Congressman Mike Conaway's Final Act Will Debut in San Angelo
SAN ANGELO, TX — Angelo State University President Brian May said San Angelo was served well by Congressman Mike Conaway. Yesterday, Conaway announced he would not seek and ninth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has served as Congressional District 11’s congressman since 2004.
This morning San Angelo Chamber of Commerce leaders met at the Chamber offices to announce the program for the West Texas Legislative Summit that happens August 8 at Angelo State University’s Houston Harte University Center.
For Conaway, whose office is leading this year’s Summit program, this was his chance to announce his retirement decision personally, in San Angelo. It was also a chance for leaders in the San Angelo community to reflect on Conaway’s congressional career.
“I’ve been going to Washington for over 30 years. I’ve worked with senators Lloyd Bentsen, Phil Gramm, John Tower, John Cornyn, and Ted Cruz. I’ve worked with representatives Lamar Smith, Charlie Stenholm, Kika De La Garza, Henry Bonilla, and others. So when Mike Conaway came to San Angelo and said he was going to run for congress, I was disappointed because I wanted somebody from San Angelo to be our congressman. He said he was an accountant from Midland, and I wondered, how is he going to help us?” asked May.
“Things that are near and dear to our heart are the military, agriculture, and oil and gas,” May continued.
May raved over how dedicated and smart Conaway was, qualities he didn’t at first see 17 years ago when the Midland CPA was just a candidate dropping in on him in his San Angelo office.
May’s mind quickly changed, he said, even before Conaway won the election, and his gamble to support an unknown Midland CPA was a winning bet. A big win, May stressed.
“Not only did he champion San Angelo’s priorities, he became the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee,” May said. “He has been the most effective member of congress that I have ever worked with. And we are going to sorely, sorely miss his presence.”
At the 2017 West Texas Legislative Summit two years ago, Congressman and Ag Chairman Mike Conaway used the event in San Angelo as an anchor for the House Ag Committee’s nationwide listening tour.
Conaway said the turnout of over 600 citizens here with ag-related concerns was a watershed event for committee members and much of what was learned at the San Angelo chamber event influenced the markup of the 2018 farm bill. Shortly after the farm bill passed the House, the Republicans lost the U.S. House and Conaway lost the chairmanship to Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota. Conaway still serves on the committee as its ranking member.
Farm bills aren’t passed every year. Last year’s bill was an $867 billion package titled the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 and set forth federal agriculture policy for the next five years.
“We talk about things specifically important to West Texas. In San Angelo, politics is kinda our hobby and people here are very politically savvy… I love being a part of the summit,” May said.
Referring to 2017 summit on agriculture, and its influence in his circles, May, an Aggie himself, quipped, “I told A&M Chancellor John Sharp that after that summit, the ‘A’ in agriculture is at Angelo State, not Texas A&M.”
Last year, the focus of the summit was on transportation, specifically, pipelines to move Permian oil to the ports of Corpus Christi and Houston. There is downward pricing pressure on West Texas Intermediate crude and some oil companies are withholding drilling activity until more pipeline volume is available to transport Permian crude and natural gas to markets.
Conaway said now a year after those issues were highlighted at the 2018 summit, the Port of Corpus Christi is dredging its channel, making it deeper, to accept VLCCs, or Very Large Crude Carriers. These are high capacity cargo ships to haul Permian crude to world markets. And, pipeline projects are well underway across west Texas to deliver oil to Texas’ major ports.
This year, the focus of the Summit turns to trade.
With Mexico right next door to Texas and trade of west Texas’ oil and gas and agriculture critical to this region, Conaway said the topic is necessary.
At stake for west Texas is passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Mexico has passed it; Canada requires three readings of the deal before their parliament ratifies it. “They are holding back that third reading waiting on us,” Conaway said.
The deal negotiated by Trump’s negotiators is a very good one and a deal that takes into consideration technology, like electronic communications, that weren’t around in the mid-1990s when the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, Conaway said.
Passage of the USMCA by Congress depends on one person, Conaway said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has the authority to bring a bill to the floor of the house or to withhold it. Right now, Conaway said, what Pelosi does will impact how good business gets in west Texas in terms of trade with our Mexican neighbors.
Fourteen House Democrats have asked Pelosi to get the USMCA approval on the House floor, Conaway said. He hopes more legislators will do the same.
On the other hand, Conaway warned, Pelosi could hold the USMCA hostage in order to deny Trump a victory to brag about during his 2020 reelection campaign.
In addition to some Democrats publically calling for a floor vote on USMCA, Conaway said the budget deal that just passed through the Senate helps. The budget deal cleared up the drama around appropriations that would have dominated the fall session of Congress while the presidential campaigns heated up. “That will free up the bandwidth to get this thing done,” Conaway said.
“For the good of our nation, this thing has got to get done,” Conaway said.
If Congress fails to act on USMCA, Trump has cards he can play. One card is to rescind NAFTA altogether, and with it free trade with Mexico and Canada, until the USMCA is ratified. Rescinding NAFTA will have a devastating effect on the Texas economy. Or, Trump can do nothing and trade with Mexico continues under the terms of the 1994 agreement.
For now, Conaway is hopeful enough of Pelosi’s fellow Democrats will successfully convince the Speaker to allow a vote. Conaway said he believed ratification would pass the House if the House were allowed to vote on it.
The 2019 West Texas Legislative Summit features a keynote speech by Ambassador Gregg Dodd, Chief Agricultural Negotiator at the Office of U.S. Trade. The USMCA will be discussed on a panel with Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R-Lubbock), Congressman Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands), ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Conaway. State Rep. Drew Darby will moderate the discussion. The path of the bill to pass USMCA’s ratification will start in the House Ways and Means Committee, Conaway said.
Because of Conaway’s retirement, this is the second-to-last summit he will be a participant. And it is his last summit where his congressional office leads the program. Chamber organizer Jim Hughes implemented rotating the focus of the summit from state issues to federal issues every other year. This year focuses on issues at the federal level.
“It’s been a real joy and pleasure to represent San Angelo,” Conaway said. He nodded to Mayfield Paper CEO Stanley Mayfield, who he recognized, along with Stanley’s late wife Deanna, as the first business leaders in San Angelo to welcome him during his startup campaign in 2003.
“I believe it was a fundraiser at that all-you-can-eat buffet at the Golden Corral,” Conaway recalled fondly. “My first event here in San Angelo in July of ’03.”
Everyone is invited to attend the all-day West Texas Legislative Summit at Angelo State University’s Houston Harte University Center on Thursday, August 8. More information, a full schedule of presentations and panels, and tickets are available at the San Angelo Chamber of Commerce website.
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