In an homage to Steven Colbert’s “Better Know a Congressman” take on building relationships with elected leaders, The Advocate sat down with Texas Representative District 20 Terry Wilson to talk about his thoughts on his new office, his plans and a little about himself.
Rep. Wilson has made a commitment to his constituency to be in contact and communicate as often as he reasonably can so voters and citizens will get to know Terry Wilson, the man, a little better.
In what kind of personal space do you find yourself in this new career?
I love people and I look for the ones with light, even in the darkest places. The camaraderie [at the Capitol] is great. Naturally, there are all sorts of characters and some egos, but those who thrive on conflict are few and far between. I know I, and everyone, will get more done if we can place our egos on the shelf for a moment and work within the dual spheres of kindness and humility.
I had 32 years in the military to cultivate a means to break down emotions that can cloud a positive discussion, and when I sit across from them I am the most kind, courteous, respectful, principled, loyal and patriotic version of myself. But, what’s most important is that people don’t confuse that humble kindness with weakness. I will be all of those things, but at the end of the day, I have seen how bad things can be.
I have been fortunate to have leaders who have mentored me, molded me and, while I may not be in a third-world country anymore, when there is something that can affect our district or our state in a negative way, that’s when you will see Colonel Wilson come out. That is my temperament, and what truly defines me.
How do you feel about your transition from military to government life?
When I left the military I felt like I was moving away from family. It’s like a deployment when you miss your family. They’re still “there” but they aren’t at the dinner table because you’re a continent away, so it’s a bit of a state of mourning. The DoD still reaches out to me occasionally because the taxpayers have earned my experience and I owe it to them.
While in the military, I got to see the other side of the government and how they spend money. I transitioned between jobs where billions of dollars were spent on soldiers deployed, to research and development companies at home.
It was my responsibility to empower our industrial base and small businesses. Without diminishing the critical nature of the latter, I feel very confident in my ability to transition from military war fighting budgets that forecast military needs for up to 30 years to our state’s two- to five-year funds and supplemental budget. It’s not a simple thing, but it is much less complex; I am comfortable knowing that I can be helpful to our taxpayers in helping shape our priorities.
What are some of the issues about which you are most passionate?
I am so pleased to be able to help fix education finance reform. I want to send a clear message; let’s protect our current public school system.
On my first day, as I came back to my office after having been sworn in, I received a call that one of our school districts was going to be closed. I immediately asked to see the data used to determine this. Data only told me students weren’t meeting the standards, but I needed to have the intelligence to really understand the situation. I was soon on the ground talking to parents about what they need and to gauge their enthusiasm for the future of the district.
Schools are a very emotional thing for a community and I needed to know if they still had hope. It turned out the parents had long since realized the situation was bad and they had accepted responsibility. The problem was they had significant turnover in the school board and city council and they had no choice but to wait for two election cycles so they could vote in new leadership.
So, while there was disappointment in the data, the community knew they could do better, went to a new level of participation, and they are building a plan to not go there again.
The district has been there since the 1890s and, once again, the will of the people will make their leaders accountable. Hearing that teachers came out of retirement and worked for practically nothing was so encouraging. They brought their skills to the table because they understood the plight.
I think the good Lord drove me there. You just have to place yourself on the ground, analyze those environmental factors, and how much parents, teachers and local business care. I heard the answer about why these schools are so valuable even with a small population.
I realized when a teacher stood up and defined this school, she said; “I’m not from here, but I have been here for many years and what makes this school unique is that it is a small school. People are paying good money to go to small private schools in other places so kids will be in class sizes like ours. Here, the tenth graders know the first graders and they are all engaged. This school deserves the one thing they are asking for, so just let us get the next set of benchmarks.”
I was pleased that [Texas Education] Commissioner Morath took my call and shared his first hand account. He literally got on the ground in Milam and drove the county. He drove the distance of the buses if he were to close the school. I was very impressed with him and believe Governor Abbott made a good choice.
I’m also impressed with [SBOE Dist 10] Tom Maynard. He also took the time to talk to me about it and realized we shared the same values in terms of public education. That is the value of small rural schools.
How do you feel about school choice?
No one wants failing schools; if a school is failing and we get on the ground and don’t see a community that is behind it in actions and deed, then obviously that is the school closure we should look at. That is where school choice comes from and I believe we should incorporate public school in that choice.
My message is this: if you are involved and you need your child to go to a school that is a better fit, or a home school effort, or a private school, then that is a parent’s right to do so.
My position is that school choice is not at the expense of our public schools. Don’t be confused when I support both—parallel axis of advance to achieve the same objective for everything. The best education we can give our children for their sake and for this state and nation.
Do you think the country is moving in the right direction with regard to security?
I am elated having President Trump in office and that he is moving out at this pace. I don’t agree with the media and all the second guessing of his executive orders. On November 8, a decision was made and the fact is, he’s moving out quickly in terms of exactly what he said he would do. If people are surprised, they shouldn’t be.
I have spent time on the border in Texas. I’m a dirty boots kind of guy. I went down to see for myself and I believe a true indication in terms of whether you’re effective isn’t by the number of criminals apprehended-—we will never know, although some think that’s the test.
The true litmus test is not measurable—how many crimes were diverted simply from a show of force?
When I was in Afghanistan, our job was village stability; identify the bad guys, give them a purpose to move away, demonstrate force, and back it up with our investment in education and law enforcement. The goal was that the village people would have confidence and courage to stand up to bad guys when they came back.
It is up to the Federal Government to demonstrate this ability and willingness to make it a priority for the concerned citizens.
The true indicator of this commitment is seeing the interoperability of Federal and state local law enforcement and immigration. What I’m hearing from Border Patrol and ICE is it gives people confidence that an illegal who is a criminal and assaults me will be prosecuted at the Federal level.
We are giving law enforcement a show of support—not merely having officers there, but the subsequent actions in the judicial system, which inspired officers and gave them the confidence that someone had their back.
Our new president will correct the Federal Government responsibility, which has been neglected. In the meantime, I will continue to support the state and the Federal authorities until the mechanism is in effect and being enforced. At that point we can revisit the number of DPS officers we need to add. We are in process of hiring 250 and we have other needs in the state, so we need a period of evaluation.
The criminal element is already here and we know they have command centers. They can have extended visas and come in on planes, but Texas is the primary line.
How are you addressing Local Control?
Either we have it or we don’t. We don’t like the Federal Government telling Texas to do things, and I feel the same about local communities. For starters, we need to take a look at regulations in our school communities because right now school boards have little discretionary power.
I also believe we need to talk about revenue caps. Some communities are against that because the bottom line is that is why we elect county commissioners and councils. More than 200 of our counties are small and rural.
If you take away their flexibility, they won’t be able to meet the needs of the people or address their priorities. People need to know that their elected officials are accountable and have the power to make change.
We can also maintain technology and ground efforts to inform people about issues that affect them, e.g., local responsibility or bonds.
In many places, the state can help the community, but putting restrictions on them takes away the discretionary opportunity and the local officials can’t react appropriately. For example large industry provides for most of your tax base, but when they use the court system to kick the can down the road on revenue and taxes, it affects the local tax base. We need local leaders to be able to react.
Colonel Terry Wilson (US Army Retired) is a Republican Representative for Texas House District 20. Contact his office at www.House.State.TX.US or call (512) 463-0309.