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Sheila Jackson Lee Keeps Congress Seat After Mayor Runoff Loss

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Houston mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee talks during her campaign event on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, in Houston. | Source: Houston Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images / Getty

This weekend’s decisive mayor runoff loss in Houston for U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee is prompting urgent questions about the longtime incumbent Texas Congresswoman’s political future.

Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire was quickly declared the winner on Saturday with just over half of the precincts reporting and twice as much support from voters than Jackson Lee, according to estimates from the Associated Press.

Jackson Lee, also a Democrat, lost the runoff despite full-throated endorsements from name-brand members of the national Democratic elite, including Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But all is not lost for Jackson Lee, who retains her seat representing Texas’ 18th Congressional District, over which she has presided on Capitol Hill since 1995.

For now, at least.

Because her current Congressional term ends next month, she didn’t have to resign to run for mayor. However, it is because her current Congressional term ends next month that she needs to hurry up and make a decision about what’s next.

If Jackson Lee, 73, intends to seek a 16th term in Congress, the filing deadline to do so is Monday.

The esteemed member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and former chair of the influential bloc of African American House Reps and U.S. Senators hasn’t given any indication of whether she’s leaning one way or the other when it comes to her pending decision about her future.

The election for her current Congress seat is next year with at least four other candidates already declared in the race, according to Ballotpedia.

Regardless of what her choice is, Jackson Lee’s Congressional record speaks for itself, including notable moments forever etched in history like introducing Articles of Impeachment against Donald Trump and introducing a bill to establish a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for Black descendants of American slavery.

Houston mayors are limited to serving two terms, and outgoing Mayor Sylvester Turner’s looming exit after eight years in City Hall presented the opportunity for Jackson Lee – a former city judge-turned-city council member before Congress – to announce her candidacy in March.

Political analysts point to an “October surprise”-style report in the days ahead of the general election that irreversibly rocked her campaign – a revelation that likely helped Whitmire in the long run.

(CNN defines “October surprise” as “a game-changing event that can irreparably damage one candidate’s chances and boost the other’s.”)

And so, of course, it was back in October when a recording was leaked to the media purportedly containing audio of Jackson Lee insulting her staff with extremely disrespectful language.

The Texas Tribune reported on the audio:

On the recording, which is about a minute and a half, a voice that sounds like Jackson Lee’s can be heard erupting at a staffer who does not have a document she was looking for. She tells the staffer she wants him to have a “fuckin’ brain” and says “nobody knows a Goddamn thing in my office – nothing.” She refers to another staffer, who is apparently not in the room, as a “fat-ass stupid idiot” and adds both staffers are “fuck-ups.”

“It’s the worst shit that I could have ever had put together,” Jackson Lee says. “Two Goddamn big-ass children, fuckin’ idiots who serve no Goddamn purpose.”

The recording emerged nearly five years after one of Jackson Lee’s former interns sued her and the CBC Foundation over allegedly being sexually assaulted in 2015 by her male supervisor at the CBC Foundation. The lawsuit claimed that Jackson Lee fired the intern in retaliation after the intern threatened legal action.

Jackson Lee apologized profusely for the “alleged recording” that she never actually admitted was her voice and condemned it as “something trotted out by a political opponent, that worked to exploit this, and backed by extreme Republican supporters.”

But the damage was apparently already done.

During the general election, no candidate won 50% of the vote, forcing Saturday’s runoff between Jackson Lee and Whitmire.

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