U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who has represented Houston’s 18th Congressional District since 1994, found out Monday that she will not be going back to Washington without a fight.
Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson took the oath of office for his third term Monday morning and then went to Harris County Democratic Party headquarters, where he filed to challenge the eight-term congresswoman in the March 2 Democratic primary.
A challenge to Jackson Lee was not unexpected. Her steadfast support of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign irked supporters of Barack Obama in her district and almost guaranteed that she would attract an opponent.
Johnson, 38, is a Houston native who began his community involvement as the director of a youth center in District B, which he has represented on the Council since 2005. He easily won re-election last November.
“We’re going to have a frank discussion on who’s capable of bringing and creating good-paying jobs for the people of the district,” Johnson said in a statement Monday.
“It’s a democracy,” he told bloggers in an interview at Harris County Democratic headquarters Monday. “It makes incumbents stronger to have an opponent.”
Jackson Lee, a Queens, N.Y., native who practiced law in Houston, served as a municipal judge and won two terms as an at-large member of the council.
In 1994, she ran for Congress and defeated the well-known incumbent, Craig Washington. She won the primary and has been re-elected easily since.
While acknowledging that she was a supporter of Clinton in the presidential primary, Jackson Lee said she vigorously campaigned for Obama in the general election — including stumping for him in battleground states like Ohio.
Lee said she is basing her re-election bid on her record of service .
“I fight for jobs and have literally brought in funding to help create jobs in this community,” she said, pointing to $5 million in funding from the most recent defense spending bill for projects in Houston.
She had little to say about her primary challengers.
“I respect every one of my opponents. I know they will be putting forward their message. My message is one of results,” she said Monday.
The 18th Congressional District includes Houston’s downtown and predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods immediately south of Loop 610. It is one of the most heavily Democratic districts in Texas.
Anybody who challenges Jackson Lee faces “an uphill battle,” said lawyer and local political observer Adrian Patterson. “For the people who represent the largest voting bloc in that district (African American women), her presence and her activism will resonate.”