Donald Trump certainly doesn’t need anyone speaking for him.
But there is one person the brash GOP presidential front-runner trusts to be as forthright as he is — Katrina Pierson, a North Texas political activist from Garland and a vocal voice of the Tea Party.
Pierson, a former congressional candidate and onetime Democrat, is on TV these days almost as much as Trump, defending his proposals such as a ban on Muslims visiting the United States.
As interest continues to rise in Trump, political observers say TV watchers should get ready to see even more of Pierson.
“There’s a tremendous interest in Donald Trump,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It’s both among people who feel what he says makes a lot of sense and others who think it’s a traffic accident about to happen and they want to see it.
“If she was ineffective, Trump would pull the plug on her immediately,” he said. “But she’s providing a pleasant, articulate, attractive face for the campaign.”
Pierson has come a long way from her humble beginnings, pulling herself up by her bootstraps after being born to a teenage mother and growing up on welfare.
She followed in her mother’s footsteps, having a child of her own at a young age. But being arrested for shoplifting in 1997 is what really turned her life around.
“I was born with a fire in the belly to do more and be more than society dictated for me,” she said in a 2014 article. “Eventually, I [became] the first to graduate college in my family and the first to break the poverty cycle.
“It wasn’t easy, but I appreciate my journey as it allows me to help and inspire others.”
Known then as Katrina Lanette Shaddix, she was arrested in 1997 days before turning 21 on a misdemeanor charge of shoplifting.
She told police that she was talked into shoplifting by a friend so they would have clothes for jobs they were trying to land.
She had her young son with her at the time.
She was booked into the Plano City Jail and ultimately received deferred adjudication on the charge.
She was soon divorced from her husband, Christopher B. Pierson, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2006.
Pierson began getting involved with the emerging Tea Party movement after Barack Obama was elected president, ultimately helping lead the conservative effort in parts of North Texas.
Through the years, she founded the Garland Tea Party, served as a Steering Committee member for the Dallas Tea Party and worked on the Texas Tea Party Caucus Advisory Board.
By 2012, she was working on the long-shot congressional bid by state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who was hoping to become Texas’ next U.S. senator. He overcame steep odds to become the state’s junior senator.
Buoyed by that success, Pierson made her own congressional bid two years later, challenging Rep. Pete Sessions, a powerful conservative from Dallas. But the race didn’t turn out the same; Sessions drew two-thirds of the vote and coasted to an easy win.
This year, Pierson drew national attention after she and others were trapped in the Culwell Event Center in Garland, where a contest for cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad was being held, as two men opened fire outside. The gunmen, at least one of whom had linked himself to ISIS, were killed by police.
As candidates began announcing their presidential bids this year, Pierson still showed support for Cruz.
But she soon began speaking out on behalf of Trump, and ultimately accepted a position as his national spokeswoman.
The way Pierson jumped from one GOP presidential candidate to another ruffled some Republicans’ feathers in Texas.
“She’s a wild-eyed opportunist,” said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican consultant and strategist. “She came out of nowhere and assumed a grassroots leadership role on Ted Cruz’s campaign, making a name for herself.”
Two years later, as a result, she launched a congressional bid. And two years after that, “she basically gave up on Cruz and went to Trump,” he said.
“It’s all about money and it’s all about getting on television,” Mackowiak said. “We all have to pay the bills. I understand that.
“But do you have any principles?”
State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, worked with Pierson in 2012 on the Cruz campaign.
Burton, who was recently in Iowa campaigning for Cruz’s presidential bid, clearly believes that Pierson is supporting the wrong presidential candidate.
“I like Katrina,” Burton said. “She’s a friend of mine, but there is no question as to who is the consistent, proven conservative in the race for the Republican nomination and that is Sen. Ted Cruz.
“I look forward to all of us coalescing behind Cruz, once he wins the nomination,” she said, adding that she was finding success talking to Iowa voters about Cruz. “As evidenced by Ted’s surging poll numbers, the more they learn about his record and vision, the stronger their support is for him. I’m very encouraged!”
Pierson drew national attention when introducing Trump at his September rally at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
“Do we know how to throw a party or what?” she asked the crowd.
She said she was there for Trump because she wants “my country to be great again.”
“You guys are in for a treat,” she said, adding that they would see “someone that’s not going to cave to public and media pressure.”
By November, Trump picked the outspoken, opinionated Garland woman to be his national spokeswoman.
“She is best known across Texas and the nation as a passionate advocate for freedom, and she has never been shy about taking on the establishment,” Trump’s campaign said in a statement. “She is well-known as a political analyst and media contributor on a wide range of issues including the state and federal budgets, civil liberties, community organizing, and healthcare.”
“Katrina is a great addition to our team as we continue to expand throughout the country,” Trump himself said. “Katrina understands the need for real change in Washington, D.C., and the importance of competence in the next election. Katrina will continue to be a great messenger as I share my vision to Make America Great Again.”
Down the road
Pierson has described her working partnership with Trump as “perfect.”
“This is a nontraditional campaign,” she has told the media. Trump is “sort of not politically correct. He sort of calls it like he sees it. I’m kind of that way, too.”
She recently was included on a list of Texas Women For Trump, which included more than 100 Texas women leading the statewide Trump support group.
She has said she realizes that her switch of allegiance from Cruz to Trump likely caught some people off-guard.
But in the end, she said she supported Trump because he would be the easiest transition for the country when President Barack Obama leaves office.
“Cruz would be a good president, but I think right now with all the hyperpartisanship in the country, I think Trump would be the better person to transition out of Obama,” she told Politico. “It would be a softer transition for some of the left. It would be a harder transition for some on the right.”
Pierson’s work now, whether loved or hated by fellow Republicans, could set her up well for the future.
“On the assumption Donald Trump won’t be president, I don’t think she’ll be press secretary,” Jillson said. “Her visibility certainly will broaden her options further down the road — if she survives.”
Staff researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.