Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls has never shied away from the spotlight. And he’s been in it once again, claiming there has been a Democratic “witch hunt” to stymie the prominent Republicans considering entering the ring for Texas’22nd Congressional District, where Republican Pete Olson will retire at the end of his sixth term next year.
The accusation, refuted by County Judge KP George, brings the spotlight back to an interesting question for me as a lifelong resident of District 22: What’s the state of political affairs in Fort Bend County and specifically Olson’s district?
For those unaware, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court met last week to decide whether to remove Nehls from his post as the Fort Bend County Sheriff on the grounds that Nehls had potentially solicited funds from donors by telling them he plans to become a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Nehls insists he has made no decision as to whether he will run for the seat in District 22, with Olson having announced he will not seek reelection in 2020.
“I’ve done nothing wrong. A Dem-led witch-hunt has now entered (Fort Bend County),” Nehls tweeted Oct. 8, hours before the meeting.
In order to run for Congress, Nehls would need to renounce his position as sheriff as mandated by a state “Resign to Run” law, which says an elected official with more than 13 months left on a term must immediately resign if they become a candidate for another office.
County commissioners found no grounds for Nehls’ dismissal as sheriff. George, a Democrat elected last November, has insisted the decision to put the item on the commissioners court agenda had no ill intentions.
“My first responsibility is to uphold the laws of the United States and the Texas Constitution and to be responsive to the needs of all Fort Bend County residents,” George said in a statement. “My intention is simply to get legal counsel when needed, but going to Twitter and accusing the Commissioners Court of a witch hunt couldn’t be further from the truth.”
The incident has brought the spotlight, at least locally, back onto the District 22 race. There are currently 12 candidates who have filed to run in the 2020 primaries — nine Republicans and three Democrats (Sri Preston Kulkarni, Nyanza Moore and Derrick Reed).
On the surface, it makes sense there would be a strong Republican presence in the district representing much of Fort Bend County, which includes Missouri City and Sugar Land. After all, the seat has been primarily Republican-dominated since its inception in 1959, with five of the eight representatives identifying as Republican.
However, Olson said during a recent interview with The Star that Republicans are concerned about the changing landscapes of District 22.
“This county, 20 years ago, was a solid red Republican county,” said Olson, who reiterated that his decision to step down hinges on spending more time with his family. “We’re still a Republican county, but not quite that solid red. … It’s changing, and our party has to adapt to the changes.”
Olson narrowly beat Kulkarni in 2016, and Kulkarni appears to be building steam ahead of the 2020 election, having raised more than $420,000 in total contributions to this juncture, according to a summary from the Federal Election Commission.
“I am extremely concerned about the United States’role in the world and the direction our country is heading,” Kulkarni said in a statement Oct. 3. “Today, our democratic institutions and national security are on the line, and I look forward to continuing the fight in Congress to protect our nation and return the U.S. to a position of leadership we once were around the world.”
As a resident living in the northern edge of District 22 in Katy, I haven’t seen leadership change hands or parties since my junior year of high school in 2009. I’ve become invested in Olson, having met him personally on multiple occasions. So, I’m intrigued by his thoughts on how the district is changing with the times.
We’ve written in this space before about our thoughts on the changing political climates. But nothing hammers it home like real-world incidents such as the one that has transpired over the last week or so. I’ve noticed that no matter the level of election, from the 2018 presidential election down to the local level, these kinds of accusations and sagas seem to become more prominent when a stark changing of the guard is on the horizon. And that could be happening once again in Fort Bend County come 2020.
“I think the national (Republicans) realize Texas could be lost, because so many people move here. We’ve got this great economy, great jobs, less regulations, and people want to live in Texas,” Olson said. “I’ve never heard a person say, ‘I want more taxes. I want more regulations. I want an open border. I want a weak defense.’ My point is, those are our (Republican) values. That’s most people who come here’s values. We have to make sure we get those messages to them. It doesn’t matter where they go to church or where they came here from across the world. If they have those values, they should be voting for our people.”
One thing is for sure. Regardless of whether Nehls actually throws his hat in the ring, the race for Olson’s soon-to-be-vacant seat looms as one of the most intriguing in our area come 2020.