Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was once Amanda Edwards’ boss. This time, she’s her opponent.

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The News

HOUSTON, Texas — Amanda Edwards interned at the U.S. Capitol in Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s office 20 years ago. Now, she’s running against the longtime incumbent for the same job.

The congressional race marks the second matchup for the two women who want to represent Texas’s 18th congressional district. They faced each other in a crowded race for mayor last summer, but Edwards dropped out and pivoted to a congressional bid a few months after Jackson Lee entered the mayoral race. Jackson Lee eventually lost the mayor’s race to now-Mayor John Whitmire and, within days, announced she would run for reelection, ultimately throwing her and Edwards into a head-to-head battle for the second time within a year. Edwards said she’s been “block-walking” ever since ahead of the March 5 primary.

“I see myself as a conduit through which the change that people are looking for can flow,” Edwards, 41, told me during an interview last month at Lucille’s Fine Southern Foods in Houston’s third ward.

Edwards out-fundraised Jackson Lee by more than 10-to-1 in the most recent FEC filings — the incumbent raised just $23,000 — signaling the race is competitive. Jackson Lee is best known for her constituent services over her nearly 30-year career in the House and “doesn’t take no for an answer,” as one local Democrat put it. In recent years, she’s led the charge to establish a commission to study reparations, but the bill hasn’t made it to the floor for a vote.

Jackson Lee isn’t just fending off a protege whose career ambitions keep running up against hers — she’s in some ways battling a younger version of herself. Both women are Ivy League graduates and belong to the same sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. Edwards earned a J.D. from Harvard, and Jackson Lee graduated with a political science degree from Yale. Jackson Lee served as a Houston at-large city council member in the 1990s. Edwards would do the same nearly 30 years later.

Edwards is a Houston native. Jackson Lee is from Queens, New York — in that they differ. And now Edwards is trying to carve a path to unseating Jackson Lee by highlighting other distinctions — one centered around new versus old.

“I don’t see what material changes we’re going to see in year 30 that we haven’t seen in the prior 29 years of our service,” Edwards told Semafor. “I don’t see it.”

Jackson Lee has argued her record speaks for itself — her experience in Congress has given her an inside track on power that shouldn’t be discarded so easily.

“I’m the go-to person in the United States Congress, but in the neighborhoods I’m someone who works on the Medicaid fix that hospitals need because we do not have the expanded Medicaid in Houston and Texas,” Jackson Lee said. “I just got through talking to the Chancellor of the University of Houston who is looking to me to be of help on a very special project that they have. I’m excited about being the go-to person. That’s the message to my constituents. And that’s what will bring us to victory.”

Kadia’s view

There’s a growing nationwide fatigue with senior politicians who refuse to pass the baton and Jackson Lee may be on the receiving end of it this cycle. After a surprisingly lousy showing in the mayoral race, she appears vulnerable for the first time in nearly three decades as a member of Congress. Edwards is a credible opponent with real cash and energy behind her.

Jackson Lee’s mayoral defeat was uncharacteristic for someone known throughout the district as a relentless advocate for herself and her constituents — almost to the point of annoyance. She’s a lawmaker who constantly pops into statewide events and demands speeches without an invitation. One Houstonian, not authorized to speak about work conversations, told Semafor that before starting a new local government job, staff were advised on how to prepare for Jackson Lee’s surprise drop-ins. In the Capitol, her persistence takes a different shape: She’s the person who stakes out the aisle seat in every State of the Union so she can shake hands with the president and cabinet members while the network cameras are rolling.

Jackson Lee won just 51% of her congressional district against Whitmire in the mayoral run-off, which was reshaped in 2022 after redistricting. She faced some tough headlines in that race, including a leaked audio of her disparaging a congressional aide. She’s also confronting a fundraising deficit after spending a lot of resources on the failed mayoral bid — some mayoral race signs are still sprinkled throughout Houston amid the red, white and blue lawn ones promoting her congressional reelection.

With all that said, it won’t be an easy win for Edwards.

Incumbency comes with its perks and Jackson Lee has already received the endorsement of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the powerful Congressional Black Caucus PAC.

”Sheila Jackson Lee is a champion for the people of her district here in Congress,” Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford told Semafor. “She has a long and effective reputation delivering on so many important critical issues, voting rights, criminal justice reform, economic opportunity, issues and the like.”

There’s a reason voters frequently stick to experienced leaders even as they tell pollsters they want something new: They know what they bring to the table and they’re sometimes reluctant to risk giving it up.

“It’s always important for people to know, again, that I am a deliverer,” Jackson Lee told Semafor on Friday. “I deliver, and I’ve done that, for my constituents across the board.

Jackson Lee, has high name recognition and is known for a loyal base of support that she’s carefully cultivated and maintained across decades.

“If the Sheila Jackson Lee-ettes come out, she’s going to win,” Candice Matthews, chair of Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, told Semafor, who also said Edwards’ chances will be determined by her getting new and younger voters to support her candidacy. “She’s got to pull 18-to-40 [year olds] because Sheila’s getting everybody else.”

And while her failed mayoral bid exposed real weaknesses, some supporters also believe it wasn’t a wasted effort —and could help bolster her re-election campaign now.

“Obviously, she had to use a lot of her resources running for mayor, but that increased her name ID and visibility, which was already off the charts,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis told Semafor, who offered his analysis of the race after publicly backing her. “But I think she’s in good shape.


  • While many perceive it as a publicity stunt, Jackson Lee argues securing a seat on the aisle of the State of the Union every year is a tactical strategy to advocate for her constituents.