Political observers have long focused on Texas Congressional District 23, which stretches across southwest Texas from points in west, south, and north San Antonio to east of El Paso. The Hispanic-majority district contained more than 651,600 people, according to the 2000 census.
The district is often the scene of fierce, tightly contested election campaigns, many of which lure big donations from the national Democratic and Republican parties and prominent donors. The district has switched hands four times in the past 10 years.
But for Freshman Congressman Will Hurd, a Republican who upended Democrat Pete Gallego at the polls last November, simply concentrating on his job is his top priority. Hurd, members of his staff, and supporters gathered Tuesday to celebrate the grand opening of his Southside district office at Texas A&M University-San Antonio (A&M-SA).
The office is located within Patriots’ Casa, a building that houses the University’s offices for strategic initiatives, military community relations, and student veteran services. Hurd and his staff plan to have a grand opening for a Northside district office in the Rogers Ranch area in a couple of weeks.
“It’s great being back in the A&M system. I think this is the first time a member of Congress has had an office in a university,” he said.
Meeting with several University officials and students, Hurd – a San Antonio native – said it was natural to open a field office at the local Texas A&M campus, which opened in 2009. He majored in computer science and served as student body president at the main College Station campus.
Hurd said it made sense to launch an office for constituents in a building that addresses local veterans’ issues. He served undercover for the Central Intelligence Agency in the Middle East and South Asia for nearly 10 years.
“Education is a national security issue. What better way to prove that than to partner with a great university in San Antonio?” Hurd said. “We have economic inequality in this world because of education inequality. Being located in a university that’s looking to grow, and serve parts of the community that haven’t been served before – it’s awesome.”
His field offices will offer a variety of basic constituency services but simply answering questions is most important.
“Part of this is just responding to people, it’s that simple. It’s helping people who need help,” he said. “It’s about being in a leadership position on issues of mutual concern, whether it’s security or cybersecurity or energy policy.”
Cynthia Teniente-Matson, who was confirmed as president at A&M-SA two months ago, said the University welcomes Hurd.
“There’s great alignment between his personal interests as a veteran and being here in Patriots’ Casa, and his work on various committees including those having to do with security,” Teniente-Matson said.
Hurd said the Republican-led 114th Congress is trying to move swiftly on issues most important to Congressional District 23, namely energy output, making health care access more efficient, and improving border security. He said he and many fellow members of Congress remain hopeful that the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline will become a reality. President Obama last month vetoed Keystone legislation but the vote to override the veto failed in the Senate.
Regardless, Hurd said Texas is in good condition with energy production thanks to booming business in the Eagle Ford Shale and the Permian Basin.
Hurd said an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would reformulate how physicians are reimbursed. It’s a fix of sorts that physicians have been seeking for Medicare payments nationwide for years.
“This can help increase seniors’ access to good doctors. That’s a big deal, something that hasn’t happened in 20 years,” Hurd said.
The $200 billion Medicare bill is in the Senate, where lawmakers and lobbyists representing children’s insurance supporters, senior’s healthcare providers, and other groups are asking for an amendment to the overall package.
Hurd said he’s excited about serving with three committees related to information technology, homeland security, and border and maritime security. He said his experiences as a senior advisor with a cybersecurity firm and with the CIA have prepared him for his committee assignments. He praised the efforts of local high-tech companies, educational institutions, and groups striving to help San Antonio to become a destination for cybersecurity.
At the field office opening, Hurd shared critical concerns he has about the preliminary agreement that the United States and five other world powers secured with Iran last week regarding the attempt to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
According to the framework, Iran would reduce its nuclear program for 10 to 15 years and accept international inspections. In exchange, the United States and the international community would lift sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy. The framework has drawn criticism from many in the Republican Party and from Israeli officials.
“It’s a bad deal. There should be two preconditions that should exist before any negotiation.
“Iran needs to agree to Israel’s right to exist and it needs to dismantle all dual use facilities,” Hurd said, regarding facilities suspected of having a civilian and military application.
Hurd said it is vital that Iran agree to get rid of all such facilities and to let in inspectors everywhere.
“I’m nervous that when final details figured out, it won’t be strong enough to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that such a scenario could start a new arms race in an already dangerous region of the world.
He said he ultimately wants to improve communication and other services for constituents while he gears up for a re-election campaign.
Even on his first day on the job, Hurd said he understood that part of being an elected official includes how to try and keep the job.
“Re-election has already started,” Hurd told the Texas Tribune on Jan. 6. “I said this from the beginning, I came up here to do my job. And in two years, the residents get to judge me and grade my paper.“
Immediately after losing to Hurd in November, Gallego, an Alpine Democrat and attorney, was recruited by national Democrats to campaign for Congressional District 23 in 2016.
Gallego announced April 2 that he would seek to regain his old seat. In an El Paso Times story, Gallego said Hurd, who campaigned against a business-as-usual mentality in Washington, D.C., was now part of the problem.
“The dysfunction in Congress has — if anything — gotten worse,” Gallego said in the article. Observers were quoted in the same report as saying they expect a Hurd/Gallego rematch to be one of the most watched and expensive races to happen during a presidential election.
“I welcome the challenge,” Hurd said Tuesday. “I’m focused on providing the right services in this district that haven’t been provided in 10 years. As I long as I focus on that, my job as a representative, I’m confident voters of this district will send me back to Washington, D.C.”
*Featured/top image: U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) of District 23 talks with guests at the grand opening of his local South Side field office Tuesday at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Courtesy photo.