Could Sheila Jackson Lee Upend the Houston Mayor’s Race?

by | Mar 27, 2023 | Houston

Howdy. This story about the 2023 Houston mayor’s race was originally published exclusively for members of our Patreon. You can support our work by joining us today. Becoming a member helps us invest in building the strongest progressive newsroom in the nation, and hold Texas elected officials accountable. It was updated with the news that Jackson Lee has entered the race.

For months rumors have persisted that veteran Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee may have her eyes on an epic homecoming: the race to replace term-limited Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner this fall, and the veteran congresswoman made it official on Monday and entered the race.

Jackson Lee’s decision is like a lightning bolt in the race to be the next mayor of one of the largest cities in the nation. While the race hasn’t gotten a ton of press throughout the first quarter of 2023, it’s already a packed race currently breaking down along generational, if not ideological, lines.

Much has already been said about John Whitmire, the longest-serving member of the Texas Senate who has essentially been seeking the office for years. Whitmire drew heavy criticism during the 2022 primaries for seeking re-election to his seat in the Texas Senate while also eyeing a 2023 race for City Hall.

Whitmire largely glided over those criticisms, but his opponent, first-time candidate Molly Cook, captured a surprisingly large share of the vote against the veteran incumbent, suggesting potential political liabilities for the senator.

While Whitmire is still considered the front-runner in the race, he’s raised eyebrows among Democratic voters for courting and accepting donations from prominent conservative donors, many of whom the longtime Democratic legislator shares with disgraced former President Donald Trump.

Whitmire is certainly a heavyweight, but his stature in the race could be easily eclipsed by Jackson Lee, whose nearly 30 years in Congress have put her at the center of many of the most consequential policy fights of the past few decades. While the size of Jackson Lee’s district isn’t necessarily an advantage (state senators in Texas have larger districts than members of Congress) she’s been a frequent presence in local and national media, and has maintained a steady presence in Houston throughout her career.

While Jackson Lee could prove to be a difficult opponent for Whitmire, her potential entrance to the race would also shake things up for a younger generation of Texans with immense talent. 

Chris Hollins and Amanda Edwards have been in the race for months, gaining endorsements and raising money for a showdown with Whitmire, as well as each other.

While both Hollins and Edwards are talented attorneys, they offer decidedly different resumes that have easily made them two of the brightest rising stars in the Texas Democratic Party. 

Hollins served as the interim Harris County Clerk during the 2020 election cycle, helping drive a series of innovative strategies to expand safe voting during the pandemic. Hollins was appointed to the role by Harris County Commissioner’s Court and had spent the previous several years serving as finance chair for the Texas Democratic Party.

Edwards is a former member of Houston City Council who drew praise while representing an at-large district and leading efforts to help citizens recover from Hurricane Harvey and a unique public engagement style. As an attorney, she’s a noted expert on municipal finance, and frequently used her social media channels as a city council member to help educate Houstonians about the city budget.

Edwards ran for United States Senate in the 2020 election cycle, and while MJ Hegar ultimately secured the nomination, Edwards certainly has experience in big races that could come in handy in a close race for mayor.

Veteran political operatives that have spoken to Signal off the record all agree that a potential candidacy from Sheila Jackson Lee would easily make the stalwart congresswoman the front-runner, but the ample war chest of Senator Whitmire makes him impossible to count out. Hollins and Edwards have logical paths to claim their own shares of younger voters – especially parents –throughout the city, a voting bloc growing by the day. 

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Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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