The 2023 elections may not have the fireworks of 2024, but there is still plenty up for grabs. In this “off-year,” most of which takes place on Nov. 7, Virginia will be keenly watched, particularly by followers of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and whether he can springboard Republican success into national aspirations. Meanwhile, the governor’s mansion is up for grabs in Kentucky and Mississippi. New Jersey’s Republicans believe they have a real shot at turning the state red in legislative elections, while there are also fierce mayoral and district attorney battles throughout the United States. Voters will also decide several fascinating referendums, particularly in Ohio, Maine, and Texas. This Washington Examiner series, November to Remember, will dive into all of these and more over the following two weeks. Part Five will take a closer look at the mayoral race in Houston.
Houston residents have begun voting in the expensive and crowded contest to serve as mayor of the Lone Star State’s largest city.
Houston is a Democratic stronghold in the otherwise red state, and the two leading candidates in next month’s mayoral race are longtime party members. Texas Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) have dominated polling in the contest.
The 16 others in the running have failed to amass any traction, with none polling over 4%. This isn’t entirely surprising given Whitmire’s and Jackson Lee’s political power in the area.
Jackson Lee has represented part of the Houston area, which currently has three members in the House given its mass and population size, since 1995. That’s more than two decades after Whitmire, the longest-serving state senator in Texas’s history, entered the state legislature representing the nation’s fourth-largest city.
With so many candidates diluting the field, it is unlikely that Whitmire, Jackson Lee, or anyone else will reach the 50% threshold required to avoid a runoff. Polls indicate that the two longtime Houston lawmakers will be the ones who advance to the runoff race.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one longtime Texas lawmaker who has worked with both front-runners predicted to the Washington Examiner this week that Whitmire would emerge victorious in the all-but-certain runoff.
Whitmire has led Jackson Lee in polling that excludes other candidates by double digits, though that gap could close between the Nov. 7 general election and the eventual two-way showdown.
Jackson Lee boasts the endorsements of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several progressive groups, which will help her in bringing out multiple voting coalitions on Election Day. Whitmire, who has a long record as a centrist, has a more delicate path to follow, not alienating his moderate base while winning over the city’s growing progressive constituency.
The economy and crime have been the two biggest focuses for both candidates, with each highlighting how they’d address the lack of economic investment in the city amid its massive population boom.
Jackson Lee has promoted her Hill experience as a necessary asset to ensure Houston can tap into millions in untouched federal funds.
But she has also had to deal with the emergence of leaked audio in which she can be heard berating staffers.
The audio, given to the Texas outlet Current Revolt, appeared to be recorded by one of her staffers. He promised he would contact another staffer about a paper she had given them. From there, the congresswoman accused the staffer of not “having a f***ing brain” and shouted several expletives at him.
Without apologizing to the staffer directly, Lee said in a statement via the Texas Tribune that she believes “everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect” and that she knows she is not perfect.
“I recognize that in my zeal to do everything possible to deliver for my constituents, I have in the past fallen short of my own standards, and there is no excuse for that,” Jackson Lee said.
Concerning her Houston mayoral run, she said, “To anyone who has listened to this recording with concern, I am regretful and hope you will judge me not by something trotted out by a political opponent, that worked to exploit this, and backed by extreme Republican supporters on the very day that polls open, but from what I’ve delivered to Houstonians over my years of public service.”
Whitmire, meanwhile, has touted his work leading the state Senate Committee on Criminal Justice since 1993.
“Certainly, public safety will be my highest priority,” Whitmire said at a mayoral debate last week.