This article is fourth in a series of HUMAN EVENTS profiles featuring newly elected conservatives in the House of Representatives.
Republican Pete Olson’s capture of Texas’s 22nd District last November was a particularly cheering win for GOPers in the Lone Star State and nationally. Not only was the former U.S. Navy pilot and Capitol Hill staffer one of only five Republicans nationally to unseat a Democratic House member, but Olson’s ouster of Democrat Nick Lampson was also sweet revenge for the GOP. When House Republican Leader Tom DeLay finally decided to resign the 22nd District seat two years ago to deal with his legal problems, state courts refused to let the embattled incumbent’s name be removed from the ballot, and thus Lampson won the historically Republican seat under flukish circumstances.
This year, in winning a primary over nine opponents and then scoring a resounding victory in the subsequent run-off, Olson was well-positioned to restore the 22nd to its traditional representation — and he did.
“You might say, I was on the three-yard line, a big hole opened up, and I was there to score the touchdown,” recalled Olson, as he took time from a post-election skiing trip with his wife and two children to talk to me. “But at the same time, a lot of hard work from a lot of good volunteers going back to the primary in June made this victory possible. We really worked the grass roots hard.”
And that’s what the new congressman from Texas wants to see nationally: his party’s grassroots energized and working hard for other candidates through a renaissance of key conservative principles.
“If we recaptured our reputation as advocates of smaller government, lower taxes, and more freedom, we could do it,” insists Olson, who worked on the staff of former Sen. Phil Gramm (R.-Tex.) for five years and then was top aide to Gramm’ successor, John Cornyn.
Recalling his recent campaign, Olson noted that “in my door-to-door meetings and the coffees at supporters’ homes, I saw the issues come and fade in significance for grass-roots voters. First, illegal immigration had everybody upset, especially the way the government had let the border grow so porous. Then it was about gas prices and the growing dependence on foreign oil; and then it was the nervousness about the economy.”
As for the bailouts of financial institutions and the auto industry backed by Congress and President Bush (who campaigned for fellow Texan Olson), the new congressman from the Lone Star State says, “I was against all of them and would have voted against them.” That said, what Republicans must do now, according to Olson, is “to be responsible to the taxpayers and to make sure nothing like this never, ever happens again.”
He also pointed out that “Mr. Obama has a measure with a big price tag coming up.” The Republican response to an economic stimulus package that could actually end up costing more than a trillion dollars will be a seminal moment in the modern history of the party, Olson firmly believes.
A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas Law School, Olson was commissioned a naval officer on the same day he took his bar exam. After years of flying P-3 airplanes, the Texan spent his twilight months on active duty in the Navy liaison office in the Senate where John McCain got his start in politics. From there, it was on to the office of Sen. Gramm, who Olson often refers to as “my friend and mentor.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Phil,” he says of the former senator who has been so maligned in the media for recent comments he made about the economic slump. “His knowledge of the economy is exactly what is needed now. And one of the things Phil always said was we pay too much in taxes because government spends too much. That’s where I’ll be coming from in Congress.”