Texas State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is known around the Capitol for her hard work and knowledge of state government. A businesswoman, former teacher, mother and grandmother, she brings her real-world experience to tackling some of the most pressing problems facing the state.
She is currently the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and is the first woman in Texas legislative history to chair a standing budget-writing committee. She also serves Chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission, and is the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate. Before becoming Chairman of the Finance Committee, she was the longest-serving Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. Senator Nelson has been ranked "most conservative" more times than any other State Senator. Her work on behalf of abused children, seniors, cancer survivors, domestic abuse victims and people with disabilities has earned her widespread praise.
"She is definitely a superstar at the Capitol," said Mike Hailey, publisher of Capitol Inside, an online political newsletter. "She's definitely somebody you want to have on your side in a fight. If you don't, there's a good chance you're going to lose that fight."
She and her husband, Mike, met while they were both attending college at the University of Texas at Arlington. Jane graduated from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) with a degree in education. After graduation, she taught the sixth grade in Arlington ISD.
"Then I became a full-time mom and a professional volunteer," said the mother of five.
While raising their children in Denton County, Senator Nelson remained active in the community. She founded adult literacy programs. She became a lifetime member of the PTA. And at a time when Democrats controlled every state and local office, she started to volunteer for the campaigns of Republicans, including the breakthrough victories of John Tower and Dick Armey.
When the State Board of Education became an elected board in 1988, Jane went from being a volunteer to a candidate. She served four years, leaving her mark on the textbook selection process. After uncovering 5,000 errors in history books, her efforts led to reforms in the textbook adoption process.
Onerous workers' compensation laws and her passion for education prompted her to run for the Texas Senate in a 13 county district that stretched from Denton County to Eastland County. "They called me the Dairy Queen candidate, because every day I would load up the kids in our Suburban and hit the Dairy Queens that were the center of many small towns," she recalled. "I pulled peanuts with farmers, milked cows, and met with local business owners. Many of them told me that they had never seen an elected official come and talk to them about the issues impacting their families. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life."
In a district that leaned to the left, she won that election with 60.3 percent of the vote. Her campaign chairman was, at the time, part owner of the Texas Rangers -- a man named George W. Bush. Little did Senator Nelson know at the time he would become governor and then president.
As chair of the state's top budget-writing committee, Senator Nelson oversees the creation of the Texas budget and serves as the primary author of the Senate's budget legislation. "Having balanced our household budget as well as owning a family business for over 40 years, I approach this role the same way any family or business would – scrutinizing every dollar to ensure we are spending wisely," Senator Nelson said.
As the chair of the Finance Committee, Senator Nelson also sits on the Legislative Budget Board, a body of five Senate and five House representatives that sets the constitutional spending limit and develops the draft appropriations bill.
Her legislative accomplishments are numerous, including legislation to improve access to health care; rein in skyrocketing costs; assist victims of domestic violence; protect Texans with disabilities; and care for children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. In addressing these issues, Senator Nelson remains mindful of the need to contain government spending, having been named the most fiscally conservative Senator by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
She has won many awards, including Champion for Free Enterprise from the Texas Association of Business, CASA Champion for Children, and the National Distinguished Advocacy Award from the American Cancer Society -- given annually to just one state lawmaker from all 50 states.
Senator Nelson's father, the late Robert Gray, was a World War II veteran "who taught me to love my country," she said. Her mother, the late Edna Gray, "was my hero," said Senator Nelson, who served as a primary caretaker as her mother struggled with Alzheimer's. "She survived World War II, the Great Depression and still succeeded in the most important job of all -- motherhood."