Congress's First Black Female Republican: the Game Changer

Mia Love’s to-do list—already formidable, as she’s a working mom of three (ages 14, 12 and 7)—is set to grow when this former small-town mayor is sworn in to Congress on Jan. 6 and she begins a weekly commute to Washington, D.C., while her family stays in Utah. It’s okay, though: She has a plan. “It’s like trying to eat an entire elephant. You have to eat it piece by piece,” Love says. The words hang there before this rising star of the Republican party laughs at the notion of feasting on its mascot. “Perhaps I should use another analogy.”

While a mere 64,390 western Utahns voted her in on Election Day, she was quickly thrust into the national spotlight, in part because Love, 39, is unlike anything the Capitol has seen before: She is Congress’s first black female Republican, its first Haitian-American and a Catholic-to-Mormon convert. “She’ll have a disproportionately large voice,” said Mitt Romney when he campaigned for her. And while hers is an undeniably conservative voice (asked who in D.C. she admires, she says former GOP vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan), her election had even some opponents cheering. Says Democratic strategist Donna Brazile of the milestone: “Black women no longer have to fit in a bracket.”

Love, who sat down with People for her first at-home interview as congresswoman-elect, could agree with that. “I want people to judge me based on my actions,” she says. Among her first will be attempts at taking apart the Affordable Care Act and “putting it back together, piece by piece, with public input” and changing immigration policy: She’d like to see foreigners work in exchange for a sort of security deposit they’d get back when they leave. “I empathize with people who want to come here legally and have no options,” says Love, whose parents arrived in 1974.

Born Ludmya Bourdeau in Brooklyn to Jean Maxime and Marie Bourdeau, who fled Haiti’s dictatorship with two older children, Love says they arrived in the U.S. with just $10. In a 2011 interview she reportedly said that her parents called her birth “our family’s ticket to America,” because it ensured their legal stay. (Love has since said she doesn’t recall the statement.) The family settled in Connecticut, where her father worked as a janitor and her mother as a housekeeper, then a nurse, to put their kids through college. In school it was the stage, not student council, that drew her. Performing was good prep for politics: “Everyone is in the arts business now—things can’t just be functional; they have to look good.” Her training “made me comfortable in front of people.” She adds, “It helped Ronald Reagan.”

As she lists her credits—Damn Yankees, Camelot—daughter Abi, 12, asks, “You did Camelot?” Love replies by singing the line “Where are the simple joys of maidenhood?” Her voice caught Jason Love’s attention when Mia was a University of Hartford arts student and he was a Mormon missionary. “She was standing by her car singing show tunes,” recalls Jason, 37, vice president of a software firm. “She was intriguing.”

But it was her older sister Cynthia who brought her to the Mormon Church. When Cynthia began attending, “I went to spy for my parents,” she says, laughing. “I thought it was weird at first. But one day this man told the men in the congregation, ‘I want you to treat your wife the same way Jesus loved the church.’ And the concept of eternal marriages—that you’ve committed not just for time on earth but forever—I wanted to be a part of that.”

After moving to Utah, Love tracked down Jason; on an early date, they went shooting in the mountains—her first time firing a gun. “I was good at it. Right, honey?” Jason calls back, “That’s right!” Today Love has a Glock 26 for “peace of mind that if anybody ever came into my home, there’s a chance I could protect my family.”

When an audition for Smokey Joe’s Cafe conflicted with her 1998 wedding, Love left her Broadway dreams. She became a flight attendant, a call-center manager, a fitness instructor. Politics happened almost by accident, and Love has bugs to credit for her path: When an infestation of midges in her neighborhood pitted her against a home developer, she became a sort of community organizer. “Oh, I hate that word. That’s what they called Barack Obama,” she says, wincing. But she was effective (bugs gone) and soon won six years on the Saratoga City Council, then a term as mayor. Urged to run for Congress in 2012, she lost the election—but not her fight. Now, however, having earned a place in the history books, she says she isn’t aiming for higher office. “I never imagined this,” says Love. One bite of the elephant at a time.

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