For Congresswoman Kendra Horn, public service is not merely a line on a resume or a platitude in a campaign speech. Service is her way of life. Before being sworn into the 116th Congress, this 1998 TU alumna recalled her great-grandmother cooking for the local Baptist church and her grandmother, a proud librarian and teacher, who instilled a love of learning. “Public service is what they did and what they lived. I don’t ever remember not caring about that sort of thing,” Horn said. “If there is a problem, you can’t turn the other way. You can’t complain. You have to get to work and fix it.”
A spot of blue in a red state
On Nov. 6, 2018, an Oklahoma Congressional race made national news. A female Democratic candidate beat incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Russell in Oklahoma’s 5th District, and the newly elected Kendra Horn became widely known across the state. “Our campaign met people where they were and had real conversations,” Horn explained. “We pulled in young voters. We talked to communities that had been ignored for a long time. I think people were ready for that.”
On the campaign trail, people shared their stories and hardships, and their words fueled Horn’s long days knocking on doors. “Over and over, I heard stories about people who were afraid they were going to lose healthcare coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or they couldn’t afford their drugs,” she said. “They were afraid for their lives and that of their families.”
Parents were also concerned about public education funding and the price of higher education. College students were suffering from high student loan interest rates. “I talked to many young people who were having to make decisions about what they could do on a day-to-day basis because of the weight of student loan debt.” These conversations not only inspired Horn’s campaign but also encouraged higher voter turnout.
Going to work for Oklahomans
Horn started her campaign by listening to the people, which is how she plans to lead. “The House of Representatives is the people’s house,” she emphasized. “My job is not to go up there and just do what I want to do, but it’s to take care of people and serve.”
In the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol, voices of constituent needs and concerns can grow distant, but Horn continually reminds herself that policy work is not abstract or disconnected from the people. “It’s real life. Do you get healthcare or don’t you? Do you get a good job or not?”
Horn’s priority isn’t healthcare, the economy or even education. It is simply Oklahomans in her district. “Above all, my No. 1 goal is to provide the most effective, efficient and the most superior constituent services anywhere in the country.”
More than a label
Before any labels, Kendra Horn is a public servant. Her family imparted the value of community service. “I’m fifth generation Oklahoman, and service was an example that my family set,” she said. From a young age, Horn became an advocate for others. At TU, she was involved with Student Senate and Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature. There was not a problem or policy that she wasn’t ready to tackle. “My message about public service is: Whatever you are passionate about, there are ways to use it to impact the lives of a lot of people.”
Horn’s passion is seeing women in roles of leadership. She was the executive director of Sally’s List, a nonpartisan organization that recruits and trains Oklahoman women to run for local and state office. She also founded Women Lead Oklahoma, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to the engagement and inclusion of women in civic life. “When we have representatives who are reflective of our communities, we have better results,” she said. “Representation matters because little girls can look up and see someone who looks like them in a position of leadership.”
Horn is quick to clarify that one person is not better or worse than someone else, but the value is in the diversity of people at the table. “The best outcomes often come from a consideration of different perspectives and making us question what we ‘know’ from being in our bubbles,” she explained. “Compromise and consensus are actually good things because they force us out of our own experiences.”
Compromise is not a dirty word, and as the lone Democrat representing Oklahoma on the federal level, Horn believes she can work with her Republican colleagues. “As a Democrat from Oklahoma, I understand that we have to reach across the aisle,” she said. “I’ve worked on that throughout my career, but I also have the ability to speak up for people who haven’t previously had a voice.”
Time at TU
Even in her youth, Horn was a policy wonk and self-confessed nerd. When she started at TU, she already knew her major would be political science. “I love good policy, and I know the power of it,” she said. “I think our systems of government are brilliant and flawed – just like we are – but ultimately well-intentioned.”
Political science challenged Horn to understand how government functions and how to work within it. This straight-A student was also met with her first B grade. “A lot of things at TU shaped who I am today. One of the most pressing examples is I learned to be persistent and not to give up,” she said. “I took classes with Dr. (Jeffrey) Hockett three times before I got an A, but I was determined to get that A.”
Horn entered TU as a transfer student and found her home. “It’s a really warm and supportive community. I met people from different backgrounds and different places,” she said. “Quality education makes such a difference, but it’s also about the relationships you build.”
Horn is entering Congress as a part of the most diverse freshman class in American history. From Muslim and Native American women to Latina and LGBTQ+ representatives, “that is why it is so exciting to be a part of this class; we are diverse,” Horn added. “Those are the new voices at the table who say, ‘Hey, what about this?’”
Oklahomans won’t have to strain to hear their new representative. Horn has the strong and steady voice of a public servant.
Interested in following in Congresswoman Horn’s footsteps? Check out TU’s Political Science Department.