Rodney Ellis, a political titan in the Houston region, kicked off his re-election bid for Harris County Commissioner on Monday, promising more sweeping reforms for the county.
Ellis was elected to the commissioner’s seat in 2016 after retiring from his 27-year career in the Texas Senate to run unopposed following the passing Commissioner El Franco Lee.
“I’m the same Rodney that I was in 1983,” Ellis told a tightly-packed audience in Houston of his days as a city councilman.
Until the inauguration of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia last year, Ellis was the lone Democratic vote in the county’s governing body.
Together, the trio has formed a unified voting bloc that frequently delivers 3-2 votes against the court’s last two remaining Republican commissioners.
“I think over the last year you’ve seen this county go from being one of the most regressive counties in the country to one of the most progressive,” Ellis said of the county’s newfound Democratic majority.
His stump speech included promises to continue the county’s work on voting infrastructure, criminal justice reform, and the environment.
Some of those achievements, like introducing countywide polling locations, fast-tracking flooding mitigation projects, or passing historic bail reform, were highlighted by Judge Hidalgo who attended the Open House event. “We couldn’t do that without the fighter that is Commissioner Ellis,” Hidalgo said endorsing the commissioner. “Everything we’ve achieved, the huge plans for the future, are incumbent on him.”
“If you think we’re moving fast– we are,” Ellis said in his speech. “Because we waited too long. And working cooperatively with Judge Hidalgo, with Commissioner Garcia, and when our other colleagues who happen to be Republican [agree]… we’re doing it at lightning speed because we’ve waited too long, and we’ve fought too hard, and we have an expectation from you to bring us into this century and by God, we’re going to do it is as quick as we can.”
Also attending his campaign launch was a lengthy list of Ellis allies from his days in the legislature, including former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who hosted the event. Davis spoke fondly of Ellis during her early days as a newbie in the legislature and said advice from Ellis helped her survive her famous 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor that blocked an anti-abortion bill.
Harris County is Texas’ largest county, boasting more than 4.6 million residents and a $5 billion budget. It is Texas’ new lab for a winning Democratic coalition, which has brought the county from red to vibrant blue over the past several years. During the 2018 midterms, Republicans were ousted from 59 judicial seats, two commissioner court positions, and other elected offices.
Ellis is being challenged by Maria Jackson, formerly Harris County’s longest-serving felony court judge who resigned last year to run against the incumbent commissioner. Jackson, a Democrat, announced her campaign in October 2019. Her previous campaign account listed $13,812 cash on hand, which she can transfer to her new campaign. Ellis has a reported $3.8 million in his war chest. Financial disclosures for state and local races are due January 15.
Election day for the primary is March 3. Early voting begins next month.
Photo: Fernando Ramirez
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