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3 questions to consider as race to replace Eddie Bernice Johnson heats up

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

Race could hinge on Johnson’s endorsement, as well as which elected leaders opt to mount a campaign.
Eddie Bernice Johnson
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is congratulated by friends and colleagues after she announced that she will retire from Congress during “The Justice Tour” luncheon for Democratic Party activists and judicial candidates, at Kirkwood Temple CME Church in Dallas, on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

By Gromer Jeffers Jr.

Eddie Bernice Johnson’s decision to retire after her term ends next year has set off a flurry of activity from Democrats looking to succeed her in Congress.

On Sunday Jane Hamilton, the former chief of staff for Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, announced that she was shifting from an exploratory phase to candidate for the District 30 seat. She’ll have prominent endorsements and some campaign cash. Former Dallas Council member Vonciel Jones Hill is also running for replace Johnson in the March Democratic Party primary.

The other announced candidates include Shenita Cleveland, who ran in 2020 and picked up 13% of the vote, Zachariah Manning of Dallas, progressive Democrat Jessica Mason and Dallas lawyer Abel Mulugheta.

But more folks could jump into the race by the time you read this story. When the filing period ends on Dec. 13, there could be a multitude of contenders.

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Here are three things to watch as this dramatic primary contest unfolds.

U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson 11
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is met by supporters including “dianne gibson,”left, with the Rainbow Push Coalition, as they wave goodbye after Johnson announced that she will retire from Congress, during “The Justice Tour” luncheon for Democratic Party activists and judicial candidates, at Kirkwood Temple CME Church in Dallas, on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)
Who will Johnson endorse?

On Saturday Johnson made it clear that she’s backing a candidate in the primary, telling the crowd of Democrats at the Kirkwood Temple CME Church that she preferred a woman for the job.

If she hasn’t already, expect Johnson to reach out to State District Civil Court Judge Tonya Parker, a rising star who people close to Johnson say has always been her first choice as a successor.

Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, State District Judge Tonya Parker, and Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia
(from left) Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, State District Judge Tonya Parker, and Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Elba Garcia speak during a Keynote Panel Discussion at the IGNITE 3rd Annual Young Women’s Political Leadership Conference held at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, on Feb 21, 2015. (Michael Ainsworth/The Dallas Morning News)(Michael Ainsworth / Staff Photographer)

But Parker is on a path for greater accomplishments in the judicial field, perhaps a federal court appointment. Who knows? Before Johnson’s announcement, Parker wasn’t expected to be a contender.

If Parker gets in the race, she’ll be a formidable candidate, particularly with Johnson’s backing.

Whether it’s Parker or someone else, Johnson’s endorsement will be a factor in the contest.

Which elected officials will get into the race?

It’s a fascinating question.

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Let’s start with state Sen. Royce West, who with Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and Johnson, is considered one of the titans of southern Dallas politics. Earlier this year West was bullish about replacing Johnson. Over the summer he seemed to cool to the idea. Now that Johnson has said she’s leaving, West has to mull over a candidacy in earnest, and he’s been approached by supporters to run for the seat.

West would be a front-runner in the primary. Perhaps he would win. That’s why his final decision is critical to how this contest ends.

State Senator Royce West
State Senator Royce West, left, walks to center field with DeSoto junior wide receiver Johntay Cook II (1), senior wide receiver Mike Murphy (2) and senior defensive back Devyn Bobby (3) for the coin toss before the first half of a high school football game against Duncanville at DeSoto High School, Friday, September 17, 2021. (Brandon Wade/Special Contributor)(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

There are other factors involving elected leaders.

State Reps. Yvonne Davis, Toni Rose and Jasmine Crockett of Dallas, along with Carl Sherman of DeSoto, are considering campaigns for District 30.

Davis and Rose are veteran lawmakers with established political bases. Sherman’s turf includes DeSoto, where you can find a treasure trove of voters, and he’s in the mix for Johnson’s support, if she can’t find a woman she wants to back.

Crockett, who is used to running against the establishment, has raised her name recognition and was a leading voice in the resistance House Democrats staged against the polices of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

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All of these lawmakers would have to give up their seats in the Legislature to run for Congress, so there’s a risk involved for everyone.

Will there be a surprise candidate?

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on Monday said he wasn’t interested in replacing Eddie Bernice Johnson in Congress. Given his name recognition, he would have reset the race.

Congressional seats don’t often become available. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who will turn 86 next month, has held her post since 1993. So a surprise candidate with credentials and backing could emerge.

That’s what happened in 2019, when Eric Johnson surprisingly joined the crowded field for Dallas mayor.

You can also expect the District 30 race to be settled through a runoff election, since it’s unlikely that one candidate will get over 50% of the vote in the first round.

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Earlier this year 23 people campaigned to replace the late Ron Wright in Congress, a race that was won by Ellis County Republican Jake Ellzey. The race to replace Johnson could attract a similar number.

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