President Donald Trump announced Monday that he intends to nominate former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico to be secretary of the Air Force.
If confirmed, Wilson would be the first Air Force Academy graduate to hold the job, according to a news release from the White House.
Wilson, currently president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, represented the Albuquerque-area 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House from 1998-2009. Before that she was a secretary of New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department.
“Heather Wilson is going to make an outstanding secretary of the Air Force,” Trump said in the news release. “Her distinguished military service, high level of knowledge, and success in so many different fields gives me great confidence that she will lead our nation’s Air Force with the greatest competence and integrity.”
Wilson, in the release, said the United States’ “vital national interests continue to be threatened.”
“I will do my best, working with our men and women in the military, to strengthen American air and space power to keep the country safe,” she said.
When Wilson joined the U.S. House in 1998, the Republican became the first female military veteran elected to a full term in Congress. She served as a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was the chair of the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence.
Wilson opted to give up the House seat in 2008, choosing instead to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Pete Domenici. She lost the GOP primary that year to U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who went on to lose the general election to Democrat Tom Udall.
Wilson remained in New Mexico and ran for Senate again in 2012, that time for the seat being vacated by Jeff Bingaman. She lost that year in the general election to Democrat Martin Heinrich.
Wilson became president of the school in South Dakota in 2013 and has held that job ever since.
Pearce congratulated Wilson in a tweet on Monday. “This is great news!” he said.
His office later sent out a statement in which Pearce said he looked forward to working with Wilson to support the state’s three Air Force bases — Holloman, Kirtland and Cannon.
“Her service to our nation – both in the Air Force and as a member of the House of Representatives – will greatly benefit the Air Force and the military overall,” Pearce said. “Heather understands the issues facing our Air Force both as a servicemember and a legislator.”
Udall and Heinrich, who will both get to vote on Wilson’s nomination, congratulated her.
“I look forward to the confirmation process and the opportunity to sit down with her and talk about how she plans to work with President Trump and the new administration and, in particular, how we could work together to support the vitally important role New Mexico’s Air Force bases play in our national security,” Udall said.
“Her distinguished service in the Air Force, experience working on the National Security Council, and her firsthand knowledge of New Mexico’s Air Force installations would offer a unique and valuable perspective at the Pentagon,” Heinrich said. “I look forward to meeting with her and receiving her testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
Heinrich said he would keep in mind throughout the nomination process the Air Force’s work to counter threats including North Korea, Russia, China, Iran and terrorist organizations; challenges such as the Air Force’s aging aircraft and pilot shortage; and “an insatiable demand overseas for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and an increasingly competitive environment in space and cyberspace.”
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., who represents the same district Wilson represented, said Wilson “understands the importance of New Mexico’s Air Force bases to national security, which is important as we work to preserve and enhance the role of those bases in the future.”
“It is also important that Heather Wilson is familiar with the jet fuel spill issue, and I look forward to working with her to continue the progress made by her predecessor,” Lujan Grisham said.
And U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said he respects Wilson’s military service. “I look forward to following her upcoming confirmation process and to better understanding the new president’s priorities for the Air Force and its role in supporting our nation’s security,” Luján said.
Wilson grew up in Keene, N.H. She was the first person in her family to attend college and was in the third class to include women at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. She graduated in 1982.
In a 2012 profile published by NMPolitics.net, Wilson described how her difficult childhood helped drive her to succeed at the Air Force Academy.
“Certainly one of the reasons I worked so hard to stay at the Academy was because I did not want to go home,” Wilson said. “Failure was not an option. As far as I was concerned, I had no place else to go.”
Wilson later completed her master’s and doctoral degrees as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England. She served as an Air Force officer in Europe during the Cold War. And she served on the National Security Council staff at the White House under former President George H.W. Bush during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
Wilson is married to Jay Hone, a retired Air Force colonel and attorney. They have three adult children.
Here’s more about Wilson’s ideology from NMPolitics.net’s 2012 profile:
Wilson is conservative – she says frequently that she’s a Republican because she trusts people more than government and believes in free enterprise and a strong national defense. And while she believes individuals should help those in need – she said she tries to do so and teaches her children to do the same – she also believes government should play a role in helping people.
Wilson speaks favorably about what Title IX did for women. She helped rally enough Republicans in 2007 to vote with Democrats to keep the State Children’s Health Insurance Program going. She said she knows that “safety-net programs matter.”
“We got a Social Security check that did make a difference after my father died. I know that we need great public schools and that a great education and wonderful teachers can change the course of a life, because I lived that life,” Wilson said. “I also know that government is not always particularly competent or well-run. That’s why I trust people more than I trust government. I value freedom and free enterprise. I’m a problem solver more than an ideologue.”
Wilson’s time in New Mexico was not without controversy. In 2015, according to the Albuquerque Journal, Sandia Corp. and its parent company, Lockheed Martin, agreed to pay the federal government a $4.8 million fine for using federal tax money to lobby the federal government for renewal of its contract to operate Sandia National Laboratories. Using the money for lobbying violated federal law.
Wilson’s connection? A Department of Energy Office of Inspector General report alleged she was the lobbyist to whom Sandia had paid $226,000 in consulting fees beginning in 2009 after she left Congress. Sandia reimbursed the federal government for the fees paid to Wilson’s consulting company. Wilson was not mentioned in the settlement agreement, the Journal noted.
Wilson said in 2015 that she didn’t do the lobbying alleged by the inspector general.
“There is no finding of any contact by me with any member of Congress or executive branch official concerning Sandia contract extension,” Wilson was quoted by the Journal as saying. “That’s because there was none. I was not a lobbyist for Sandia and I was not a member of the Contract Strategy Team criticized by the Inspector General’s report.”
One other noteworthy point: In picking Wilson, Trump is appointing a woman who has herself been a trailblazer — and one who’s defended the Democratic candidate Trump defeated in the November election, Hillary Clinton, who would have been the first female U.S. president had she defeated Trump.
In 2008, coming off her own loss to Pearce in the Senate race, and just after Clinton lost the Democratic presidential primary to Barack Obama, Wilson wrote in a letter published by The New York Times that Clinton was the victim of “a latent and lamentable sexism.”
“She lost because the superdelegates — the Democratic establishment — went against her,” Wilson wrote. “She became a caricature: too smart, too strong, too assertive, too rational, too competent. Think how the young Harry Potter and his male friends initially reacted to Hermione Granger and you get the idea.”
This breaking news article has been updated.