Rep. Gene Green (D)
Texas 29th District
“What built Houston,” wrote John Gunther in Inside U.S.A. “was a combination of cotton, oil, and the ship canal.” The cotton and oil were gifts of nature, though they required much human effort and ingenuity to produce in commercial quantities. The 54-mile Houston Ship Channel was almost totally man’s creation. After the sand-spit port of Galveston was destroyed by a hurricane and tidal wave in 1900, Houston’s elders decided to dredge out Buffalo Bayou and make their inland city a seaport. When the channel officially opened in November 1914, a sluggish, 6-foot-deep creek had become a 40-foot-deep waterway that would turn Houston into one of the nation’s biggest ports. Today, the channel is 45 feet deep and 530 feet wide. More than 8,000 ships a year come through with an estimated $150 billion in foreign trade. The port also is the site of the largest petrochemical complex in the nation. On its west side, Houston seems entirely a white-collar, office-bound city. But on the east and north, around the port and through the maze of refinery towers and pipelines, Houston remains blue-collar, a job magnet for Mexican-Americans and workers from the rural South and even Michigan and California.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 29th Congressional District of Texas covers much of the Ship Channel area and working-class Houston. Included is much of Houston’s Northside, between the Eastex and North Freeways almost to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. It takes in blue-collar neighborhoods in northeast Houston as well. Neighborhoods in this area ballooned in size as more than 200,000 Hurricane Katrina refugees temporarily or permanently relocated to Houston. From 2000 to 2007, the district’s Hispanic population grew from 66% to 72%. Harris County has the second-largest Hispanic population in the U.S. (only Los Angeles County has more). This part of Houston has always been considered heavily Democratic, but in 2004 Republican President George W. Bush lost it by only 56%-44%. In 2008, Democratic nominee Barack Obama won it 62%-38%.
Rep. Gene Green (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Oct. 17, 1947, Houston .
Education: U. of Houston, B.A., 1971, Bates Col. of Law at U. of Houston, 1973-77.
Family: Married (Helen); 2 children.
Elected office: TX House of Reps., 1972–84; TX Senate, 1985–92.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1977–92.
The congressman from the 29th District is Gene Green, a Democrat first elected in 1992. Green grew up in the largely Hispanic Lindale section of north Houston, worked as a printer’s apprentice, and got business and law degrees from the University of Houston. He was elected to the state House in 1972, at age 25, and to the state Senate in a special election in 1985. He has been a friend to unions and trial lawyers in Austin and Washington, and an opponent of gun control, a politician whose natural political base is Texas’s small, unionized blue-collar class. He is committed to constituent service—his office hosts an annual “Immunization Day” to provide free vaccines—and a compulsive campaigner, the kind who goes door-to-door and carries lawn signs and a hammer in his trunk. It’s a good thing, for as an Anglo he probably never would have won the minority-majority district otherwise. In the 1992 primary, he faced Ben Reyes, a tempestuous Houston councilman who once protested official inaction on crime by demolishing a crack house. In the primary, Reyes led 34%-28%. But in the runoff, Green came out ahead by 180 votes out of 31,508 cast. Reyes went to court and charged that Republican voters had illegally crossed over to vote in the runoff. That got him a July re-runoff, but to no avail. This time, Green won with 52%. He went on to win the general election with 65% of the vote.
|Gene Green (D)||79,718||(75%)||($860,643)|
|Eric Story (R)||25,512||(24%)||($13,200)|
|Gene Green (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (74%), 2004 (94%), 2002 (95%), 2000 (73%), 1998 (93%), 1996 (68%), 1994 (73%), 1992 (65%)
In the House, Green has a moderate voting record, especially for a member of a heavily minority urban district. After a spirited fight with other Texas Democrats in 1996, he won a seat on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, where he, naturally, has focused on issues important to the oil industry. In 2008, he became chairman of the Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. But Democrat Henry Waxman of California eliminated the panel—and Green’s chairmanship—soon after taking over as Energy and Commerce chairman in 2009. Green had been an ally of Michigan Democrat John Dingell in the pitched battle for control of the committee gavel in November 2008.
But Green has continued to be active legislatively on the panel. In May 2009, he got significant concessions for oil refineries in the climate-change bill the committee produced, which capped emissions at certain levels and created a system for companies to “trade” emissions limits. During the 2008 oil-price spike, he worked with Democratic leaders on an offshore-drilling bill that would allow coastal states to decide whether to permit drilling within 50 miles of the shoreline and would remove federal limits on drilling more than 100 miles away from shore. Green has had to strike a balance between the industry’s desires and quality-of-life issues in the district. For example, he fought Republican proposals to encourage new oil refineries because the environmental exemptions could have jeopardized the clean-air program in Houston. In January 2007, he cast a “difficult” vote for the Democratic bill to cut subsidies for the oil industry.
On another issue, Green in 2009 took up the cause of local radio stations trying to preserve their long-standing exemption from paying royalties on the music they air. He persuaded more than 200 House members to sign on to a resolution opposing performance fees or royalties for local stations, which Green says will help small local stations to survive. He also successfully sponsored a bill to name the Department of Education building for President Lyndon Johnson.
Green has been re-elected easily and has had no significant primary challenges despite the fact that the 29th remains an inviting opportunity for an ambitious Hispanic politician. Perhaps anticipating such an event, Green organized a Spanish-language class for members of Congress.