Eddie Bernice Johnson looms large in Dallas. The 86-year-old Democrat has represented Texas’ 30th Congressional District, which spans from Love Field to the north to downtown Dallas and most of south Dallas County.
Johnson, who’s now retiring, was also the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and is the oldest member of congress until her term ends in 2023.
Bob Mong is president of the University of North Texas at Dallas, one of the district’s hubs of higher education. He also covered North Texas politics extensively in various roles at The Dallas Morning News.
Mong said Johnson has always been strong on civil rights issues and was never a shrill voice in congress.
“She gets her fair share of publicity, but she’s not compulsive about it,” Mong said. “I think that’s been her demeanor over the years.”
Mong points to Johnson’s work delivering results on infrastructure, health care and schools as she worked closely with city and county officials bringing plenty of federal dollars to the district. Dallas’ Union Station was even named after her, a nod to her work on improving public transportation throughout the region.
“She had an appreciation for the demographics of her district, which is mostly made up of modest-income people and she understood that,” Mong said.
Now, with her retirement, the district will elect a representative for a new generation: Democrat Jasmine Crockett, 41, and Republican James Rodgers, 39, are vying to fill her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Crockett is currently a representative in the Texas House. Rodgers is a former educator and small-business owner.
To win the seat, they’ll have to impress South Dallas voters like Nakia Douglas. He wants to know how the candidates plan to address disparities in the district’s historically underserved communities.
“What change are they going to do immediately,” asks Douglas. “What policies are they going to support to ensure that this change happens so that we will have another generation that’s going to be viable, not only to our communities but more importantly to our workforce as well?”
Crockett, the Democrat, says she’s uniquely qualified for running in a district that is majority Black and brown.
“When it comes to those issues of equity, while I absolutely believe that people can fight for those issues in any seat, I think that the onus and the expectation is higher, that that type of fight will exist in this type of district,” Crockett said.
District 30 is a majority-minority district — more than 80% of its residents identify as Black or Hispanic in a county that has a poverty rate of a little more than 14%. Much of that poverty is concentrated in the area that makes up the district.
Rodgers, the Republican, says his vision involves addressing that high poverty rate and improving education.
“I look at District 30 and other people might see, you know, some potholes or schools that don’t function the way they’re supposed to and maybe some derelict buildings,” Rodgers said. “I see opportunities.”
Large swaths of the district include historically underdeveloped or ignored communities.
Mong, at UNT Dallas, said that while northern parts of the city have seen substantial economic growth in recent years, that same growth has been more challenging in this large southern portion.
“I think you could pack Boston, Atlanta and Milwaukee into the southern part of the city but it only contributes about 15-20% of the tax base,” Mong said.
As midterm elections approach, regardless of who gets the seat, voters like Christian Colbert and Jessica Washington say they hope to see positive changes in their district to things like public safety and housing. Both are lifelong residents of District 30.
Colbert says he’s lived all over South Dallas. His main concern is police training in his community.
“A lot of times these officers would need to go ahead and be trained on how to deescalate the situation without either pulling out their Taser or their firearm first,” Colbert said.
For Washington, she hopes to see her next representative address the housing crisis.
“You see a lot of gentrification, and you’ll see like these really nice houses and right next to it’s like rundown houses that need a lot of work,” Washington said. “So my question is, are we gonna fix those houses too? Because like, it just looks out of place and it’s not right to the people who’ve been living there.”