Political News

Three things that shaped Mary Katharine Ham's conservative world view

Posted October 19, 2018 4:11 p.m. EDT

— CNN commentator and journalist Mary Katharine Ham is happy to be the "divergent voice" in the age of Trump.

"I have a very serious contrarian streak," Ham told David Axelrod on "The Axe Files," a podcast from CNN and The University of Chicago Institute of Politics, where Ham is a visiting fellow this Fall.

"It is not why I believe what I believe. But I had, from a very young age, looked around and was like, 'It feels like everyone here's saying the same things all the time.' I thought, 'There's probably other things,' and I wanted to test those waters."

From her upbringing in Durham, North Carolina, to her career as a commentator in Washington, DC, "Libertarian-ish conservative," Ham said she has often "wondered what else was out there," when it comes to political thought.

Here are three things that shaped Mary Katharine Ham's conservative world view:

1. She grew up in a liberal, majority-minority town

Ham said her town town in North Carolina was a majority black community, with "lots of university people," including liberal professors.

Early on, she saw a disparity in the Durham public schools, noting not everybody had "parents supplementing their education" like she did.

"It was rough in our public schools," she said. "I saw it failing other kids and I just thought, 'Are there different ways of doing things?' I think it made ... the wheels start turning."

2. She was the "weirdo" in the newsroom

A fourth-generation newspaper journalist, Ham was exposed to the world of media long before earning a degree in newspaper journalism from the University of Georgia.

Before her start in politics, she was a sports reporter.

"There was a tiny bit of skepticism, but it wasn't overt. It's a very small town, Southern thing. They've always called me 'miss' even though I was like three years older than [the athletes]."

As she moved into the politics sphere, she said the skepticism of her continued.

"I would get in some tussles and some back and forth with editors about various things and I just wondered, 'If I'm moving forward, do I just keep my mouth shut about all of this forever?'" said Ham of her time at the Richmond County Daily Journal.

Eventually she transitioned from print journalism to broadcast.

"The first time I was on TV, they called me the next day to be on Larry King Live the day before the 2006 election. And I said, 'You know I've only been on TV once, right?' And I thought I should say no. But you know what? This is Washington, DC, and this town is built on young people doing things they're woefully unqualified for. So, I'm going to go for it."

3. She married a centrist Democrat

"I grew up with all liberals, so I have a huge number of friends across the spectrum. I always had overlapping social circles with different ideological groups and different activist groups," said Ham, who was married to the late Jake Brewer, former senior technology adviser at the White House during the Obama administration. He died in 2015 in a bicycling accident.

"The world saw us as super far right and super far left. But if you actually talked to the two of us, we were really kind of hybrids that were not that far from each other. I think that's sort of emblematic of how we view politics."

Ham acknowledges her marriage "was not always easy," but sees power in expanding one's ideological circles.

"You're not obligated to date and marry somebody who you fundamentally disagree with ... but I do think opening yourself up to the idea that people who believe different things can enrich your life can make you better at communicating."