Less than one year after being sworn into the Texas House, Dallas area state Rep. Jasmine Crockett is hoping to head to greener pastures in Congress where she believes change that can impact Texans is more attainable than in a gerrymandered GOP-dominated state legislature.
A civil rights attorney best known for her criminal justice work prior to and during the legislature, Crockett is engaged in a crowded race in Texas’ 30th Congressional District where long-time Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson is retiring after 15 terms in office.
Congresswoman Johnson has endorsed Crockett, going as far as appearing in a recent ad of hers to metaphorically pass the torch to the younger lawmaker.
In a wide-ranging interview about Washington and Congress, Crockett said her decision to run for higher office came while breaking quorum in the nation’s capital in the summer of 2021, when the House Democratic Caucus packed their bags and left the state to deny Republicans a functioning legislature. The move would temporarily freeze the Texas GOP’s attempt to pass a sweeping voter suppression bill whose anti-democratic effects are now being reported en masse.
While in Washington stumping for federal voting rights legislation, Crockett said people approached her to run for Congress after hearing rumors of Johnson’s retirement.
“I will tell you I was kicking and screaming, and I was like, no,” Crockett said. “My first race I had to go against five people. I knew this race would be just another big, insane race.”
In her first race for Texas House, Crockett ran a grassroots campaign that saw her defeat an incumbent Democrat opponent by one percentage point in a runoff primary election. She was backed by progressives and activists, in part because she represented Texas Black Lives Matter protesters pro bono after they were falsely charged with rioting.
Crockett said she initially opposed the idea of running for Congress because she would go from being one lawmaker out of 150 in the Texas House, to one of 435 in Congress. Her attitude changed after speaking to a former Clinton-era ambassador to Zimbabwe, who warned her redistricting would leave her with few options.
“He said to me, so long as you’re in Texas, you know that they’re going to lock in their power for the next decade,” Crockett said. “You know that you won’t have an opportunity to be on the offense. You know you’re just going to play defense so long as you’re there.”
“The idea that I could actually be on the offense and do some things on a larger scale, that appealed to me,” Crockett said, “but more importantly the majority of the fights that are being waged in this country are coming from ground zero, which is Texas. Texas is where we started the fight over voting rights, Texas is where the reproductive rights fight is, even redistricting Texas is kind of on the front lines of that.”
“It doesn’t end in Texas though,” Crockett said. “We see Florida, we see Arkansas, we see Arizona, we see Mississippi, we see Georgia, we see these other states saying, ‘Hey, big brother Texas did it — we’re going to do it too.’ ”
Crockett said that unlike Texas, in Washington there is at least some fluidity in who is in power. She believes Democrats will lose control of the House in 2022 and attributes that uncertain future for House Democrats to regular midterm electoral swings, as well as the Senate’s failure to pass federal voting rights legislation.
“We got the infrastructure bill passed, I won’t deny the bipartisan infrastructure is going to be really life-changing,” Crockett said.
“I do feel as if voting rights have been a failure,” Crockett said. “I really don’t know how else to put it. I don’t blame it on the House. The House did everything they could.”
In January, Senate Republicans successfully blocked the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Democrats were 10 votes short of reaching a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes, a threshold that Senate Republicans and Democrat Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been unwilling to change.
If made law, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were gutted by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision. More specifically, the legislation would see the return of the preclearance process, an authority by the Department of Justice to review election-related laws that discriminate against minority voters — including unfair district lines like those passed in Texas that dilute the voting strength of Black and Latino voters.
In another sign that the U.S. Supreme Court will not fill that void left by a weakened Voting Rights Act, the court recently reinstated GOP-drawn congressional maps in Alabama that the ACLU of Alabama and the NAACP Legal Defense say discriminate against Black voters.
“The Supreme Court, is in my opinion, a sham right now to be perfectly honest,” Crockett said. “To have this argument that this isn’t about race, and it’s only about party — it’s not, it’s about both. When you look at it, the Republicans are consistently pandering to white supermacists, it is definitely both.”
Crockett said the Republican Party has become the “Trumplican Party,” a coalition of traditional capitalist Republicans that have accepted a growing right-wing and racist faction within their ranks out of fear that Democrats will take their money.
“I think that they’re afraid of the growing, colorful country that we’re becoming,” Crockett said of the Trump-led faction. “That’s why you hear them say things like ‘protect our borders, they’re invading’ — because for the first time the Census revealed that anglos decreased in population. That scares them. The fact that the state of Texas looks more like California demographically, that scares them.”
“It’s white folk afraid of losing power,” Crockett said of the extreme rhetoric used by Republicans. “I don’t think it should be that way, I think we should all be Texans, I think we should be in this fight together instead of fighting one another.”
If elected, Crockett said that like Congresswoman Johnson she plans on joining the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the left flank of Democrats in the House that has grown since 2016 to marginally overtake the centrist New Democratic Coalition as the largest caucus in the House.
As a founding member of the Texas Progressive Caucus, Crockett said Washington’s progressive caucus aligns closely with her values, which includes expanding the U.S. Supreme Court, ending the filibuster, and moving to a more green society.
While Crockett believes her efforts are better spent in Congress, she also notes legislation is not the end all when it comes to supporting members of the community.
“This isn’t part of the job description of being a legislator, but I really want to get back to solving problems without legislation because legislation moves too slowly,” Crockett said pointing to her Texas House district’s partnerships with the Dallas Police Department and Texas Parks and Wildlife to create an annual fishing event, as well as a vaccination program with Walmart and a a mobile mammography clinic with a local church and the Methodist Health System.
“I want to be that bridge, I want to be standing in the gap,” Crockett said of bringing businesses into the fold.
The Dallas lawmaker also gave the example of her work during Winter Storm Uri when she was stuck in Austin but members of her district were without water. Crockett said she spoke with the Texas Division of Emergency Management for help. “I was like, that is taking too long,” Crockett said. “Am I chopped liver over here? Forget this, this is why people say the government is inefficient.”
Crockett said she instead called a business within her district, a major beer distributor that happened to have pallets of water available. “I was able to get water out, and they were so thankful that I called and asked them to rise to the occasion,” Crockett said laughing.
“You can’t just focus on you, we’re all one in this community, and I make them know they’re part of this district,” Crockett said.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org