The Congressional Experience
In 2012, I had the great fortune to be elected to Congress. The district comprised nearly 25% of the land area of Texas and about 2/3 of the Texas-Mexico border. It was a district larger than many states.
My Republican friends in the Legislature told me that the fastest growing part of the district was the northern side of San Antonio - at the time, not so friendly territory for a Democrat. They told me that the district had been drawn to trend Republican - and that I would likely get only one term in Congress. I ran anyway.
My two years in Congress were both fulfilling and rewarding. I served on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. Each of these committees was of vital importance to the district.
I traveled outside the country only to go to Afghanistan and Mexico. Still, the trips to Mexico were usually crossing the river to visit with leaders on the other side. On the other hand, my trips to Afghanistan were unlike anything I'd ever done, making me an even stronger champion for our men and women in uniform and our veterans.
In my two years in Congress, I helped over 500 veterans get about $1.4 million in benefits that were wrongly denied or delayed. I helped pass the legislation authorizing the VA "choice" card - enabling veterans, particularly those in rural areas, to seek alternate healthcare providers; I was honored to be present when President Obama signed the bill.
In addition, I authored legislation that helped the Defense Department fast-track the hiring of critical healthcare workers, including those caring for wounded warriors, and identifying these workers as a particular shortage category. I also authored legislation to leverage highly trained veterans in emerging new areas like cybersecurity.
Locally, I worked on a myriad of issues. Fixing the flooding on the flight line at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio and programming funding for a new dining facility at Camp Bullis (money recently re-purposed by the Trump Administration to help build the border wall). I forced the Department of Agriculture to re-open an agricultural inspection station in Presidio and worked to re-open an international crossing in Big Bend.
Preparing for San Antonio and Texas' future, I also fought for and helped build a new Air Force unit in San Antonio dedicated to cybersecurity. That unit is now the hub of a growing cybersecurity industry in the region.
I saw my role as a champion for my area and our issues - not as a partisan hack who only followed the party line. Mine was a reasonably bipartisan voting record. I voted with the Democrats about 75% of the time and with the Republicans the other 25%. By DC standards, that was VERY bipartisan.
I also got involved heavily in issues of immigration. The Dreamers and the non-citizen spouses of our men and women in military service were essential to me. I did all I could to help those two groups for people.
If there was one area where my office delivered and delivered well, it was on veterans' issues. Ironically, in the subsequent campaign, millions of dollars of independent expenditures by the Koch Brothers and their affiliated PACs accused me of turning a blind eye to veterans' needs.
Such is politics. And it's only gotten worse since then.