Prominent Liberal Sheila Jackson Lee Is No Shoo-In for Houston Mayor, Poll Shows

14-term congresswoman's hostility toward police could prove liability in crime-focused race

Sheila Jackson Lee / Getty Images
May 26, 2023

Fourteen-term congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in March announced her intention to "come home to be your mayor for the city of Houston." The prominent Texas Democrat's anti-police record, however, seems to be hurting her chances to win the local post, according to a poll.

In a contentious race that includes seven candidates, 19 percent of voters back Jackson Lee, compared with 20 percent who support Democratic state legislator John Whitmire, a Ragnar Research Partners poll shows. Jackson Lee is even worse off in a head-to-head matchup against Whitmire, with just 33 percent backing Jackson Lee and 45 percent supporting Whitmire.

A loss in the mayoral race would come as an embarrassment for Jackson Lee, a well-known liberal who joined Congress nearly three decades ago in 1995. Her struggles in the race may be explained by her past positions on crime, which is the top issue in the race, according to the Ragnar poll.

Jackson Lee has long argued that policing in the United States is systemically racist, and in 2020, the congresswoman introduced a police reform bill that she said "answers the concerns" of far-left activists who want to defund police. "What I hear when they say defund, they want reprogramed dollars," Jackson Lee said. The Democrat's political site, meanwhile, makes no mention of crime or public safety on its "Priorities & Issues" page.

Those positions appear to put Jackson Lee out of touch with Houston's mayoral voters. Sixty-three percent of those voters, the Ragnar poll shows, are "afraid to walk at night," while 61 percent say the city has "probably" or "definitely" gotten less safe in the last four years. A majority of respondents, meanwhile, said they have a "strong" perception of police.

In contrast to Jackson Lee, Whitmire is known for his conservative approach to fighting crime. On his campaign site, the state legislator pledges to be "tough but smart on crime."

"I know together we can improve our neighborhoods with better streets, garbage pickup, flood control, transportation, and a more affordable Houston," Whitmire says on his site. "But also, I believe it starts with public safety, increased law enforcement resources, and better coordination of the 80 police agencies operating in Houston."

Jackson Lee launched her mayoral bid during a March appearance at Houston's City Cathedral Church. "Sheila Jackson Lee wants to come home to be your mayor for the city of Houston," the Democrat said. "I will not be able to do it without each and every one of you." Jackson Lee will face Whitmire and the race's other candidates, which include Houston city council member Robert Gallegos, in November.