In a recent Texas Monthly piece about Art Acevedo’s decision to jettison the Houston Police Department for the allure of being Miami’s top cop, Mimi Swartz dropped an observation that raised my eyebrows.
Acevedo, long rumored to be interested in becoming Mayor of Houston, had entered into a pact with his close friend and the dean of the Texas Senate, John Whitmire, not to run against each other if Whitmire decided to make the mayor’s race in 2023, something Houston political sources now tell us is all but expected.
Whitmire’s rumored entry to the race may have been enough for Acevedo to seek greener pastures in a city he may someday get to run, but the former police chief may not be the only candidate that isn’t willing to take the long-time legislator on in what could be a bruising and costly race in one of the largest cities and most expensive media markets in the country.
There are a number of reasons why the formidable Whitmire would easily be considered a frontrunner in the race, not the least of which is the sizable warchest he’s accumulated over his years in the Senate. He has nearly $10 million in his State Senate campaign account, and would easily be able to tap a long list of prospective donors he has strong relationships with to raise more. As the dean of the Texas Senate, he would almost certainly lock up most of the big-name political endorsements on offer in Houston and across the state.
Even still, the 71-year-old Whitmire may be in the unenviable position of facing a deep field of talented candidates capable of breaking through in their own right, if they’re willing to make the race against the Dean of the Texas Senate.
Charles Kuffner compiled a list of candidates he thought could factor into the race last year, and names like City Controller Chris Brown, Whitmire’s State Senate colleague Carol Alvarado, and City Councilmember Abbie Kamin could all be capable candidates in the race. It seems highly unlikely that Alvarado would make the race if Whitmire does, but the lege veteran is already a formidable statewide candidate in her own right and the rise in profile becoming Mayor of Houston could bring would make her a superstar in Texas politics.
Brown and Kamin are both solid choices, as is former councilmember Amanda Edwards, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2020 but already knows what it takes to win citywide, having been elected at-large herself. Edwards, who continues to work on empowering young people and women in civic life, is still young and dynamic, and her boundless energy and natural constituency among the crucial voting bloc that is Black women in Houston would be tremendous assets.
A name that wasn’t on the radar when Kuffner wrote his piece in January of 2020 is former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins, who drew national attention and praise for his efforts to expand access to voting in Harris County in 2020. Hollins, an attorney who was appointed to the position when it became vacant, has been mentioned as a possible statewide candidate in 2022 and hasn’t signaled his future plans aside from staying active in the fight for voting rights and helping build the Texas Democratic Party’s infrastructure, could be an intriguing contender if he decided to make the race.
Along with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, no one in Texas was a more ubiquitous presence in the fight against Texas voter suppression than Hollins, giving him immediate profile and name recognition across the state, but especially in Houston. His term as county clerk demonstrated a commitment to innovation and a fearless moral core. His office worked hard to make it easier for people to cast their ballots safely because it was the right thing to do.
Hollins also burnished his reputation as a bonafide fighter while in the clerk’s office, going toe-to-toe and mostly getting the better of Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton in court proceedings. His office became well known for their effective and aggressive communications strategies, leaving no stone unturned in their outreach to Harris County voters.
Hollins, Edwards, Alvarado and Kamin all fit my dream criteria for the next mayor of Houston: a generational shift. While current Mayor Sylvester Turner has reached new heights in his time in the top job, proving to be a strong executive and collaborative leader, Whitmire is five years older than the term-limited Turner, who he spent years serving with when Turner was in the State House.
While Whitmire’s skill and experience are both considerable and he would likely be an effective mayor, as Kuffner points out, few jobs in Texas could provide a more powerful launching pad for future statewide office than the city’s top job, and a shift to a younger generation in leadership could pay dividends for the city and the Democratic Party in Texas.
Take Hidalgo as a key example. She replaced an 11-year incumbent to become Harris County Judge, and her arrival as Judge helped create the catalyst for several years of sustained, innovative change that is growing more popular by the day. A young, visionary leader in the Mayor’s office in Houston could be a massive win for the city.
I must admit, however, that recent rumblings about Tony Buzbee also, strangely, keep Whitmire near the top of the list of prospective candidates for me. While Buzbee is an eccentric and intriguing guy and folks who know him well have speculated that he has future ambitions, the recent history of wealthy recreational candidates like him in Houston mayoral politics creates a compelling argument for someone like Whitmire, whose experience is often only matched by brilliant debate skills.
The thought of watching Whitmire locked in a debate with a less experienced opponent is a special kind of enticement, provided that you share my lifelong appreciation for verbal jousting.
Photo: Ed Schipul / Wikimedia Commons