The Dallas Morning News did a series of profiles of Democratic Senate candidates during the Christmas break. They’re worth reading, especially since polls show many of us don’t know these candidates all that well. I’m going to post about each of these, so let’s start with the first one they ran, featuring Chris Bell.
Chris Bell has never gotten over being drawn out of a congressional seat, a move by Republicans in 2003 that altered the course of his political career and robbed him of a job he loved.
“People forget that things were going great for me in the United States Congress and I was damn good at the job,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News during an interview in his Houston campaign office. “It could not have been going any better.”
It got worse. A GOP-led redistricting plan ushered Bell out of Congress after just one term.
But Bell is running again, this time in the Democratic Senate primary for the nomination against Republican incumbent John Cornyn.
Bell said he’s uniquely qualified to send Cornyn back to Texas and lead the push for progressive legislation in the Senate, including providing affordable health care, curbing gun violence, reversing climate change and creating an economy that benefits all Americans.
“If you look at my background and the fact that not only I have that experience in government and politics but been a practicing trial attorney, they realize that I can hold my own and go toe to toe.”
After a career as a popular radio news reporter in Amarillo and Houston, Bell left journalism to practice law. He’s always had a love for politics.
He’s been a part of numerous political campaigns, beginning with failed bids for an Amarillo-based congressional seat in 1984, a Houston council race in 1995 and a Houston mayor’s race in 2001.
Bell broke through in 1997, winning a Houston council seat that propelled his career. He was later elected to Congress, where he became one of two freshman on the whip team and helped develop the port security caucus.
But former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s aggressive redistricting plan targeted Bell and other white male Democrats from Texas.
Bell was placed in a district dominated by black voters with Democrat Al Green, who is black. Critics said that after Bell lost his original, 65%-Anglo district, he should have stepped aside in favor of Green.
“It was interesting from the standpoint of getting to see Washington from two different viewpoints, one as an up-and-coming, rising star member of Congress to outgoing member of Congress in a year’s time,” Bell said.
It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder what might have happened if the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003 had not happened, and Bell had not been drawn out of what was then CD25. He won by almost 12 points in 2002, and I’d say he could have easily held the seat through 2008. The 2010 massacre would probably have taken him out – in this alternate universe, maybe Roy Morales is the first Latinx member of Congress elected from the Houston area – but even if he managed to survive that, I’m sure the 2011 redistricting would have been the end. Much of what was once CD25 is now split among CD07, CD18, and CD09, the district that Bell was drawn into. I cannot imagine anything like the old CD25 making it into this decade.
In this fantasy world I’m spinning, Bell gets some extra Congressional tenure, including two terms in the majority. He doesn’t get his folk hero status for filing the ethics complaint against Tom DeLay that led to his indictment and subsequent resignation from Congress – for all we know, DeLay could still be the incumbent in CD22 in this scenario – nor would he had run for Governor in 2006 or State Senate in 2008. Where he might be now is too big a leap for me to make.
Anyway. We’re in this universe and this timeline, and we have the Chris Bell that we have. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, most recently in 2015 when he ran for Mayor. He’s a perfectly good candidate, the only one who has run in a statewide general election, and he’s positioned himself on the left end of the spectrum among the main candidates running. Read the piece and see what you think.