As the sun sets on Congressman Pete Olson’s career representing the 22nd District of Texas, we had a chance to sit down and talk to Pete and his wife Nancy.
This candid couple met through a mutual friend back in 1987 in Tyler, TX. Pete confesses, “She was a pretty girl—blonde hair, blue eyes, and tall—but at the time, well, I was busy.” Three years later, Pete had a trip planned to California. “That same friend suggested I pop in and visit Nancy,” explains Pete. “Nancy had moved home to L.A. That visit got the ball rolling.” In 1993, the couple married and settled in Hawaii, where Pete was stationed with the Navy.
While in Hawaii, Pete was deployed twice. His second deployment, to the Persion Gulf, came just seven months after the wedding. Pete says, “There was no phone, no texts, and no email. Just regular mail. I once mailed my new wife sand from the desert! But Nancy made good use of her time. She earned her Masters in Public Health from the University of Hawaii. Finally, when my squadron was decommissioned, I thought Nancy and I would be able to enjoy a ‘vacation’ in Hawaii. That didn’t happen. I was home maybe two or three weeks, when I was told to report to Washington D.C.”
The year was 1994, and it was the Olson family’s first steps into politics and D.C. Pete would ultimately work on Capitol Hill twice with the Navy: first for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and then for the Office of Legislative Affairs. Then in 1998, Pete’s commitment with the Navy was up. “My dream was to go home and work for NASA,” says Pete. “But we loved D.C., and we had started our family there.” Pete joined Senator Phil Gramm’s staff. He became Senator Gramm’s Deputy Chief of Staff, and then served as Chief of Staff for Senator John Cornyn.
In 2007, the Olsons’ life changed again. Several key Republicans approached Pete about throwing his hat in the ring to represent District 22 in Texas. “I grew up in this district,” says Pete. “It was an opportunity to represent the people from home.” The race had 12 twelve candidates. “Senator Gramm gave me the best advice. He told me to always speak from the heart, never just read a speech. And never ask for support. Support is earned, and votes are earned. Senator Gramm also warned me that if they’re not saying something bad about you, you’re doing something wrong!”
Nancy chimes in, “We didn’t know what to expect. And let me tell you, ignorance is bliss. It was attack, attack, attack.” As Pete rose to the top of the race, it was Nancy that had what she describes as an “incredible epiphany.” She says, “I loved living in Virginia, but I told Pete I really thought we needed to raise our two kids in Texas. The norm is for most Congressmen and women live in D.C., and only go home occasionally. I felt we needed to get to know the people Pete would represent; understand how we could help them. We moved here in the summer of 2007. It’s the best decision we’ve ever made, and one of the best things to come out of all of this. I get it now…why Pete has always been so committed to Texas. This is home.”
Pete was sworn in to Congress on January 3, 2009. Staying true to representing the people, Pete spent as much time as he could at home during his tenure. Nancy says, “D.C. can be tough and exhausting. This community energized Pete. If he didn’t have a meeting or an event, he was personally recognizing small businesses for being the engines of our economy. Pete got up very early for months on Sunday mornings to buy and lay pavers at the front of a largely forgotten prison cemetery. He did this because he thought it was important for visitors to be able to easily walk to the entrance to read about the memorial’s historic significance. I didn’t learn about this endeavor until years after the project was complete…he thought I would have told him that he was crazy. He was probably right! Pete would travel at all hours of the day to cheer on area sports teams arriving home from a victorious outing. He never fails to call people on their birthdays. The list goes on and on and on.”
The morning after we talked to Pete, he was headed to an area elementary school to hold up a sign reading, “Honk if you love your crossing guard.” It’s something he’s done around the district many times. Pete says, “These crossing guards can’t take off. They’re out there in the heat of the summer and the cold too. A simple honk says we care. It says, ‘We’re here, and we love you.’”
In his 12 years in Congress, or 4380 days as Nancy puts it, Pete feels two bills really stand out. First, the bill that ended the ban on exporting crude oil, a ban that had been in effect since 1975. Pete says, “By allowing the export of crude oil, we created American jobs.” And second, the tax bill. “People need to keep their money. Our economy was booming until COVID hit. We had the lowest unemployment rate ever. COVID derailed that, but it is my hope that in the future we continue to improve through reform.”
As the Olsons look forward to the next chapter, they have a few tokens of advice for our new representative in District 22, former Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls. “The hardest part is time management,” says Pete. “But come home as often as you can. Be on the earliest flight here, and the last flight out. You’ll touch an untold number of bills on Capitol Hill. These bills cause change, and what you do affects people’s lives. Make sure you are in touch with your constituents. Listen to them. On a side note, I would also like to remind Troy that he was lucky this year, but my Navy is coming to get his Army next year!”
Nancy and Pete will continue to volunteer and work in this community. When you see Pete out and about, give him a high five…a ‘Honk if you love Pete.’ Let him know how much he is appreciated for his work in this place we all call home.