The 18-year history and speech teacher has declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the 7th Congressional District seat now held by Republican John Culberson, and nearly 300 supporters turned out to kick off his campaign Sunday at a Rice Village restaurant.
The district stretches from southwest Houston, West U, Bellaire, the Museum District and River Oaks north to Memorial neighborhoods.
"I told students that after two decades of teaching, this is my last lesson plan, so to speak," Henley explained. "A good teacher is always a living example. It's more important for me to do this for them than for me. '’m hoping once they taste this kind of involvement that it will become part of their lives."
Henley, 58, vowed a "bottom-up, grassroots campaign" devoid of political consultants, lobbyists and money from political action committees. "I'm looking to see if the people can get their voice back," he said. "We're facing a very entrenched opponent in a gerrymandered district."
Henley seems to have the youth vote locked up:
Grace Sun, a member of one of Henley's national champion debate teams and a current ninth-grader at Bellaire High, echoed that sentiment in her speech introducing the candidate.
She characterized Henley's approach to teaching as "an overwhelming desire to change the world for the better."
Even a rival student - 13-year-old Ivan Espinosa, an eighth-grader at West Briar MS in West Houston - showed up with his mother in support of Henley.
"I've competed against him and his students, and I like what he's doing," said Espinosa. He said he has tried to correspond on "issues that concern me" with Rep. Culberson, to no avail.
"Maybe he doesn't think someone my age matters," Espinosa said. "I know Mr. Henley does."
Muthu Alagappan, another national champion debater now in 10th grade at Bellaire High, characterized his former teacher as someone who "doesn't like to go into a battle that he has no chance of winning."