SD15 rounds two and three

If it weren’t for the HCAD elections on May 4, the SD15 special election would be the headliner.

Molly Cook

Molly Cook and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson both say they take every election seriously, and that includes their head-to-head matchup on May 4. That’s when a group of Houston-area voters will turn out for a special election to decide which Democrat completes the 2024 term of new Houston Mayor John Whitmire, whose decades-long tenure in the Texas Senate ended when he was sworn into City Hall at the start of this year.

But both Cook and Johnson also have an eye on the election scheduled for May 28, which is the runoff date for the Democratic primary in Senate District 15. They were the two leading vote-getters in March, and the runoff winner will advance to November’s general election and be considered a heavy favorite to serve a full four-year term in the seat vacated by Whitmire.

“Being a senator for six months is not as appealing or as important as being the senator for the regular (legislative) session come January,” Johnson acknowledged.

The “Texas Two-Step,” as the candidates’ campaigns have called it, starts next Monday with the start of early voting for the special election. Some of the other Democratic candidates in the March primary initially filed for the special election as well but subsequently withdrew, setting up back-to-back battles between Cook and Johnson.

Rep. Jarvis Johnson

Johnson, a business owner and former Houston City Council member who has served since 2017 as the state representative for District 139 in Northwest Houston, led the six-candidate field in the March primary by receiving more than 36% of the vote. And the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the state show he has been the leading fund-raiser in the race and had about $75,000 in cash on hand as of early April.

Cook, an emergency room nurse, activist and grassroots organizer who is seeking to become the first openly LGBTQ+ member of the Texas Senate, had about $40,000 remaining at the end of the last reporting period. She received almost 21% of the vote during the primary after previously garnering nearly 42% of the vote in her 2022 primary challenge against Whitmire.

Cook said she’s proud of the support she’s been able to secure and called it “extremely impressive” that she’s been able to fundraise about as well as Johnson, who received about $80,000 in campaign contributions during the last reporting period compared to about $73,000 for Cook.

“Each one of these races is a brand-new race,” she said. “We’re very excited.”

As with the HCAD elections, the candidates first have to make sure that people know there’s an election on May 4, for which early voting starts on Monday. I’ve been getting some mail from both candidates, more Molly than Jarvis, and it’s a little testy as two-candidate showdowns often are. I think SD15 will drive much of the HCAD turnout – there are other area elections, but as far as I can tell they’re all being run by those entities and not the Harris County Clerk, which means that people will have to vote twice, at two separate locations, so they’re unlikely to drive anyone to the polls for HCAD – but that’s not the same as saying that SD15 will drive overall turnout. It’s low profile and relatively low stakes, and we are just not used to voting in May in Harris County, at least outside of a primary runoff context.

As that story noted, there was a candidate forum for SD15 on Wednesday. The Chron covered it.

If Houstonians found recent political debates to be largely uneventful events, then they were in for a big surprise Wednesday night, when state Rep. Jarvis Johnson and emergency room nurse Molly Cook took to the stage. The two candidates, running to succeed Mayor John Whitmire in the Texas Senate, repeatedly clashed over their backgrounds and records ahead of back-to-back elections.


During a debate Wednesday evening, organized by the Bayou Blue Democrats, Johnson took aim at Cook for her lack of experience serving in elected office. Cook, striving to close a 15-percentage-point gap behind her opponent, in turn leveled sharp attacks against Johnson for the state representative’s voting and donation records.

The district has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, encompassing several of Houston’s most prominent neighborhoods, such as Montrose and the Heights. The winning Democrat in the runoff will face local businessman Joseph Trahan, the sole Republican to enter the race for the seat, in November.

The story goes into more detail about the issues raised by the candidates in the debate. You can read the rest, and you can and should listen (or re-listen) to my interviews with Jarvis Johnson and Molly Cook, especially if you voted for someone else in March. I’ll have the usual early voting info post up on Sunday. Get out there and vote, for HCAD and for SD15.

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