After a competitive congressional race on Nov. 8 for control of Texas’ 23rd district, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican and former undercover CIA officer, beat Alpine native Pete Gallego in a district known to alternate between a Republic and Democratic congressman.
Hurd received 48% of the vote, while Gallego received 46%. Before the election, no incumbent had won a second term in eight years.
Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which is overwhelmingly Latino, rises up from the state’s Rio Grande border with Mexico and Southwest Texas and encompasses several areas in West Texas, including Big Bend National Park.
Hurd, who served as a CIA officer from 2000-2009 in South Asia and the Middle East, has an ample background in computer science, cybersecurity and national security, sits on the Homeland Security Committee, and is chairman of the IT Subcommittee for Oversight and Government Reform. He has been a strong proponent of making San Antonio – often called Military City, USA – Cybersecurity City, USA. Apart from placing an importance on national security, he believes making cybersecurity a bigger part of the city’s economy will spur positive growth and opportunity.
Gallego hoped that a strong turnout from Hispanic voters angered by President-elect Donald Trump would help him win the 23rd district seat. But, alas, he did not claim a victory.
The Rivard Report conducted a phone interview with Hurd on Friday, asking him what gave him the competitive edge to win back his district and what he plans to work on during his second term.
Rivard Report: Most of us are suffering election fatigue, but let’s take a quick look back at the campaign and your re-election. The 23rd Congressional District seems to change hands with each election, but you successfully defended your seat and will no longer be a fist-termer in the House of Representatives. What were the keys to victory?
Will Hurd: The key to victory was old-fashioned hard work. We’ve hosted (around) 400 events in the districts and all 29 counties over the 22 months I was in Congress. We had telephone town halls with over 600,000 constituents, and I’ve driven over 80,000 miles in the district. The 23rd district saw a level of service they never had before and that we were able to get things done.
RR: Your opponent, Pete Gallego, tried unsuccessfully throughout the campaign to link you to the policies and personality of President-elect Donald Trump. Now that Trump is in the White House, will you be able to work with him along with other members of your party or do you see his populist inclinations clashing with traditional conservative positions in such areas as free trade and markets, global projection of U.S. power and influence, and relations with our NATO and our other allies?
WH: I’m absolutely looking forward to working with the administration and my colleagues, and we have a real opportunity having the House, Senate, and presidency to get things done for the country. Whether it’s helping to decrease the burden of increasing premiums for health care, to (helping) small businesses invest more in their people and their operations. It’s an exciting time, but we didn’t elect an emperor and there are still three branches of government.
RR: You’ve been a seemingly constant presence in San Antonio during your first term and a leader in the drive to build a more dynamic cybersecurity startup sector and education pathway. Was that presence and work what really convinced voters in a county that otherwise went strongly Democratic to keep you in office?
WH: I think so. I had an independent relationship with the constituents through the work and activity that our office has done. I think that was a real key to success. I’ve always been an independent voice for this very unique district … and even though folks don’t always agree with me, they appreciate that we work hard.
RR: Every presidential election cycle seems to bring promises to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and give veterans who served their country a fairer shake after they come home and are in need of essential medical, psychological, and educational services. With the Republicans now controlling the White House and the Congress, do you see substantive change and modernization coming to the department?
WH: The Choice Program is important for veterans … expanding that is something that will continue to happen. We’re doing case studies and testing out things in rural parts of the district to make it so rural veterans have easier access to care. One of the fundamental problems within the VA is the mid-level management and mid-level leaders of the organization and they should be held accountable…not too many heads rolled when we found out about these terrible wait times.
I think there’s a real opportunity now to one, get more veterans working at the VA, and two, being able to hold some of the leaders in the VA more accountable by providing a level of service that our veterans deserve. And if they don’t, and (end up getting) fired, we’ll see some tectonic shifts in how the bureaucracy in the VA improves.
RR: You’ve talked quite a bit in your first term about how badly the federal government, particularly federal agencies, lags in adopting new technology and using it to both better protect vital data and to deliver better customer service to citizens. Are we making any progress on that front? Do you have the allies in Congress that you need to get something done?
WH: I do have the allies. I think we are moving in the right direction … This is a bipartisan issue and we’ve been able to pass a bipartisan legislation on this topic already. What we are seeing is that with things like the OPM hack … (that) was preventable. It wasn’t a unique or new vulnerability that the hackers took advantage of. It was a vulnerability that we already knew about and if OPM had been following the basic standards and good digital hygiene, (it could have) been prevented.
What we’re seeing is the agencies are recognizing that they have to get up to date quicker when it comes to fixing some problems on their network, and we’re working on trying to provide incentives for agencies to modernize their equipment. So if they move to a new technology that saves them money, they can just put that money into a working capital plan and have access to it for three years. This is called Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) and this is one of the pieces of legislation that I’m working hard on to try and pass.
RR: Do you want to re-up for your current committee and subcommittee assignments and maintain a strong position on national security within the party, or do you have your sights set on other committee assignments?
WH: I think we’re likely to stay where we are. We’ve been able to be pretty effective and the reality up here in Washington D.C. is that just because you’re not on a committee doesn’t mean you can’t work on these (other) issues. We’ve worked on a lot of veterans issues and I’m not on the veterans committee. But we will continue to have a focus on national security, we’ll continue to have a focus on doing things that help small businesses across this country grow, and facilitate the people moving up in the economic ladder.
I was saying a lot during the campaign that, ‘We’re just getting started,’ and I’m excited about what we can accomplish in the next few years.
RR: What about your district’s needs? It’s so vast and so different in terms of population from one end to the other. Do you favor redistricting that would include less gerrymandering and reduce the size of your district?
WH: I don’t have control over the lines. In the next census, Texas is (positioned) to get more seats, most likely, and that’s going to impact everyone and we’ll deal with that when it comes. I really like the 29 counties I represent. It’s an awesome part in the state and the country and national security is an issue for all 29 counties to be working on that. We have veterans I think in every single county, so (we’ll) continue to work on those issues.
Border trade is an important topic for so much of my district – I have more border than anybody else. So, making sure we’re continuing to invest in our infrastructure on the border to facilitate trade. And one way to grow our economy is to increase trade and there is no better place to do that than with our ally and partner: Mexico. Those are topics that I’ve continued to spend time on.
The reality is this: We do a lot of work for constituents. Whether it’s a veteran that has a problem with the VA, or a senior that has problems with social security, or somebody that has an issue with passports or visas. These are some of the issues when folks need to battle the federal government and they come to us and we’re going to continue to provide that kind of service for everybody in these 29 counties.