to balance the budget each year as mayor,” she said. “I saw the Republican Party as the fiscally responsible party.”

{mospagebreak}With her win in 1996, she became the first Republican to be elected from Texas’s 12th congressional district.

Accustomed to working in a bipartisan environment, Granger has a reputation for cooperating with members of Congress with different ideological and policy positions.

“She is always willing to work across the aisle,” former Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) said. “She doesn’t wear ideology on her sleeve.”

Granger, who backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential primary, is considered more centrist than some others in the Texas Republican delegation. She opposes abortion rights but has voted for controversial stem cell research legislation. Granger supports gun rights and regularly votes with her party.

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She supported President Bush on the farm and housing bills this year, as well as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, rejecting all three. She did, however, vote for the recent Medicare physician bill in spite of Bush’s veto threat.

For a member of the minority party, Granger holds a powerful hand. In addition to her leadership position, she sits on the Appropriations Committee, the influential Republican Steering Committee and on the GOP whip team.

Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersIsraeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project The Suburban Caucus: Solutions for America's suburbs Shimkus announces he will stick with plan to retire after reconsidering MORE (R-Wash.), who has worked with her on the WIN coalition, said Granger’s discipline and ability to take on multiple projects is noteworthy.

“I’m impressed with her ability to take on so many different projects and juggling them, keeping them moving,” she said. “She always seems to be on top of things.”

Chief Deputy Whip Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorMeet Trump's most trusted pollsters Embattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' MORE (R-Va.) pointed out Granger’s demand for punctuality.

“She is punctual, so you have to be too,” Cantor said, describing a scheduled meeting with the Texas lawmaker. Cantor was late and when he arrived, Granger was gone.

“She [later] told me that she expects [colleagues] to be on time,” he said with a smile.

Granger’s style can sometimes lead to chilly exchanges with staff and colleagues, several sources told The Hill.

One occurred last January after the Republican retreat between Granger and Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE. The Arizona Republican, who was vying for a seat on the Appropriations Committee at the time, asked Granger for her support for the position. She reportedly told him she would rather see a Democrat in that seat.

Flake’s office denied the incident occurred but when asked, Granger said she was joking with her colleague, who knew that she — a current member of the spending panel — would likely withhold her steering committee vote from him.

“I would never describe her as warm and fuzzy,” Meadows said.

Meadows said that her matter-of–fact demeanor has earned Granger the respect of her constituents.

“What I really found with Kay, there doesn’t have to be a lot of conversation. She’s very direct,” he said. “What comes with ‘direct’ is 100 percent sincerity.”

After six terms in office, Granger remains extremely popular in her district — indeed, throughout her home state. Her reputation has caused political observers in the Lone Star State to add her to the shortlist of candidates who might replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) should she run for governor in 2010.

Geren said he and Granger hadn’t discussed the possibility of her moving to the upper chamber but said that she would be a formidable choice.

“She’d be a strong candidate,” he said.

Asked about a possible jump to the Senate, Granger said, “My aspiration is to do the best job I can. I’ll consider a Senate race when the time comes, but I’m in leadership here.

“I’ve got issues I really feel passionate about — I have a great debt of gratitude to the community I came from.”