HOUSTON (CN) – In a flood-prone Houston congressional district that Hillary Clinton won by 1 point in 2016, Republican incumbent John Culberson is citing $141 billion in hurricane relief bills he helped pass in 2017 as proof he should keep his job. But the Houston Chronicle has endorsed Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, saying Culberson’s “career has been spent promoting his own pet projects,” such as encouraging NASA to probe for alien beings on one of the moons of Jupiter.
Texas Congressional District 7, a crab-shaped home to 800,000 stretching from south and west of downtown to the northwest and north, features the worst and best of Houston. Its diversity is undeniable; so is its gridlock.
With a $73,000 median household income, the 7th is one of the wealthiest districts in Texas. Its population is 44 percent white, 10 percent Asian, 12 percent black and 31 percent Hispanic.
It contains the city’s Chinatown, where some street signs are in Chinese, and the suburb Meyerland, where the faithful flock to a Jewish community center with a Holocaust memorial in the lobby filled with soil from a ghetto in Poland.
A hard rain in District 7 can turn a short commute into an hours-long odyssey as bumper-to-bumper drivers navigate fast-forming ponds and a maze of construction sites.
Republican John Culberson, 62, has represented District 7 since 2001. Culberson started in politics in 1987 when, as a law student in Houston, he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
“Culberson’s been there so long it’s like a comfortable old shoe,” said Carmen, 55, outside a Houston early voting site on Friday. She asked that her last name be withheld.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the avuncular Culberson returned to Capitol Hill from Houston shortly after Hurricane Harvey unleashed its epic rains. He helped secure the $141 billion hurricane recovery package, the largest such aid in U.S. history.
His Democratic rival Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, 43, is the first woman to make partner of the AZA Law Firm. In an Oct. 22 debate with Culberson, she said she has lived in District 7 nearly her whole life and the negotiating skills she’s developed as an attorney will serve her well in Congress.
Fletcher says Culberson has not done enough to protect Houstonians from flooding, as far back as his response to Tropical Storm Allison, which flooded 70,000 homes in 2001.
District 7 juts south of downtown into the Texas Medical Center, a complex of hospitals world-renowned for cutting-edge cancer treatments.
Culberson said that in Allison’s wake he obtained federal funding to install submarine doors in the basements of the medical center’s hospitals, and to move their equipment and utilities upstairs.
Thanks to those changes, a hospital lobby that Allison inundated with 38 feet of water had only a wet carpet after Harvey dumped 41 inches of rain in August 2017, Culberson said in the debate.
The Houston Chronicle endorsed Fletcher in early October and gave her backers ammunition for an attack ad, faulting Culberson for trying to get NASA to look for aliens on one of Jupiter’s moons.
The Independence USA PAC, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s political action committee, is running an ad showing Culberson riding a cartoon space ship.