Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D)
Texas 18th District
Within its vast bounds, Houston contains income and wealth disparities as striking as any city in the United States, the product of an expanding city with dynamic economic growth, a high rate of immigration, and the absence of centralized planning. The contrast is most obvious at the edge of Houston’s gleaming downtown. Just blocks from the Heritage Plaza, Pennzoil and Bank of America buildings, and the sports complexes for baseball’s Astros and basketball’s Rockets are slums where many African-Americans and Mexican-Americans live in unpainted frame houses with cracks wide enough to let in Houston’s humid, smoggy air. But the contrasts are less obvious as one moves outward from Houston’s historic center.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Half a century ago, Houston had a Third World economy. It was a low-skill producer of basic commodities, where a few got rich and many lived near subsistence level. Since then, Houston has gained a high-tech economy offering myriad opportunities and a wider range of economic outcomes. It has also greatly expanded its international trade. The Port of Houston brought in 225 million tons of cargo in 2008, the second most of any port in the United States. Many of Houston’s blacks and Hispanics have moved to comfortable middle-class neighborhoods. In 2007, Hispanics for the first time outnumbered Anglos in Harris County, which has grown 16% since 2000. While the city has diversified economically, oil is still king. The city was shielded in 2008 from the recession, with 70% of the city’s economic growth that year coming from the energy industry, but the drop in oil prices in early 2009 reduced local jobs. The city also suffered from the September 2008 devastation of Hurricane Ike, though skillful management by local officials and a last-minute turn of the storm away from the city limited casualties.
The 18th Congressional District of Texas contains Houston’s downtown and the African-American and Latino neighborhoods immediately south toward Loop 610. It has two spokes running out beyond Loop 610—one is northeast between the Eastex Freeway and Beaumont Highway and then south to near Jacinto City and Galena Park, and the other is northwest between the Northwest Freeway and Hempstead, then heads east to include George Bush Intercontinental Airport. African-Americans made up 38% of the district’s population in 2007, a drop from previous years, while the Hispanic population continues to grow, increasing to 42%. This and the 30th District in Dallas are the two most heavily Democratic districts in Texas.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D)
Elected: 1994, 8th term.
Born: Jan. 12, 1950, Queens, NY .
Education: Yale U., B.A. 1972, U. of VA Law Schl., J.D. 1975.
Religion: Seventh Day Adventist.
Family: Married (Elwyn); 2 children.
Elected office: Houston City Cncl., 1990–94.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1975–77, 1978–87; Staff cnsl., U.S. House Select Assassinations Cmte., 1977–78; Houston assoc. municipal judge, 1987–90.
The congresswoman from the 18th District is Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat first elected in 1994. A native of Queens, N.Y., she was educated at Yale University and Virginia University’s law school. She practiced law in Houston, where she was a local judge and won two terms as an at-large member of the Houston City Council. After a local term limits law took effect in 1994, she ran for Congress. The incumbent was Democratic Rep. Craig Washington, a talented but iconoclastic legislator who voted against funding for the space station, a source of many local jobs, and against the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which was a boon to port traffic. Jackson Lee supported NAFTA and raised a lot of money from business interests that favored it as well. She won the primary, 63%-37%, and she prevailed in the general election. She has been re-elected easily since.
|Sheila Jackson Lee (D)||148,617||(77%)||($562,708)|
|John Faulk (R)||39,095||(20%)||($59,213)|
|Mike Taylor (Lib)||4,486||(2%)|
|Sheila Jackson Lee (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (77%), 2004 (89%), 2002 (77%), 2000 (76%), 1998 (90%), 1996 (77%), 1994 (73%)
In the House, Jackson Lee has a liberal voting record, though she has leaned toward the center on economic issues. She is prolific in proposing bills and offering amendments on the floor. Typically, her measures call for studies on one topic or another, add small amounts to spending bills, or are non-controversial, such as one that called on Afghanistan to prohibit the use of children as soldiers. When Republicans controlled the House, her more substantive proposals—for example, in favor of NASA funding and abortion rights—were usually defeated. In the 110th Congress (2007-08), she reportedly made more House speeches than any other Democratic member. In Washingtonian magazine’s annual poll of House staffers, Jackson Lee won best “Show Horse” every Congress since 2000, and she has routinely taken top honors in the poll’s “Biggest Windbag” category. She also draws negative reviews for her treatment of her staff. She used to have an aide drive her one block to and from her Capitol Hill apartment daily, and she has required aides to drive her to late-night hair appointments.
Jackson Lee came into national prominence as an outspoken defender of Democratic President Bill Clinton during his impeachment in 1998. On the Judiciary Committee, she has faced conflicting desires from Latino constituents who favor more generous treatment of immigrants and African-American constituents who see immigrants as dangerous competition for jobs. She frequently takes the pro-immigrant side. She favors an increase in visas and access to permanent resident status. She has vigilantly pursued alleged racial injustices in local courts; she called the Houston-area judicial system “tarnished” in 2008 after a grand jury failed to convict a white man who killed two black men after they robbed his neighbor.
Jackson Lee has chaired the Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Transportation Security Committee and Infrastructure Protection, an assignment that suits the port city of Houston. In March 2009, she complained that the Transportation Security Administration was not moving fast enough to meet the August 2010 deadline for screening all cargo on passenger planes. She sponsored a bill to mandate wireless communications systems for flight attendants on commercial airplanes to replace telephones that she said were “from the Howard Hughes era.”
Jackson Lee has been mindful to keep her name recognition in the district high, going so far as to have aides track constituents’ deaths and then call their grieving families to ask if she can speak at their funerals. Her most famous eulogy came in July 2009, when Jermaine Jackson asked her to speak at his famous brother Michael Jackson’s memorial service in Los Angeles. She delivered a rambling speech to the crowd of 20,000 who gathered for the pop star’s funeral, speaking for more time than many of the stars there who knew Jackson personally. Jackson Lee caused some anger at home during the 2008 presidential primary when she remained a steadfast supporter of Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton “in the spirit and the idea of opportunity for women.” Supporters of Democratic candidate Barack Obama said they think she should have a primary challenger in 2010.