Houston, Meet Your First-time Public Officials
We all know the familiar names, the long-established political veterans like John Cornyn, Al Green, and Sheila Jackson Lee, who win elections time and time again. But with each new cycle comes the inevitable push for fresh faces in public office too. The newcomers.
Since we don’t really need to tell you about the long-standing players, let’s meet Harris County’s newest public officials.
U.S. House of Representatives
While not technically a political newcomer, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls (R) unseated Democrat incumbent Sri Preston Kulkarni for the United States Representative seat in District 22. Nehls, who heads to Congress for the first time, is a U.S. Army veteran and has served in the Fort Bend County law enforcement for about two decades, having served as sheriff of the county since 2013. Although he's a fiscal conservative, he also tackled criminal justice reform by implementing “recidivism reduction” programs for Fort Bend County non-violent inmates, giving them opportunities to take courses in HVAC and welding.
Former human trafficking prosecutor Ann Johnson (D) beat Republican incumbent Sarah Davis for the House District 134 seat. Before Johnson’s victory, HD-134 was known for being the state's only liberal district held by a Republican representative (Davis). Johnson, a Houston native, and daughter of former Texas State Representative Jake Johnson, currently works as a criminal justice lawyer with a heavy emphasis on helping victims of sexual exploitation and people who can’t afford a lawyer. She plans to focus on gun safety reforms and increasing healthcare access to uninsured Texans.
Republican Lacey Hull won the State Representative seat for House District 138, beating Democrat Akilah Bacy in a battleground race. Hull grew up and currently lives in the district. She advocates for families with her organization, We the Parents, which strongly opposes Child Protective Services, and she also serves as a Republican Party precinct chair. She believes in adding more law enforcement to the Mexican border, funding police departments, and denying a state income tax.
Penny Morales Shaw
Civil litigation lawyer Penny Morales Shaw (D) defeated Republican Luis La Rotta (R) for District 148 seat. Shaw has practiced law for 20 years and spent several years in Washington, D.C. as a congressional advocate working to pass laws, notably the International Violence Against Women Act. She also served as legislative deputy chief for Harris County, where she was responsible for disaster relief and school funding. Shaw plans to make healthcare affordable for Texans and advocate for criminal justice reform.
Democrat Jeralynn Manor won the position of District Judge, 80th Judicial District. In February Manor remarkably defeated incumbent district judge Larry Weiman in the primaries to become the district’s Democratic candidate. She went on to defeat Republican Sharon Hemphill on Tuesday. Manor has been an attorney for over 18 years, practicing in various areas, such as personal injury, mass tort, civil rights, immigration, and employment law. Manor is a member of many different organizations, including the Texas Trial Lawyer Association and the NAACP.
Cheryl Elliott Thornton
Cheryl Elliott Thornton (D) defeated Michael Landrum (R) for District Judge, 164th Judicial District. Landrum, incumbent by default, presided over the position after being appointed by Greg Abbott in August to fill the vacancy left by Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, who pled guilty to misusing campaign contributions for personal expenses. Thornton currently serves as Harris County’s senior assistant county attorney. She also served as general counsel for Texas Southern University and as an administrative law judge and Assistant Attorney General IV for the State of Texas. She values community service, serving on committees for multiple community organizations, such as the Houston Bar Association’s Gender Fairness Committee. Thornton’s awards include 2018 Top 50 Black Professionals and Entrepreneurs of Texas Award, the Houston Bar Association’s President Award, and the Alex Award for Legal Excellence, “to name a few,” her website states.
Democrat Brittanye Morris was elected District Judge, 333rd Judicial District, by omission (she ran unopposed). The Houston native and daughter of a former lieutenant of the Houston Police Department has practiced law for five years throughout Huston’s courtrooms. Morris calls for judges and courtrooms to be fair, accessible, and transparent.
Dawn Deshea Rogers
Dawn Deshea Rogers (D) defeated Republican Dan Lemkuil (R) for District Judge, 334th Judicial District. Rogers, a native Houstonian, has been a lawyer for 18 years. With experience interning at the appellate court level, Rogers went on to intern for the Harris County Attorney’s office. She opened her own law firm in 2009, practicing in areas such as personal injury, breach of contract, and construction law. She previously worked as judge for the Texas Education Association, among other things.
