A couple of followups on the runoffs

Sen. Molly Cook gets some deserved attention.

Sen. Molly Cook

State Sen. Molly Cook appears to have narrowly defeated state Rep. Jarvis Johnson in the Senate District 15 primary runoff for the second time this month, setting the stage for her to hold on to Houston Mayor John Whitmire’s longtime seat in the upper chamber.

Cook led Johnson by 74 votes, with all precincts reporting according to unofficial results — well within the margin for a recount. The total also does not count late-arriving mail-in ballots.

Cook’s victory marked the second time she has defeated Johnson this month. Cook beat Johnson 57% to 43% on May 4 in a special election triggered when Whitmire resigned to step into the mayor’s office at the start of the year. She was sworn in on May 16 to serve out the term, through the end of the year. Now, Cook will appear on the November ballot for a chance to win a full term representing a diverse cut of Harris County.

Cook is the first person other than Whitmire to hold the seat since 1983. She is an emergency room nurse and community organizer who is the first openly LGBTQ+ member to serve in the Texas Senate.


Like the runoff, the special election earlier this month was a head-to-head matchup. Johnson appeared to be the frontrunner in the special election, having taken 36% of the vote to Cook’s 21% in the March 5 primary.

Following their special election loss, Johnson’s team explained that the campaign failed to turn out its base. Johnson’s campaign manager, Chris Watson, said the campaign did not spend its resources to combat what he called “misinformation” from Cook’s allies.

Johnson’s team said they were preserving their resources for this race, which queues up the candidate who will likely win a full term.

“We did not expend our resources,” Watson said. “We think our opponent did spend her resources wholly because this is a race you wouldn’t want to lose three times in a row, so I think it was more important for her than for us at this point.”

Cook, the relative newcomer, flipped the fundraising lead in the race after the March 5 round of the primary.

She outpaced Johnson’s fundraising largely thanks to contributions from Leaders We Deserve, a D.C.-based PAC co-founded by activist David Hogg to elect young, progressive lawmakers nationwide. The PAC spent $200,000 on Cook ahead of the special election and an additional $110,000 between the special and primary runoff elections.

Leaders We Deserve will also support former Miss Texas Averie Bishop in the House District 112 general election against state Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, one of Democrats’ best opportunities for a flip in the House in November.

Johnson leaned on his experience during the race. Johnson served on the Houston City Council from 2006 to 2012 and succeeded former Mayor Sylvester Turner in the Texas House of Representatives.

Cook says her regular contact with emergency room patients — from those with pregnancy complications to victims of the 2021 winter storm — and her background in grassroots organizing would bring a much-needed fresh perspective to the upper chamber. She has also sought to position herself to Johnson’s left, attacking him for supporting certain Republican-backed legislation. Johnson said he has at times voted for GOP bills he opposes because, in return for his support, Republicans allowed him and other Democrats to amend the bills to make them more palatable.

I’ll be honest, when I went to bed Tuesday night I figured Cook had lost. The margin wasn’t much, a couple hundred votes, but at that point there just weren’t that many votes left to count and she would have needed to dominate them. Seems that’s what happened, so congratulations to her and her team, who all worked very hard. There could well be a recount with a margin this close, and thanks to other recent developments it could go on after that as well. I don’t think that will happen, but this is the world we live in now.

Also, for those who may be (shall we say) less than thrilled with how the Mayoral election has turned out, the idea that the person who challenged Mayor Whitmire in 2022 and made a pretty competitive race out of it will be his successor is satisfying. I’ll leave it at that.

There were no such doubts about Lauren Simmons’ win.

Lauren Ashley Simmons

Simmons, 36, had been working as a union organizer, organizing Black and migrant women around healthcare, living wages, and LGBTQ rights before deciding to run for Thierry’s seat. As a former organizer for the Houston Federation of Teachers and parent of a child in Houston ISD, she gained name recognition when a video of her taking state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles to task went viral on social media. In the days leading up to the runoff, Simmons protested alongside parents calling for an end to the state takeover of the school district.

Apart from Simmons’ deep ties to Houston’s communities, Thierry had already dug her own political grave when she decided to not only align with Republicans to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, but take the House floor with a 12 minute speech and then a Fox News broadcast defending her vote. Thierry doubled down on her anti-LGBTQ rhetoric when she told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that Simmons was supported by the “gay ones” among her House Democratic colleagues. In early May, 50 Black pastors held a press conference with Thierry praising her vote to ban gender-affirming care for youth. But it wasn’t enough for Thierry, whose own colleagues decided to support Simmons.

Eight Democrats who currently serve with Thierry, as well as former State Representative Garnet Coleman and U.S. Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett, endorsed Simmons. “She ain’t never had y’all’s back,” Crockett said of Thierry when blockwalking for Simmons.

At the end, Thierry turned to GOP big donors to fund her campaign. She failed to file a campaign finance report for the last quarter, but up until the March 5 primary elections, conservative public school defunders like the Legacy 44 PAC, Charter Schools Now PAC, and the Family Empowerment Coalition PAC and its founders Doug and Darwin Deason largely propped up her campaign, with at least a total of $124,000, or a third of total contributions at the time Thierry last filed.

I will stipulate that before last year, Thierry’s record was basically fine. She did good work on maternal mortality, and to the best of my recollection was usually a good soldier. Her heel turn came out of the blue for me, and was sufficiently flagrant that it deserved the response it got. In one of the runoff preview articles, I forget which, there was something about a geographic divide in HD146, that one side was mostly white liberals and the other side was more Black. The implication being that perhaps Simmons’ support would be limited as a result. Well, she won by almost 30 points. I’m sure Thierry had her pockets of support, but you don’t win by that margin without having a broad base. I’m very happy about that.

(UPDATE: This Chron story includes a map showing how the vote went in SD15 and HD146. As expected in a race with a wide margin of victory, Lauren Simmons carried nearly all of the voting precincts in HD146. Very cool to see.)

Two other items of note. One is that I got an email in my box yesterday from Rep. Tom Oliverson’s campaign, reminding us all that he’s still in for Speaker. Dade Phelan may still be a member of the House, but that’s as far as it’s likely to go. It will not surprise me if he decides to call it quits after the next session. He’d have 12 years of service at the end of his next term, which means he’d qualify for the full pension. I can’t imagine this next session will be much fun for him, and that’s as good a sweetener as one will get.

And two, Monday is the first day of early voting for the HCAD runoffs, for which election day will be June 15. Don’t be tired of voting just yet, because you’re not done. I’ll have more on this soon.

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2 Responses to A couple of followups on the runoffs

  1. Flypusher says:

    I saw some of the anti-Simmons signs in Sunnyside: “Black genocide” and castration of children. The tin foil hat level fearmongering is so bloody disgusting and tiresome, and I’m glad to see it rebuked.

  2. Pingback: Texas blog roundup for the week of June 3 | Off the Kuff

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