Will Hurd is like the actor who wins an Emmy the same week his show is facing cancellation threats from the network.
Two months after becoming this state’s first African American Republican in Congress since Reconstruction, Hurd, 37, is widely viewed as a rising star in the GOP. At the same time, he’s also regarded by many as a one-and-done representative, likely to get bounced from the U.S. House next year when a presidential-cycle turnout swings his perpetual swing district back to the Dems.
Even before being sworn into office, the Marshall High School grad was tapped to chair a new Information Technology Subcommittee. Veteran Republicans on Capitol Hill also lean on the former CIA officer (who served stints in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) for his insights about ISIS or U.S. border security.Proof of his star status is plentiful.
Two weeks ago, the Washington Post profiled Hurd, demonstrating understandable fascination that a young African American who’d never before held political office could get elected in a congressional district that’s nearly 70 percent Latino.
Last week, during a series of visits with constituents in his sprawling 800-mile district — which runs east from El Paso to the South Side of San Antonio — he even found time to serve as a panelist at SXSW Interactive, ruminating on startup companies and the political power of millennials.
But Hurd faces some daunting political realities, namely the fact that District 23 has swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans over the past four election cycles. Recent history suggests that Hurd is in danger of being a one-termer, the fate that befell his two immediate predecessors: Francisco “Quico” Canseco and Pete Gallego.
Part of Hurd’s appeal, however, is that he projects a casual air of confidence that never quite veers into arrogance, a sense that he’s determined to enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.
“If we do our job, in less than two years the residents of District 23 are going to grade my paper,” said the former Texas A&M University student-body president. “And they’re going to give me an A or an F.
“So, it’s in MY hands.”
That much is true, at least when it comes to constituent services. That’s why Hurd seems to take special delight in using his pull to help voters who’ve experienced problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs or failed to receive their Medicare benefits.
“It doesn’t require an act of Congress, so that part has been fun,” he said.
The part of his job that does require an act of Congress hasn’t been as much fun, and that’s where Hurd’s fate becomes dependent on 434 other representatives and 100 senators.
“The amount of hand-wringing that goes on in Washington D.C. is pretty shocking,” he said. “I’m like, 'Guys, you’ve been here for 20 years. How do you not have an opinion on this topic?’ That blew me away.”
Unlike the last Republican to represent the district, the notoriously crusty Canseco, Hurd has the ability to disagree without sacrificing his natural affability. For example, he’s able to explain his decision not to join the Congressional Black Caucus as a pragmatic no-brainer that was in the best interests of everyone involved.
Hurd said he’s “close with all the members” of the caucus and is collaborating on legislation with some of them, but added, “It’s a Democratic organization. So there’s no need for me to be there. They’d have to have a meeting with me in it and then have a meeting without me. And then I’d have to put out a dissenting opinion.”
Hurd’s forte is foreign affairs and he doesn’t hesitate to voice his approval of the 47 GOP senators who recently sent a controversial letter to the leadership of Iran in an attempt to undermine a possible nuclear deal. But his political future will rest on his ability to find a bipartisan message in his mantra about reducing the size and scope of the federal government.
For example, when Hurd mentions that the U.S. government needlessly spends $80 billion a year on Information Technology procurement, he adds, “So we’re talking about getting rid of Pell Grants, and not helping poor kids go to college, but we’re wasting billions of dollars on this? It’s outrageous to me.”
That’s the kind of anti-Washington outrage that Hurd will need to stay in Washington.