LUFKIN. For 18 years, the people of East Texas were represented in Congress by a prominent Republican known more for spreading conspiracy theories than passing laws. But the region’s new representative, Congresswoman Nathaniel Moran, plans to change the tone in Washington, DC.
Retired Judge Smith County, also a Republican, is among seven newly elected members of Congress from Texas to be sworn in Tuesday, joining 31 other Texans in the US House of Representatives.
Moran will be a 10,000-mile strip that covers all or part of 17 counties and serves more than 700,000 historically Republican-favored people.
Moran’s top priorities include: eliminate the Department of Education, pass an expiration bill to cut the federal government, and secure the U.S.-Mexico border. The list continues with traditional conservative political issues such as election security and inflation, but Moran intends to use his first few months in office to learn the basics of national legislation.
“It takes time to get things done,” Moran told The Texas Tribune. “The federal government is not a speedboat that can turn around overnight. It’s more like a barge and it takes time to change direction.”
Moran’s predecessor, Louis Gomert, gained notoriety as a pompous congressman prone to spreading baseless conspiracy theories, fomenting fear, and scolding party leaders with hour-long denunciations on the floor of the House of Representatives. But the bills, of which Homet was the main sponsor, passed the House of Representatives only six times, and only one of them was signed while Homet was in office. According to Texas Tribune analysis, only 10 of the 118 current members of the House of Representatives who entered before 2010 passed fewer bills in the House than Homert.
This year, Homert decided to run for Attorney General of Texas rather than for re-election to Congress. He finished last in the Republican primary and retires from Congress in January.
Moran’s approach to Congress is likely to be less showy and more pragmatic than Homert’s. Among voters, Moran is seen as a level-headed and conscientious leader who can work across the aisle, which he did with Democratic commissioners in Smith County.
Critics fear that Moran will adopt the same radically conservative agenda as his predecessor. Moran campaigned for traditional conservative values, advertising himself as a Republican opposed to abortion, law enforcement, and firearms. As a district judge, Moran defended the state’s 2021 abortion law, which introduced a near-total ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, increased law enforcement funding, and maintained relatively low property tax rates. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Moran ordered residents to stay at home for the first months, but then insisted that businesses remain open while taking “appropriate precautions” to limit the economic impact.
“We are firmly committed to the same Christian evangelical conservative principles. There is no doubt about it,” Moran said, comparing himself to Homert. “But we have different personalities and ways of working.”
Born in Arizona, Moran grew up in a small town in Smith County, where his parents moved to open a Bible college with other evangelists. Moran says his decision to enter the public service is due to the Christian values that his parents instilled in him from a young age. During the campaign, he often told a childish joke about faking a vote for President Ronald Reagan in the fourth grade in 1984. According to him, this gesture symbolizes his long-standing commitment to conservative values.
Moran attended Texas Tech University in both college and law school, eventually returning to Smith County where he ran for Tyler City Council and raised four children with his wife Kina. Moran’s colleagues know him as a family man – shortly after he was elected to a third term on the city council, Moran moved the family to Houston so that his son, who was born deaf, could attend a school for the hearing impaired.
“He’s such a guy,” said David Stein, chairman of the Smith County Republican Party. “He was willing to give up his career to help his son get the help he needed.”
Moran returned to Smith County three years later and was elected a district judge in 2018. He held that position until he won a seat in Congress this year with 78 percent of the vote against his opponent, Democrat J. Armar Jefferson.
Under his leadership, Smith County has managed to keep its tax rate low while continuing to invest in capital improvement projects. Voters approved two consecutive pledges totaling $84.5 million to improve roads and bridges, and in November they approved a $179 million pledge to build a new county courthouse.
“The courthouse has been a real thorn in the side of the eye and Moran has built a consensus in the community that he can get things done,” Stein said. “The county is doing better than ever before.”
Joanne Hampton, a Democrat who served on Moran’s Court of Commissioners, said Moran knows how to effectively communicate and work with people with opposing views. Even when she disagreed with Moran on controversial issues such as abortion, he was a good listener, which she believes Homer lacks.
“It will be day and night,” Hampton said. “Gomert was worried about what was going on in Washington and didn’t do what his constituents wanted him to do. I don’t see this happening to Moran.”
But other district Democrats fear that Moran will join far-right political leaders. Moran was backed by former President Donald Trump, and while he didn’t go so far as to call the 2020 election “stolen,” he said he believed there was significant fraud, a view proven by multiple audits in several states, including Texas. FALSE.
Michael Tolbert, former chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, recalled how Moran voted against a resolution to designate a specific day as “NAACP Tyler-Smith County Day,” a largely symbolic gesture in support of the civil rights organization. Moran said at the time that the NAACP’s “political stance” on some issues, such as the removal of Confederate monuments, made support for the resolution impossible. Tolbert regarded this move as malicious.
Tolbert also criticized Moran’s decision to support a resolution to make Smith County a “Second Amendment sanctuary city”, and he is concerned that, unlike Homert, Moran will succeed in passing far-right laws while in office.
“He may not be as overtly malevolent as Homert, but in practice he will be more dangerous,” Tolbert said. “Because it’s in more sophisticated packaging.”
Much of what Moran does will depend on which committees he is assigned to. He said he hopes to eventually join the Ways and Means Committee, the main tax filing committee and one of the most powerful. In the short term, he would like to serve on the Judiciary Committee or the Transport and Infrastructure Committee.