Democrat Colleen Gaido was elected District Judge, 337th Judicial District, by omission. Gaido, a Clear Lake native, is a former prosecutor for the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Having built the reputation of being a “fair and compassionate” prosecutor, Gaido left the DA’s office and now represents people who can’t afford a lawyer.
Democrat Te’iva Bell overcame Republican incumbent Judge Jesse McClure in the race for District Judge, 339th Judicial District. Bell has worked for Harris County’s District Attorney’s office, Harris County’s Public Defender’s office, and as a private practice attorney. She believes her experiences gave her insight to all aspects of the criminal justice system, which she acknowledges needs reform due to social and systemic issues. Bell has also worked to clear ex-criminals’ history and link them with employers in an effort to reduce recidivism.
Natalia “Nata” Cornelio
Natalia “Nata” Cornelio (D) defeated Arlene Hecht (R) for District Judge, 351st Judicial District. As a daughter of parents who fought for immigrant workers’ rights, while also assisting local elected officials in getting elected, Cornelio was inspired to become an attorney who focuses on equal access to laws.
Christian Dashaun Menefee
Democrat Christian Dashaun Menefee defeated Republican John Nation and was elected County Attorney for Harris County, the first African American to serve in this role. Menefee, a civil litigation attorney of seven years, was recognized as the 2019 Texas Rising Star by Super Lawyers. He has a record of pro bono work, which includes advising the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as well as advising immigrants and their families at Bush Intercontinental Airport during the “Muslim ban.” Additionally, Menefee has served time on Houston’s Independent Police Oversight Board, which evaluates all Houston Police Department internal affairs investigations involving excessive force or the use of a firearm. During his time on the board, Menefee authored an HPD regulation requiring that when an officer uses his firearm against a civilian, the officer must provide emergency first aid until a medic arrives.
Democrat Teneshia Hudspeth defeated the Republican Stan Stanart for County Clerk in Harris County. Stanart previously served as County Clerk from 2011–2018 and was seeking to return to the position again. Incumbent clerk Diane Trautman stepped down in May, citing health reasons, and Chris Hollins has been serving in the position since then, to much acclaim. Hudspeth, the current Chief Deputy at the Harris County Clerk’s office, was the first Afircan American woman to serve in the role. She has been with the County Clerk’s office for 15 years, mainly focusing on assisting anyone who needs access to the voting process, like registering to vote and aiding voter turnout.
Boards of Education
Bellaire native Will Hickman (R) was elected to the State Board of Education for District 6. Hickman, a grade school parent and intellectual property lawyer, focused his campaign on increasing the current 56 percent of Texas students’ readiness for careers, college, or the military after high school graduation. He plans to work with the Texas Education Agency to create a course for eighth grade students statewide that creates a process for students to learn about career options; test the students to identify their interests and aptitudes; and further works with school counselors to build personalized high school plans to help teens achieve their goals.
Democrat Erica Davis defeated Republican candidate Bob Wolfe, father of incumbent Michael Wolfe, for School Trustee, Position 5, At Large. Davis, a native Houstonian, currently serves as Chief of Staff for Harris County Precinct One Constable Alan Rosen. During her time there, she developed educational safety seminars to all communities, provided resource fairs for low-income communities, and developed multiple platforms for youth to dialogue on progressive issues. Davis is also a former high school spanish teacher. She hopes to increase the Harris County Department of Education’s community outreach; strengthen education programs offered at Fortis Academy, a public recovery high school; and expand the County’s preschool programs.
Democrat David Brown unseated Republican incumbent Don Sumners for the Harris County School Trustee, Position 7, At Large. Brown is a first-generation high school and college graduate. He is an educator who works with Third-Ward non-profit organization Change Happens, which provides mentoring and drug prevention services to low-income youth.
Democrat Israel García unseated Republican incumbent Russ Ridgway for the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1. Garcia, a lawyer of 27 years, practices personal injury, family, and, occasionally, criminal law. He currently serves as legal counsel to LULAC Council 402 too.
Jerry Garcia (D) defeated Daniel Valea (R) for Constable, Precinct 2. Garcia has been in law enforcement for 20 years, holding many positions within Harris County, most notably leading the civil division at the Harris County Precinct 3 Constable’s office. He is also a field training officer and a Texas Commission of Law Enforcement instructor.