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Gov. Greg Abbott says he will nominate retiring state Sen. Jane Nelson to be secretary of state

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, planned to retire this year after 30 years in the Legislature.
Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune
State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, planned to retire this year after 30 years in the Legislature.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he will nominate retiring state Sen. Jane Nelson to be secretary of state. The announcement comes one day after John Scott said he would step down from the role at the end of the year.

Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is a longtime state senator who is retiring this year after 30 years in the Legislature. Her nomination to be the state's top elections official will give Abbott a strong candidate for Senate approval after his last three nominees dating to 2018 have failed to be confirmed.

"I look forward to this new chapter of public service and appreciate the confidence Governor Abbott has placed in me to serve as Secretary of State," Nelson said in a statement. "Voters expect fair elections with accurate, timely results, and I am committed to making that happen. Texans with all political views should have faith in our election system."

In his statement, Abbott thanked Scott for his "tireless work educating Texas voters how they can participate in the electoral process and safeguarding the integrity of our state's elections" before turning to Nelson's strong resume for the job.

"Senator Nelson's lifelong commitment to public service and deep understanding of state government will be assets in her new role ensuring the critical duties of Secretary of State are fulfilled," Abbott said. "Nothing is more important to a free society than fair elections, and the State of Texas will continue working to uphold and protect this right."

Nelson will step into the role at a difficult time for elections officials across the country. Vocal supporters of former President Donald Trump who falsely claim there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election have targeted elections, subjecting them harassment and even threats. Scott, who briefly represented Trump in a lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania, was among the election officials who received death threats over the past year for his efforts to convince voters that no widespread fraud occurred and that the state's elections were safe and secure.

After pressure from Trump in 2021, Texas undertook election audits of four of the state's largest counties. The first phase of that audit was released on New Year's Eve 2021, and the full report of the audit will be released before Scott's departure.

Nelson's nomination brings a longtime veteran of state politics to the role. She is the longest-serving Republican in the Texas Senate and has passed bills on changes to medical liability, property taxes, the state's long-troubled foster care system, mental health care, domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. She also was the first woman to lead the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which writes the state budget, and passed legislation to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

In recent years, Nelson’s time at the Legislature has been focused on the state budget and has not been as involved in elections legislation. Like the rest of her Senate Republican colleagues, she voted in favor of a sweeping elections bill last session that tightened election laws in the state.

Nelson’s nomination is a strategic political move by Abbott who has seen a revolving door of elections officials who were unable to get through the confirmation process.

Scott did not have to undergo the Senate’s confirmation process because he is resigning before the Legislature’s biennial session to return to private practice. But Abbott’s last two nominees before him, David Whitley and Ruth Ruggero Hughs, held out for most of their respective legislative sessions waiting for a confirmation that did not come.

Whitley was derailed by Democrats’ opposition to him because of his supervision of an attempt to purge the voter rolls of 100,000 voters, many of whom had Hispanic surnames and had previously not been U.S. citizens but subsequently became naturalized. Hughs’ confirmation process flew under the radar, but activists who have cast doubt on the integrity of elections without evidence opposed her confirmation because her office had claimed the 2020 elections were “smooth and secure.” She resigned before ever facing a hearing.

Nelson’s status in the Senate’s Republican Caucus and her proximity to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the chamber, makes her confirmation more likely. And because Scott has pledged to release the results of the audit under his tenure, any lingering issues with that review will not fall on Nelson.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, praised her effusively on social media after Abbott’s announcement.

“After a fabled 30 year career in the Texas Senate, @GovAbbott appoints Senator Jane Nelson as the new Texas Secretary of State. There is simply no one that the Texas Senate knows better than @SenJaneNelson, & she brings with her a vast understanding of State Gov as @TXsecofstate,” he wrote.

Disclosure: The Texas secretary of state has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/06/greg-abbott-jane-nelson-secretary-of-state/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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JAMES BARRAGÁN, The Texas Tribune