From politics to pie, Capri Cafaro brings exuberant versatility and optimism to Washington.
Capri Cafaro thinks most of Washington’s problems can be solved over a good meal. Her Italian heritage undoubtedly contributed to this line of thinking, which she put into action as the Democratic minority leader of Ohio’s state senate. Cafaro liked to send her Republican co-sponsors homemade pies when bills would get signed into laws. “This is the solution!” she says of the increasingly divisive political climate. Having grown up in industrial Ohio as the outlier in a family of staunch Republicans, Cafaro is well equipped to work judiciously on both sides of the aisle.
Her immigrant grandfathers each ran successful businesses, typifying the American dream – one a highway construction contractor and the other a mega-mall developer. Asked whether she ever considered working in either family venture, she replies with a quick and confident “no.” Based on the opportunities she was afforded by her grandparents, she always believed her karmic path to be in public service.“At a very early age,” she recalls, “I recognized that link between government and making a way to improve peoples lives.” Cafaro references a “heavy cloud” hovering over the Rust Belt when steel mills began closing their doors leaving the region’s economy in disrepair.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at Stanford University, Cafaro took graduate courses at Georgetown University to focus on national security. It wasn’t until her internships with former Senators Al D’Amato and Ted Kennedy, both of whom were pushing key healthcare policy initiatives, that she changed her trajectory. Her work on their respective agendas felt all the more significant when her grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and her grandmother with breast cancer. Being exposed to the government perspective while simultaneously experiencing the caregiving side motivated Cafaro to delve deeper into healthcare policy. At the time, D’Amato was working on insurance parity for post mastectomy reconstructive surgery. She calls the confluence of those life events “bizarrely serendipitous.”
With a new passion for healthcare in tow, Cafaro returned to her home turf to serve in Ohio’s state senate. She eventually became the senate’s minority leader tackling Medicaid reform, economic development and a laundry list of other issues. Her accomplishments include authoring the rape kit back log law,which established protocol to ensure that all old evidence be tested and analyzed to give victims closure. During her term as minority leader, in an effort to double-down on her service, she enrolled in a Master’s degree program for social work at Ohio State University to better address her constituents.“I see myself as a public servant,” she explains,“not a politician.”
After 10 years in office, Cafaro found herself back in Washington as the 2016 presidential election began heating up. The former Ohio representative was a natural fit for television, speaking on the swing state’s identity crisis.“I come from ground zero for Democrats who voted for Trump” she says,“People who had my signs in their yard four years ago, had Trump signs in their yards this time around.”
She still frequents Fox News segments and contributes to the Washington Examiner’s “Inside the Beltway” blog. Additionally Cafaro has secured the position of Executive in Residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs, where she is tasked with creating strategic partnerships with think tanks and other like-minded institutions. She jokes that her path forward (teaching, research, television) is “the trifecta for a retired politician.”
In her free time, Cafaro loves to cook and volunteer. As a way to give back, she is looking to get a license that will enable her to continue social work in the District. She also maintains a pie blog called “Humble Pie,” that has thousands of followers on Facebook.
Cafaro is bubbly with seemingly endless bouts of energy that fuel her optimism for the future of a country that served her grandparents and immediate family so well. Of the volatile political climate she says, “It’s really important to build personal relationships with your col- leagues [on the other side of the aisle] … Just because they don’t have the same opinion, doesn’t mean they are a bad person.” It might be time to start baking more pies.
ADVICE FOR ASPIRING POLITICIANS
“Don’t be dissuaded by the contentious political climate because the only way its going to change is if more fair minded people come in… be persistent and be yourself.”
This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Washington Life Magazine