A couple of lifetimes ago – for no particular reason – I had an idea that my journalism career would, at some point, morph into a political career. While journalists don’t make a lot of money, and probably can’t afford high-dollar campaigns, we do spend a lot of time understanding how things get done in government.
Regardless of your beliefs on the wayward lean of journalists across the nation (yes, most tilt in a very specific direction), that doesn’t mean folks in the media don’t have intimate knowledge of politics and the art of what makes for electable candidates.
My personal thoughts on political office changed the more I observed the work required to be elected and, eventually, re-elected. And when a wife and then three children entered my once-lonely home, I tossed that ambition like a sheared sock.
That doesn’t mean I’m not enamored by the world of politics and, even more so, the political lifestyle. Why do people run for office? What makes someone like Sylvester Turner attend three, four or five events each day, eating rubber green beans and shaking hands with people who probably didn’t wash theirs?
What makes Dan Crenshaw, the U.S. Representative for the 2nd District, attend fundraisers and galas and endless luncheons when that time could be spent earning a real living and streaming movies with his wife?
What makes Kathaleen Wall want to pick another Congressional district and spend another few million just for the chance to be a freshman U.S. Representative and travel back and forth to Washington, D.C.?
What makes Wanda Adams want to run for Justice of the Peace?
OK, so that last question seems a bit out of place. Half of you may not even know Wanda Adams, but she’s the reason for today’s topic.
If you’re one of the half who don’t know her, Adams was first elected as a Houston City Council member for three terms (six years) representing District C. (By the way, that’s when another council member, Jolanda Jones, also won an at-large city council seat – more on that later.)
Back to Adams. As her final term on council neared an expiration date, Adams entered another political race, this time running for State Representative District 131. She lost that race by 20 points, but it wasn’t the end of her political career.
In 2013, Adams ran for a spot on the Houston Independent School District board and won a 4-year term. In 2017, she won again, and that term will expire in 2021. And since that term is getting close to expiration, Adams is now running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1, against a fellow Democrat, Jeremy Brown, who seems to be widely respected.
Notice a trend?
Back to Jolanda Jones, who nearly followed the exact same path. Election to Houston City Council. Election to HISD’s board. In this year’s primary on March 3, she’s on the ballot as a candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor. She, too, is running against a fellow, incumbent Democrat, Ann Harris Bennett, who has hardly been knocked for poor performance.
There’s Kathaleen Wall, who I mentioned earlier. When U.S. Rep. Ted Poe announced his retirement, she entered the race with an endless pocket of cash and the endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott. Wall spent $6 million for a coveted spot in Washington, D.C., flooded our TVs with relentless advertising, and she didn’t even make the run-off. That’s the race Crenshaw won.
Now, Wall has changed U.S. Congressional districts and is running to replace the retiring Pete Olson.
But the person who takes the cake in the relentless pursuit of elected office is former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who was first elected to Houston City Council in 2004. Now, hold your breath.
Garcia ran for, and won, Harris County Sheriff in 2008 and 2012, except he didn’t finish his second term because he wanted to run for Houston Mayor in 2015. He finished 20,000 votes out of a run-off and needed another place to go.
The race he chose to enter next, in 2016, has been widely documented. One of his life-long friends and political supporters, Gene Green, was the U.S. Representative for District 29, and Garcia decided to run against that friend.
Green ultimately prevailed (and ironically announced his retirement a year later after serving in elected office for 46 – count them – 46 years). That didn’t end Garcia’s political career.
Two years later, in 2018, he ran for Harris County Commission Precinct 2 and won by a razor-thin 2,000 votes.
If you’re keeping track, political candidates all over the city are running for offices that are hardly stepping stones. From Sheriff to Commissioner? Council to Justice of the Peace?
Why do they do it? We probably all have our theories, but I think we know the answer.
As we head into another political season, very few of us want to make the sacrifice to run for office. Those who choose to run are to be commended, and our way of government depends on them.
But as one person who has been on a ballot a few times told me earlier this week, there’s something euphoric about running political campaigns. There’s power. There’s ego. There’s celebrity.
Just as celebrities can’t live without a rolling camera, most folks who make a career out of politics can’t live without a race to run. And I’m not so certain that makes for great government.