Meet Southeast Texas’ new state senator Robert Nichols

Published 12:28 am Sunday, April 17, 2022

Sen. Robert Nichols recently acquired most of Jefferson County through redistricting, but it’s certainly not an unfamiliar area for the politician who graduated from Lamar University in 1968.

“I lived here for a number of years,” Nichols said last week while speaking to the Rotary Club of Port Arthur. “I moved back to Jacksonville after college.”

It was there he married his high school girlfriend and began what would become a successful venture as a businessman.

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“My wife and I, instead of buying a house, we bought a plastics machine,” he said.

Nichols built four manufacturing facilities.

“We kept growing our little plastics businesses, and I ended up with about 900 employees at four different factories,” he said. “Two of them made medical devices sold all of the world.”

Eventually one was sold to Baxter International, and the other three to Johnson & Johnson.

During his time in Jacksonville, Nichols got involved in government through city council. After a successful run as a council member, he then became mayor.

Before running for the Texas Senate in 2006, he served as the Transpiration Commissioner of Texas.

“I was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush to the Transportation Commission,” he explained. “I traveled all over the state. Rick Perry liked what I was doing and reappointed me for another six years. I was halfway through that and my state senator decided not to run. They encouraged me to run, and I won.”

Redistricting

In October, district lines were redrawn through a special legislative sessions. Nichols called it “one of the most difficult things you go through” because it disrupts established relationships. Following redistricting, he said, he lost close to 150,000 constituents in and around Montgomery County.

“But the good news is I picked up a big chunk of Jefferson County, so I’ve got all of Beaumont, all three of the Mid County cities, and part of Port Arthur,” he said. “Brandon Creighton and I had been working together for 16 years. We’re great friends. He was a great House member. He’s a great Senate member. So the good news is you’ve got two of us who work closely together.”

Working with him is Jake Ellis, who operates from the Jacksonville office, and Jennifer Harris who began Monday establishing an office in Southeast Texas.

Jennifer Harris, who works with Sen. Nichols, takes notes as Rotarians ask questions about various issues. (Monique Batson/The News)

“(Harris will) be at a lot of events I can’t physically get to because my district is about 19 counties and a little under one million people,” he said.

In the last few months, before he officially becomes the local representative in January, the team has been frequently traveling to Jefferson County to meet with county, city and community leaders.

“What I’ve been trying to do is what I call real quality one-on-one, like with your school superintendent,” Nichols said of Mark Porterie. “We probably spent several hours with him going over the issues that y’all have. Y’all have a great superintendent. I’ve got about 100 school districts, and he’s outstanding.”

Nichols explained the role his office will play for Southeast Texas residents.

“While mayor and on city council, I was astounded with how much the state touched my little community,” he said. “There we were, Jacksonville, Texas. A town of about 15,000 out in the woods 30 miles away from anybody else. Yet the state was touching us everywhere. (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), our landfills, our wastewater, our freshwater, the department of state health services, our hospitals, our nursing homes, the department of aging, mental health issues. And those are the kinds of things I’ll be able to help y’all with.”

He gave an example of an older woman currently struggling to get her driver’s license renewed after an extended period of time.

“To do that, you have to get your birth certificate, but she was born at home 80-something years ago,” he said. “She never really had a birth certificate. Yet I’ve known her all my life. A person in our office is working their way through that. In the meantime, she’s driving with an expired license and a letter from a state senator saying, ‘we’re working on getting it.’”