Abbott taps Senate veteran Jane Nelson to be Texas secretary of state

AUSTIN — Retiring state Sen. Jane Nelson, a North Texas Republican who most recently chaired the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee and before that ran the panel on public health, was named Texas secretary of state Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The post oversees state elections run by Texas' 254 counties and is charged with safeguarding the state's official business and commercial records. The secretary of state also acts as a senior adviser to the governor and as the state's liaison to Mexico.

State. Sen. Jane Nelson
State. Sen. Jane Nelson

But elections are generally the highest-profile item on the secretary of state's plate. The office posts election night returns for all state offices and tracks turnout during early and Election Day voting.

Nelson, who was elected to the Senate in 1992 after serving on the State Board of Education, emphasized in a statement the importance of her new role.

"Voters expect fair elections with accurate, timely results, and I am committed to making that happen," she said. "Texans with all political views should have faith in our election system."

Nelson, a school teacher before entering politics, will replace John Scott, who announced Monday that he plans to leave office at year's end after 13 months on the job. She can assume her duties once the office is vacated, but the appointment is subject to two-thirds approval in the Senate.

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Nelson is only the 10th woman ever to be elected to the Texas Senate and is also the first woman ever to chair the Finance Committee, a post she held for seven years. As chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, Nelson sponsored highly controversial legislation that limited abortion in Texas, and in 2013 presided over a 16-hour rancorous hearing that drew testimony from nearly 400 witnesses.

Bill Miller, a veteran Austin lobbyist and political operative, said Nelson leaves the Senate as one of the titans of the 31-member upper chamber.

"She is certainly the most informed, and she's effective, given the various roles that she's played in government," Miller said. "Let's face it, her resume is kind of unparalleled. And she knows everything and everyone you could possibly imagine."

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Miller predicted Nelson will have little difficulty winning confirmation in the Senate, which she will vacate as its fourth most senior member. And that would be a distinction her three immediate predecessors did not attain.

Scott served during a period in which the Legislature did not convene, so the Senate had no chance to act on his nomination. The nomination of Ruth Hughs was not considered during the 2021 session.

Two years earlier, then-Secretary of State David Whitley ran into stiff opposition from Senate Democrats after a botched review of the state's voter rolls erroneously suggested that nearly 100,000 legally registered voters were not U.S. citizens. Whitley resigned before his nomination was brought to the Senate floor, where he was unlikely to win two-thirds approval.

Nelson was an enthusiastic supporter of Abbott during his successful bid for a third term this year, and the governor left no doubt of their mutual esteem.

"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 in a news release. "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.”

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: New Texas secretary of state promises 'accurate, timely' election results