Rep. Pete Olson (R)
Texas 22nd District
Those seeking the story of Houston’s booming growth over the past dozen years would be well advised to drive out the Southwest Freeway for about 45 minutes, if the traffic is not too bad, to Sugar Land. There has been a big change from the sugar plantations that flourished here before the Civil War and from the locale of The Sugarland Express, a 1970s B-movie about a fugitive convict. In once-rural Fort Bend County, on the site of the old Imperial Sugar Mill, is an immaculately clean and fast growing privately planned city of nearly 80,000 people, with privatized water and other services. (There were 33,000 people here in 1990.) The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, with thousands of new and growing businesses, and so is a communitarian spirit, with dozens of churches and civic associations buzzing with activity. People welcome the new freeways and toll roads being built to link them with Houston’s airports and other business nodes.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The image of suburbia has long been one of an all-white haven, but Sugar Land and Fort Bend County are welcoming to immigrants and minorities. Some 21% of the county population is African-American, 23% is Hispanic, and 14% is Asian. In 2003, a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle came to Sugar Land, which was then represented by the powerful conservative Republican Tom DeLay, to see “the anti-San Francisco” and seemed charmed by a community that “welcomes immigrants, shopping centers and jogging paths.” Sugar Land has elected Daniel Wong, from Macao, to the City Council, and Dinesh Shah, from India, served on the board of the Chamber of Commerce. People came from around the world to consecrate the huge new Hindu temple in 2007. This is 21st-century America.
The 22nd Congressional District of Texas covers more than two-thirds of Fort Bend County, including Sugar Land. It also includes one-quarter of Brazoria County, centering on fast-growing Pearland, just south of Houston, plus parts of Galveston County, including Santa Fe, La Marque and Hitchcock. Nearly one-half of its residents are in Harris County, which includes working-class Deer Park, Pasadena and LaPorte south of the Houston Ship Channel, and the more upscale Webster, Clear Lake and Taylor Lake Village surrounding the Johnson Space Center. Overall, the district’s population is 51% white, 13% black, 24% Hispanic and 10% Asian. Politically, the 22nd District leans Republican. Native son George W. Bush won here 67%-33% in 2000, but his majority fell to 64%-36% in 2004. GOP nominee John McCain won the district in 2008 with 58% of the vote.
Rep. Pete Olson (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Dec. 9, 1962, Fort Lewis, WA .
Home: Sugar Land.
Education: Rice U., B.A. 1985; U of TX, J.D. 1988.
Family: Married (Nancy); 2 children.
Military career: Navy, 1988-98, Naval Reserves, 1998-Present.
Professional Career: Naval officer; Staffer, U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.
The new congressman from the 22nd district is Republican Pete Olson. Considering the Republican leanings of this district, which DeLay represented for more than two decades, Olson’s victory over freshman Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson was hardly an upset. It was simply the district reverting to form, having elected Lampson two years earlier to register its anger at DeLay, who had become the symbol of influence peddling and political opportunism in the Republican majority in Congress.
|Pete Olson (R)||161,996||(52%)||($2,366,149)|
|Nick Lampson (D)||140,160||(45%)||($2,385,202)|
|John Wieder (Lib)||6,839||(2%)||($13,469)|
|Pete Olson (R)||15,511||(69%)|
|Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R)||7,125||(31%)|
|Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R)||16,697||(30%)|
|Pete Olson (R)||11,634||(21%)|
|John Manlove (R)||8,399||(15%)|
|Robert Talton (R)||8,169||(15%)|
|Dean Hrbacek (R)||5,864||(10%)|
The son of an Army veteran, Olson followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the Navy on the same day he took the Texas bar exam. He served as a naval aviator, flew anti-submarine missions, and finished his military career as a liaison to the U.S. Senate. His next job was as a staff member for Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas. After Gramm retired in 2002, Olson was the chief of staff to his successor, Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
In 2006, DeLay resigned his seat after being indicted in Texas on criminal campaign-finance charges, and several of his aides and lobbyists close to him came under investigation for influence peddling. Houston City Council member Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Republican, won a special election for the seat, served for several weeks, and but then lost in the general election. A legal technicality kept her name off the ballot, however. Having to run as a write-in candidate hurt Sekula-Gibbs, as did the lingering taint of the DeLay scandal, and Lampson grabbed victory by a fairly narrow margin. Republicans targeted Lampson for defeat in 2008. Olson, who had been living in the suburbs of Washington, moved back to the district in 2007 and joined a crowded primary field that included Sekula-Gibbs and Sugar Land Mayor Dean Hrbacek. Sekula-Gibbs won the primary but failed to get the 50% share of the vote needed to avoid a runoff with second-place Olson. Republicans at the state and national levels regarded Sekula-Gibbs as a weak candidate and coalesced around Olson, who won the runoff with 69% of the vote.
In the general election campaign, Olson touted a conservative message. Lampson tried to tar Olson with DeLay’s image, charging that Olson employed consultants who had previously worked for DeLay. Democratic leaders also came to his aid, saying that if re-elected, Lampson would chair the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA, an important local employer. Lampson’s response to Hurricane Ike in September won bipartisan praise as well. But in the end, all of this could not stop the district from returning to its GOP roots on Election Day. Olson won 52% to 45%.
In the House, Olson got a seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a valuable assignment for any road-heavy district, which most Texas districts are. He encountered some health problems in his first term. In March 2009, he collapsed while lifting weights in the House gym. He was taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to install a pacemaker. He was expected to make a full recovery.