By STEFAN MODRICH
Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls was elected in November to become the next U.S. Representative in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, which includes 75 percent of the county. He will be part of a class of 57 freshmen members of Congress.
During a Dec. 15 Zoom meeting with Don McCoy, president of the Fulshear-Katy Area Chamber of Commerce and Republican State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, Nehls outlined his agenda for his first term in Washington, D.C. and addressed his expectations for the 117th Congress during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Republican Congressman-elect said he has been a vocal critic of restrictive policies aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, which Nehls said are harmful to small businesses. He also took a jab at congressional leaders, chiding them for not providing additional coronavirus stimulus relief.
“Small businesses are suffering today. There’s a lot of games being played in Washington,” Nehls said. “It just seems like they’re not coming to a compromise. It’s a stalemate up there, whether it’s (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) or whoever just not willing to come to the table and come up with a plan that will help and benefit the American people and the small business owners. It’s shameful.”
Nehls has drawn national attention in recent weeks, taking a victory lap in making appearances on Fox News and posting on social media about attending an orientation in Washington for the newly-elected U.S. Representatives. On Dec. 16, he and four other incoming Texas GOP freshmen were part of a group of 26 House newcomers who signed on to a letter to Pelosi calling for a House investigation into the U.S. presidential election in a Facebook post.
Nehls has not publicly congratulated President-elect Joe Biden, whose win against President Donald Trump was solidified by the Electoral College on Dec. 14. Legal challenges seeking to overturn the election results have been rejected by the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nehls and his campaign staff did not respond to an emailed interview request.
But Nehls wrote Dec. 16 that “millions of Americans and many of my constituents are skeptical of the 2020 election results. That’s why I recently joined some of my freshman colleagues in demanding an investigation into the claims of fraud. Our elections are the bedrock of our Republic and we owe it to the American people to at least investigate.”
It is unclear if Nehls questions the validity of his own win against Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni. They competed to succeed U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Republican who did not seek a seventh term.
Nehls referenced the presidential election near the end of the hour-long Zoom session in reflecting upon the year 2020 as “one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history.”
“Once Jan. 20 is finished with the inauguration of the next president, we are going to require an enormous amount of healing,” Nehls said.
Nehls also said he wants to focus on criminal justice reform, echoing a recurring topic during his campaign of rehabilitating criminals through vocational training programs and giving them the opportunity for a fresh start in a trade such as welding or HVAC installation and repair.
“I believe that there are areas in the criminal justice system that are broken,” Nehls said. “I would like to share some of the success stories we’ve had here in the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office over the past eight years as it relates to re-entry programs, trying to help place our non-violent offenders who are in our jails for an extended period of time, trying to help them with vocational training programs.”
Nehls also said he is seeking membership in the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure (HCTI). He said it was an important committee to residents of Fort Bend County and that Olson served on it during his first term.
“I believe at some point in time here in 2021 there will be a very large infrastructure package passed out of Washington,” Nehls said. “I think it is going to be bipartisan. When you look at what we’ve had to deal with with flood mitigation and the Memorial Day flood (in 2016) and Hurricane Harvey (in 2017), I think that would be a step in the right direction.”
HCTI already has five Texans, including three from the Houston area — Democrat Lizzie Fletcher of the 7th Congressional District, Republican Randy Weber of the 14th Congressional District, a coastal district which runs from Beaumont to Freeport, and Republican Brian Babin, whose 36th Congressional District includes the Bay Area and stretches to the Texas-Louisiana border.
Another committee that Nehls acknowledged would be a more natural fit for him given his 21 years of military service in the U.S. Army and law enforcement experience with the City of Sugar Land and in Fort Bend County was the House Committee on Homeland Security (HCHS).
Four Texans, all of whom have Houston-area constituents, serve on HCHS. Two are Democrats, including Al Green of the 9th Congressional District, which covers Missouri City and Stafford, and Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents the 18th Congressional District and large portions of Houston. Republicans Michael McCaul of the 10th Congressional District and Dan Crenshaw of the 2nd Congressional District also are HCHS members.
Nehls said committee assignments likely won’t be determined until the second week of January.