Jan 27, 2023 - News

What to watch for as Whitmire runs for mayor

Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, wearing a black suit with a red tie, speaks during a press conference

Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire. Photo: Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images

All eyes are on state Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat running for Houston mayor, as he legislates and campaigns at the same time.

Catch up fast: The Houston mayoral election isn't until November, but several candidates, in addition to Whitmire, have filed the paperwork to run, per the Houston Chronicle: Amanda Edwards, Chris Hollins, Lee Kaplan, Naoufal Houjami, Raykey Tezino and Robin Williams.

Driving the news: Whitmire, with a record as a moderate, must chart a careful path to win over both conservative and progressive voters in a blue-leaning Houston as he legislates in the Republican-controlled statehouse over the next few months, according to Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor.

  • "There may be conflict here," Rottinghaus said.

State of play: Whitmire's record working with Republicans landed him the Democrats' only Senate chairmanship this session, a nod from Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that "speaks volumes about his bipartisan approach to politics," according to Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University.

  • Whitmire is once again leading the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice — a committee he's overseen since 1993 — and has already filed bills addressing catalytic converter theft and the speed of murder trials.
  • He is the longest-serving current member of the state Senate.

What they're saying: "I think he'll use [the session] to shine his apple," said Bob Stein, a Rice University elections expert. "He has a great legislative record, particularly on issues that are before the voters now [like criminal justice]."

Threat level: Jones said Whitmire will be under pressure if he supports legislation that Democrats "vehemently" oppose, which could spell trouble from progressives at home.

  • "Whitmire will just need to balance his historic centrist position with at least an eye towards not alienating progressive Democrats during the session," Jones said.

Yes, but: Jones said the real campaigning for Whitmire likely won't come until the summer, when the session is over — assuming there are no special sessions.

Whitmire told Axios he plans to continue his focus on criminal justice this session, including introducing a bill requiring bail bond companies charge 10% of a bail amount to secure a surety.

  • "Hundreds charged with murder and capital murder are in [the Harris County] jail awaiting trial but hundreds more are out on bail or are fugitives," Whitmire said. "Offenders know it could be years before they go to trial. We need swift punishment for those who commit these heinous crimes to try to a stop to them."

The senator said that he will split his time between Austin and Houston during the session but that "my work in the Texas Senate comes first right now."

  • "I will still be using time I’m not in Austin to do what I’ve always done: talk to people in the community, listen to their issues and problems, work with them to find solutions, even before I become mayor," Whitmire said. "This is what I’ve been doing for 50 years. I don’t intend to stop now."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Houston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Houston stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Houston.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more