Texas Senate confirms Jane Nelson as secretary of state

Secretary of State Jane Nelson presides over the House of Representatives on the first day of the 88th Legislature on Jan. 10. She was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

The Texas Senate on Wednesday confirmed former state Sen. Jane Nelson as secretary of state in a unanimous vote that avoided another embarrassment for Gov. Greg Abbott, whose last three nominations to the position never received confirmation.

Nelson, a Republican, represented Fort Worth and other North Texas cities in the Senate for 30 years before deciding not to seek reelection last year. In her decadeslong career, she became the longest-serving Republican woman in the Senate and the first woman to lead the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which writes the state’s budget.

In a statement after her confirmation, Nelson thanked her former colleagues and Abbott and said she planned to “work every single day on behalf of the people of Texas.”

“I will work to safeguard honest and accurate elections in all 254 counties across our great state, while continuing to support business owners by ensuring that government moves at the speed of Texas business, not the other way around,” Nelson said. “I also look forward to strengthening relationships with all of our international partners and telling the great story of Texas’ economic prosperity to the world.”

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As secretary of state, Nelson is Texas’ chief elections officer, a position that has become highly politicized in recent years after politicians at the highest levels, most notably former President Donald Trump, have pushed false and debunked theories of voter fraud in major elections. Election administrators in other states had to push back against those assertions, and local election administrators have come under major scrutiny from groups claiming widespread voter fraud.

Nelson’s predecessor, John Scott, experienced some of that pressure — he said he received death threats for his work — but navigated it by engaging with the groups claiming foul play to ease their doubts. Scott briefly served as an attorney for Trump in one of his lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election and then defended the integrity of elections as secretary of state.

Scott initiated an audit of four large counties in Texas after Trump, claiming voter fraud, pressured Abbott to review the election results in the state. Scott completed the state’s review of the 2020 presidential election in December, which found that though there were some “irregularities” during the election, it was not riddled with widespread fraud. Prior to releasing the audit’s results, Scott announced he would step down from his position to return to private practice.

In December, as she was about to retire from the Legislature, Abbott nominated Nelson for the position. The move was a savvy one. Abbott had struggled to get Senate confirmation for his two nominees before Scott. In Nelson, he submitted to the chamber a well-respected legislator who was one of their own.

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David 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. Ruth Ruggero 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.

During her nomination hearing in February, senators were cordial with Nelson and joked with her about being on the other side of the legislative grilling.

Nelson will also play a major role in the state’s economic development as secretary of state and tend to foreign relationships, including a tenuous one with Mexico, as the state’s major ambassador.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.