Incoming senator getting to know new turf
State Sen. Robert Nichols will represent Orange County in the Legislature beginning January 2013 and he has already made eight trips to the county from Jacksonville since last summer. He was in town Tuesday morning to become more acquainted with the area.
“I like to meet new people and revisit those I have met before,” he said. “I want to open up lines of communication and understand the issues that are important to Orange County. I’m very pleased with the reception I have received. The people seem to be pleased that I’m interested.”
The current elephant in the room for Texas politics is redistricting.
Nichols said both the Legislature and the courts have drawn redistricting maps which have not affected Nichols’ Senate District 3.
“It has left the area the same. It’s not in question. Technically, Orange County begins in Senate District 3 January 2013 when the Legislature goes into question,” he said. “From a practical standpoint, I can’t wait until then. People will be seeing more and more of me.”
Senate District 3 covers 18 counties to the north and west of Orange County. Nichols said Orange County will change from being one of the smallest counties in their district to being one of the largest in Senate District 3.
The state is waiting on federal courts in San Antonio and Washington, D.C. to make a decision on redistricting in Texas. Nichols estimates a decision will be made by Feb. 6 because both Republicans and Democrats have presented their information to the courts.
He cautioned, however, the courts have no timeline to adhere to and both parties have urged them to make a decision so Texas can get on with its Spring primary.
There’s also a possibility Texas may have two primaries this year which Nichols said would be “horrible.”
He believes the two primaries would not only affect the Presidential and U.S. Senate race in an adverse way, but it would affect over 2,000 local races statewide in a negative way.
Switching gears, Nichols, a former Texas Department of Transportation commissioner, next addressed the upcoming Interstate 10 construction from Adams Bayou to the state line.
“I’m very pleased TxDOT will continue construction on I-10 to the state line. I want to be of some encouragement to them. This action is supported by the communities in the county,” he said.
Nichols is of the opinion TxDOT would eventually do the project, though the sooner the better.
“I met personally met with the district engineer and [Pct. 4] Commissioner [Jody] Crump about what we needed to do. The evaluation team reconsidered bridges that didn’t need to be rebuilt and updated construction estimates made before the Recession.
Nichols thinks the project when completed will allow traffic to flow better in the community and freeway economic development.
“Transportation infrastructure is important to commerce. Construction is painful in the short-term but it will have long-term benefits,” Nichols aid.
Another transportation asset for the county is the Port of Orange.
“There’s a lot of economic opportunities for your port,” he said. “Orange is sitting on the threshold of an economic boom. You have the interstate, rail, the intracoastal waterway and the port. You have one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the world. You have things most communities are looking for. You’ve got all the ingredients. You also have the college (Lamar State College-Orange).”
Addressing issues pertaining to the petrochemical industry, Nichols believes the Environmental Protection Agency needs to ease off on air discharge permits so industries can build additional units.
As a member of the Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature, Nichols said he has spoken with many industrial leaders who tell him they’re not building due to EPA regulations.
“They’re not doing the new units because they’re waiting to see what the EPA is going to do. They’re killing jobs and we’re losing billions of dollars,” he said.
Nichols concluded the interview with a comment about the Keystone XL Pipeline status. He said he didn’t get to vote on the issue but a large portion of the pipeline passes through Senate District 3.