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U.S. Rep Will Hurd, the young Republican congressman elected last November to represent Texas Congressional District 23, was in San Antonio Wednesday to deliver a “State of the District” speech to a full house at the Sunset Station Depot, an event organized by the SouthSA Chamber.
A Hurd speech, I am learning, is not exactly a speech, certainly not the public reading of a prepared text. Hurd, 37, has been a lot of places and seen a lot of things for someone his age. He’s unusually gregarious and comfortable speaking publicly for a guy who spent a decade working for the Central Intelligence Agency in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.
“I’m a national security guy. That’s my experience,” Hurd told his audience at the outset Wednesday.
So to describe Hurd’s talk as a “state of the district” speech wouldn’t do it justice, although he demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the complexities of the 800 miles of vast borderlands and the people he represents that is too seldom evident in the rhetoric of Washington lawmakers.
Hurd described conversations with some of his fellow members of the House Committee on Homeland Security, where he landed coveted roles, including a subcommittee chairmanship.
“Some of them want to erect a wall from sea to shining sea,” Hurd said. “I ask them, ‘When was the last time you’ve been to the border?’ Nothing.’When was the last time you spoke to a border sheriff?’ Never. ‘When was the last time you spoke to someone who lives on one side of the border and owns a business on the other side?’ Never. A lot of my colleagues have never seen our border.”
Hurd intends to change that by organizing some Congressional field trips to his district. He is one of only two black Republicans in the House, and with six whole weeks under his belt, I wondered if his colleagues in Washington, D.C. know what to make of him. He’s a Congressman who doesn’t wear a tie, at least not in the district.
Hurd’s talk was partly virtual, partly geopolitical, partly personal. He’s a natural-born storyteller, and since most in the audience are probably happy to say they will never know what it feels like to be caught in a Pakistani back alley at 4 a.m., Hurd indulged his audience and veered well beyond the boundaries of his own district and into Syria, Iraq and beyond to talk national security in a “dangerous world.”
Earlier this week he received a cybersecurity briefing by the 24th Air Force at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. The animation in his voice was evident as he recounted the visit and talked balancing information gathering with privacy. Hurd is part geek. He’s comfortable speaking the language of the cyber-intelligence world, and he sees great opportunity for San Antonio if it smartly leverages its existing military, business and university resources, to make cybersecurity a bigger part of the city’s new economy.
Speaking about some of the people in the 24th Air Force he met, Hurd said, “To these guys, cyberspace is a real place, just like land, sea and air.”
But he brought his talk back to the realities of the mostly Hispanic-district which rises up from the border and Southwest Texas and envelopes San Antonio like an open crab claw. Education and computer literacy, he said, will lift people out of poverty and create opportunities.
Noting his soon-to-open Southside district office will be located at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Hurd said, “I really look forward to working with UTSA, A&M-San Antonio on public-private partnerships, making sure we are educating kids for these jobs … and working with a number of schools on the Southside, making sure we encourage kids, including girls, to learn about programming and learn math and have a pipeline for them into Rackspace, into the 24th Air Force, and the 25th Air Force.”
Hurd said the four keys to building the next Silicon Valley are supportive local government, a market need for skilled workers, higher education programs tailored to those needs, and venture capital. Some, no doubt, will scoff at such lofty ambitions, but achieving transformative growth in San Antonio is going to require people who think big and act big.
“We look forward to seeing you back here this next year,” said Al Arreola Jr. the recently hired president and CEO of the SouthSA Chamber.
Readers who want to read more about Hurd’s ambition to see San Antonio become Cybersecurity City USA can read the Rivard Report article posted Monday: Hurd To Talk Cybersecurity at SouthSA Chamber Event.
Readers who want to explore possible careers with government intelligence agencies can register for the Intelligence Community Virtual Job Fair that will be Thursday, Feb. 19. from 1-7 p.m. CST. Individuals with programming skills, IT skills, database management, engineering, multimedia, and foreign language skills are in demand, and an array of federal agencies will have interviewers online to share information, job availabilities and to conduct online chats.
*Featured/top image: (From right) U.S. Rep. Will Hurd poses for a photo with Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Alan Warrick II (D2) and John Michael Rangel. Photo by Robert Rivard.