Miss District of Columbia USA Kara McCullough reacts after she was crowned the new Miss USA during the Miss USA contest Sunday, May 14, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Miss USA Kara McCullough, the second Miss DC to win the national title, walked away from her big pageant win on Sunday night in a swirl of sequins — and controversy. The the 25-year-old scientist with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spent the first official day of her reign walking back the answer she gave during the interview portion, when she said healthcare was a privilege, not a right.

She now says she hopes it will be a right someday… right?

We got on the phone with the Virginia Beach native on Tuesday to talk pageant Mulligans, her favorite Washington spots — and whether there’s a Mr. USA in her life.

There’s been a lot of controversy over your interview and I know you’ve spent a lot of time today explaining what you meant — how would you answer differently? 

I own what I say, so I would say the same thing, but I would hope people would hear more of the clarity of what I was trying to get across. I have healthcare and I definitely don’t take it for granted. You would just hope and pray that everyone could be granted healthcare someday.

And about that second question — what’s wrong with the label feminist?

I don’t think there’s any thing wrong with it, it just means different things to different generation and different people. So I just chose the word ‘equalism.’

 

Will you come back to your job at the NRC? 

I’m going to talk with my supervisors tomorrow. I hope and pray that no matter what happens, I can walk away from the situation…from being Miss USA, and know that opportunities were given to me. I’m not saying I’m planning something else — I’m just looking ahead to the opportunities.

We usually think of folks at government agencies as being pretty wonky types. What do your co-workers think?

If you came to work with me, you would be so impressed at how receptive people are at the agency. At first, I kept it a secret that I ran for Miss DC USA. But one thing that opened my eyes was transparency — if you just let people know your dreams and aspirations, people will respect you more.

Tell us about your life  in D.C. — what are your hangouts? 

I love to hang out in Georgetown.  I grew up on the beach, so I love being there, near the Potomac River. And I love to shop, so I’m always window shopping. My favorite restaurant is Farmer Fishers Bakers in Georgetown.

Relationship status? 

I’m thankful to be in a relationship, and he’s so supportive. But what we have is private so I don’t want to say too much — he knows who he is.

How do you explain the back-to-back D.C. wins?

It’s the amount of intelligent people coming into the city every year. They’re just immersed in diversity. There were so many naysayers, saying ‘you won’t win, they wouldn’t have two in a row,’  but we’re here to challenge the status quo. D.C. might be the new pageant mecca!