Byline: Steven Monacelli
After nearly three decades of serving as the House Representative for Texas’s 30th congressional district, which includes large swaths of South Dallas, Eddie Bernice Johnson announced her plans to retire on November 20.
“As of January , I will step down,” Johnson said during an event in Dallas. “I will retire, and let me assure you that I will also recommend to you whom I feel is the best to follow me.”
Johnson got her start in politics in the Texas state house, where she was elected in 1972 as the first Black woman to win electoral office from Dallas. She was a trailblazer in many fields, serving as the first Black woman in the role of Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital for 16 years. She went on to be the first certified nurse elected to Congress in 1992.
At the time of Johnson’s retirement announcement, it was unclear who she would endorse as her successor. A handful of hopefuls had already announced their plans to run, including progressive candidate Jessica Mason, a Black female Navy veteran that grew up in South Dallas. But Johnson made her choice clear within a matter of days.
On November 24, Johnson endorsed freshman State Representative Jasmine Crockett on the same day that Crockett announced her candidacy at a news conference in Dallas. Both doubled down on the theme that it is time for a “battle-tested” candidate, emphasizing Crockett as a proven candidate with a strong record.
Crockett has only served one term, but has quickly grown her profile amid pitched battles with the Republican party in the most recent legislative session that resulted in Crockett and other Democrats leaving the state for Washington D.C. in an attempt to break quorum and prevent the passage of the Republican election bill. Should she win and replace Johnson, it is uncertain who will fill her shoes in the Texas State House.
Texas’s 30th Congressional District is a solidly Democratic seat, meaning that the real electoral contest will play out in the Democratic party primary. Johnson, who has held the seat for 29 years and served as the dean of Texas’s congressional delegation, holds significant sway in the district and the state. Conventional wisdom suggests her endorsement will likely clear the path for the presumptive representative.
Still, other contenders have thrown in their lots, hoping for more of a competitive race than a baton passing from Johnson to Crockett. Former Dallas City Councilmember Vonciel Jones Hill announced her candidacy the same day Johnson announced her retirement. Shenita Cleveland, a small business owner and activist, filed to run for the seat in May. Abel Mulugheta, the former Chief of Staff to State Rep. Rafael Anchia, recently announced in October.
Mason, whose campaign has been formally operating for months, believes that it’s possible to beat the established political machine with an aggressive grassroots campaign. Mason points to the fact that high statewide voter turnout in 2018 amid Beto’s run for Senate didn’t translate to the relatively safe 30th district (turnout was nine percent lower than the state average) and that a campaign that turns out new voters could make a difference. What’s more, Mason has raised significant funds from small donors, giving her the ability to knock doors and make calls.
It wouldn’t be the first time an insurgent progressive candidate was able to beat out an establishment pick in a Congressional Democratic Primary. That’s how one of the rising stars of the Democratic party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, secured her victory. But Ocasio-Cortez went up against a White man who had served in the role since 1999, not a young Black freshman state representative. Crockett couldn’t be any more different.
Without polling, it’s difficult to assess the current competitive landscape. But with only a few months until the March 1 primary, we can expect to see these campaigns kicking into full gear with the hopes of securing your vote.