Rep. John Culberson (R)
Texas 7th District
When George H.W. Bush moved from Midland in West Texas to Houston in 1960, he bought a house in Briarwood in what was then the western outskirts of the fast-growing city. He returned to Houston in 1993 after losing his re-election bid for the presidency and built a new house a mile from his old one, near lush Memorial Park. Briarwood is not far from the retail and commercial epicenter of Houston. The lavish Galleria, the fourth-largest mall in the United States, draws more than 24 million shoppers a year under its impressive glass atriums. Downtown Houston is sprouting residential apartments. Although the sale of high-priced homes fell in 2008, the economy of Houston is still relatively strong. Oil company revenues have been up and many businesses moved here from the New Orleans area following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 7th Congressional District of Texas is the lineal descendant of the House district that in 1966 elected Bush as the first Republican ever to represent Houston. It occupied far more territory then, half of Harris County. In successive redistrictings, its boundaries have been pared back, as the population of the west side of Houston has skyrocketed. Today, more than 1.5 million people live in an area where 350,000 lived when Bush was first elected. The 7th District touches the western edge of downtown Houston and includes most of the land between the Katy Freeway (Interstate 10) and Westheimer running straight west to Highway 6. To the south, it includes the affluent neighborhoods southwest of downtown Houston, Rice University and the Texas Medical Center, Belleaire, some small Buffalo Bayou towns and a swatch of Houston west of the 610 highway loop. Most of Houston’s business and professional elite live within its boundaries: the partners of the big law firms, cutting-edge medical researchers, and society mavens. Since 2000, Hispanics have increased from 18% to 23% of the total population.
Back in the 1980s, the 7th District was one of the most Republican districts in the country, and it still is. But as with many precincts of the very elite, it did not take a liking to President George W. Bush’s brand of Republicanism. Within these boundaries he won 69% of the vote in 2000 but dropped to 64% in 2004. As with other close-in Texas suburbs, local Republican fortunes continued to slide in 2008, although it was still a safe GOP district. It voted 58% for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Rep. John Culberson (R)
Elected: 2000, 5th term.
Born: Aug. 24, 1956, Houston .
Education: Southern Methodist U., B.A. 1981, S. TX Col. of Law, J.D. 1988.
Family: Married (Belinda); 1 child.
Elected office: TX House of Reps., 1986-2000, Maj. whip, 1999-2000.
Professional Career: Jim Culberson Advertising, 1981-85; Practicing atty., 1988-2000.
The congressman from the 7th District is John Culberson, a Republican first elected in 2000. Culberson grew up in Houston, the son of the owner of an advertising agency. He graduated from Southern Methodist University and from South Texas College of Law and then worked as a civil defense attorney. In 1986, at age 29, Culberson won a seat in the Texas House, where he served for 14 years. In 2000, Republican Rep. Bill Archer, Bush’s successor in the House, retired after being forced to give up the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee by Republican term limits. The frontrunners in the GOP primary were Culberson and Peter Wareing, a Houston merchant banker and son-in-law of Texas oilman Jack Blanton. Culberson led Wareing in the first round 38%-27%. Wareing spent nearly $4 million to Culberson's $650,000, but Culberson had an extensive grassroots campaign and won the runoff four weeks later 60%-40%. The general election was no contest in this GOP-dominant district.
|John Culberson (R)||162,635||(56%)||($1,757,226)|
|Michael Skelly (D)||123,242||(42%)||($3,080,655)|
|John Culberson (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (59%), 2004 (64%), 2002 (89%), 2000 (74%)
Culberson calls himself a “Jeffersonian Republican” and is passionate about transferring power from the federal to local governments. He has a mostly conservative voting record. He opposes affirmative action, gun control, and abortion under most circumstances. Like his predecessor, Archer, he dreams of junking the current tax system and replacing it with a national sales tax. An amateur astronomer and self-proclaimed science buff, Culberson is an enthusiast for NASA and has an interest in nanotechnology research, which is a specialty at Rice. “My eyes are too bad and my feet too flat for me to be an astronaut,” he told the Houston Chronicle with regret.
In the House, Culberson often goes his own way. He ruffled feathers as one of only two Texas Republicans to oppose the $400 billion Medicare expansion of 2003. Despite the pioneering research at medical centers in his district, he voted against embryonic stem cell research, which he said would encourage “production and harvesting of human embryos like a crop of corn, which is creepy and unacceptable.” Culberson has a coveted spot on the Appropriations Committee, which he has used to secure money for projects in his district, including medical research, flood control projects and funds for the Houston Ship Channel. He has fought with Houston officials who wanted money for local light-rail projects, insisting that expanded highway capacity be included in any plan before helping to secure $1 billion for a proposal that included both highway and public transit projects. Culberson claimed credit for the highway expansion but in 2007 criticized local officials for the slow pace of construction of the light-rail train lines.
In 2008, Culberson faced his first well-financed Democratic challenger. Wind energy executive Michael Skelly spent nearly $3.1 million, including $1 million from his own pocket. Culberson spent a relatively modest $1.8 million, which left some Republicans worried about a possible upset. Skelly criticized Culberson’s lack of support for alternative energy and for the space program, citing Culberson’s call to reduce the bureaucracy at NASA, which employs about 20,000 people locally. Skelly also emphasized his support for a balanced budget. Culberson ran as a strong social and fiscal conservative, but he suffered from discontent in the Republican grassroots over perceived weak enforcement of immigration law and a spike in deficit spending during the Bush years. National Democrats placed the contest in their top-level “Red to Blue” program. Culberson won, 56%-42%—a warning sign of future challenges.