By Jacob Beltran/@JBfromSA
Freshman U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, has established an office in the Patriots’ Casa, a move some consider a benefit to the university while others say it’s an unusual situation.
The Patriots’ Casa is a two-story, 20,000-square-foot facility, open to all students, faculty and staff. The facility offers support and assistance to military and veteran students transitioning to college life.
Hurd’s staffers said the congressman of Texas’ 23rd Congressional District will most likely work in the office one week each month. Staff at the A&M-San Antonio office include at least one full-time staffer during operating hours.
Policy advisors and political analysts said they were surprised to learn that an elected public official was leasing space at a university supported by public tax dollars.
While he’s not breaking any federal laws, the move is unusual because the rented space is in a Texas A&M University-San Antonio facility.
Experts added that it makes sense to have an office on the South Side of San Antonio because of the geographical outline of the 23rd Congressional District, which forms a claw grabbing the city around the north, west, and south sides.
President Cynthia Matson authorized the office lease March 8, charging the representative a monthly rent of $588.75 for approximately 475 square feet of space, a U.S. House of Representatives district office lease states.
The second floor of the university’s veteran-focused facility includes a casual den, study team rooms, an ROTC cadre, a student veteran office, and now Hurd’s offices. Specifically, Hurd will office part-time in rooms 212G and 212F, and the shared space with ROTC in room 212D.
Mark Jones, chair of political science at Rice University, said it’s unusual for a representative to rent space at a public university.
“Normally you would not rent out space in a public institution, but as long as he’s in compliance with all federal regulation there would be nothing wrong with it,” he said.
Hurd’s lease agreement with the university is a standard congressional district office lease, used by all members of Congress. Congressmen are free to rent from private or public landlords.
The House Ethics manual states “official resources of the U.S. House must, as a general rule, be used for the performance of official business of the U.S. House, and hence those resources may not be used for campaign or political purposes.”
Daniel Hurley, associate vice president for government relations and state policy with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, also said he’s never heard of a U.S. representative renting a space in a public university.
Despite the unconventional nature of the move, which Hurd admitted himself was unusual earlier this spring during an office open house, both he and other officials believe the arrangement benefit constituents and the university.
“I think it’s commendable. Obviously, we assume he’s not doing political work, but simply there to interact with constituents,” Hurley said. “Given the traffic, the diversity, the high level of activity that takes place on a campus, I think it’s smart of him to have a presence there.”
Matson said the move is a benefit to the university, specifically to the Center for Information Technology and Cyber Security, because of his standing on several U.S. House committees, and for political science students who want a chance to delve into the world of national politics.
“There’s a lot of synergy,” Matson said. “We’re glad to have him welcomed here.”
Matson said Hurd’s chief of staff reached out to her shortly after she took over as university president.
“Given their position I felt like it was a good alignment … so we’re trying it out to see if it works,” Matson said.
Hurd, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, serves as Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee, and as a member of the National Security Subcommittee.
As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, he serves as Vice-Chair of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee and is a member of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee.
Matson said as the university’s relationship with Hurd develops, he may visit classes as a guest lecturer and even assist members the Student Government Association, drawing on his experience as former student body president at Texas A&M-College Station.
“If your goal is to reach out to students, in particular, a campus can be an ideal location because you have foot traffic and people there,” Rice University’s Jones noted. “You may have more success in outreach, versus an office in a random strip mall.”
The former Aggie said he wanted to return to the Texas A&M System, where he graduated from A&M-College Station in computer science.
Hurd introduced himself to university officials during an open house April 7. Faculty, staff and students stood in line for “selfies,” handshakes and to exchange a few words with the politician.
“Whether it’s border security, cyber security or whether it’s energy policy, it’s helping people where they need to be helped,” he said.
Rice University’s Jones noted that caution is needed to ensure the funds are not being subsidized by the university, and that he’s paying the effective market rate for office space. Even in those instances, he said Texas A&M can’t lease out space to anyone as a non-profit.
He added that Hurd is one of the more diligent representatives, not likely to have made a mistake with his campaign.
“He’s very intelligent and is unlikely to have made some kind of campaign mistake,” Jones said. “There are some representatives that didn’t have all their ducks in a row or haven’t reviewed legislation, but Will Hurd is not one of those types of people. If he decided to do that, he’s already done his due diligence.”
Terry McDevitt, vice chancellor for marketing and communications with the Texas A&M System, said the university approved Hurd to take office on A&M-San Antonio’s Main Campus after ensuring the space would be used only for Congressional district business.
Hurd’s lease was approved by the Administrative Council of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the Texas A&M-System Office of General Council under system policy 4101 and regulation 4101.01.
McDevitt added that Hurd’s lease requires him to comply with university rules and procedures.
Texas A&M System’s University Risk and Compliance noted his presence does not violate University Rule 07.03.1.MI – Political Campaign Events and Partisan Political Activities on Texas A&M University Property.
The rule states political candidates are not permitted to reserve University facilities for political campaign events.
Placing a rising political star
While he can’t organize political activities from his campus office, Rice’s Jones said the office puts Hurd in a physical position to make an impression on voters.
“Especially to reach out to younger, Hispanic and single-female voters, groups that in the past have voted Democratic,” Jones said. “He needs to reach out if he’s to be successful.”
Because former U.S. Representative Pete Gallego, D-Texas, who held the seat from 2013 to 2015, hopes to reclaim the seat from Hurd in 2016, Jones said Hurd has the opportunity to make an impression on potential voters.
The 23rd Congressional District will be one of the 10 most watched U.S. House races in 2016, Jones said, because it’s currently too close to call.
“It’s very competitive … and is likely to have a tremendous amount of money from outside of Texas spending in it,” he said.
Jones added that since Hurd’s arrival in Washington D.C., the freshman representative was given an important post in Congress and through his committee involvement.
“He’s been given far more exposure and power than the average Republican freshman, highlighting that they are doing all they can,” he said. “They see him as a great candidate and rising star in the party, so with assistance in bolstering his House profile and campaign coffers, they’re doing everything everything they can,” Jones said.
Will Hurd’s office is open in the university’s Patriot Casa 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday at One University Way in San Antonio.