Regardless of who wins, Houston will elect the oldest major city mayor in the U.S. this weekend, choosing between two candidates who have each served in public office longer than the average age of the residents they will govern.
Voters in the runoff between Sen. John Whitmire (74) and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (73) will choose a new leader who will make cuts to address demographic trends in America’s fourth-largest city. Census figures show Houston is getting younger, with an average age of about 35 and 25% of the population under 18.
The mayoral choices have frustrated some voters, including young people, in the Democratic stronghold at a time when the party is looking for new political stars in Texas who could potentially end 30 years of GOP dominance statewide and now the era of politicians has arrived. become a problem nationally.
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I think the main problem is identification with the politician. Many young people can’t do that, said Julian Meza, a 19-year-old history student at Houston Community College who plans to vote. He added: I don’t really want to vote for them, but I have no other choice.
Fellow student Amanda Estela Portillo, a 19-year-old biology student, agrees that she finds it difficult to connect with older candidates.
It seems like the older generations… they just shrug it off and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, boy.’ You’re too young. And I feel like it’s a sense of hopelessness that a lot of us are feeling, Portillo said.
Whitmire and Jackson Lee, who emerged from a crowded field of nearly two dozen candidates in the Nov. 7 general election, have both touted their decades of experience in political office. But they also say the perspectives of younger voters are important to them and have pledged to make young individuals part of their government.
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On Sunday, Jackson Lee attended an outreach event co-sponsored by Houston-based Rap-A-Lot Records that featured candidate speeches and musical performances and was designed to encourage voters, including young people, to go to the polls.
I want this government to make people say, ‘I’m good because the mayor cares about me. “I’m okay with it because City Hall is open for me,” Jackson Lee said on stage alongside local rappers, including Lil Bushwick, the son of Bushwick Bill, a founding member of the iconic Houston rap group the Geto Boys.
For his part, Whitmire has held several campaign events with young professional organizations, telling a rally in August that Houston’s future needs a voice at City Hall.
Why don’t young people get involved in city politics? “I think a lot of them have given up on the process,” Whitmire said Sunday after a mayoral forum. I understand their cynicism and their frustration. And that’s what I offer: experience from a can-do candidate.
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Von Cannon, 41, who drove a food truck at Sunday’s election event, said aging isn’t necessarily a problem for a candidate, but thinks authenticity is something important that younger voters are looking for.
Ronda Prince, head of operations at Rap-A-Lot Records, said experience is important, but you can’t ignore and dismiss the concerns and issues that young people have. If you want to reach young people, talk to young people.
Getting younger voters to the polls, especially in local elections, remains a huge puzzle in the city and across the country, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
Houston is changing. It’s getting much younger and certainly more Latino, and the demographics in terms of who’s running for office and who’s winning … doesn’t always reflect those changes, Rottinghaus said.
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An analysis by Rottinghaus suggested that two-thirds of voters in the November 7 election were over 55 years old. The Harris County Clerks Office said a survey of early voting for the runoff found an average age of about 62.
Age has been an issue in other political contests, such as next year’s presidential race, where the president seems likely to run into trouble
Biden, 80, to former president
Trump, 77. In last month’s Texas general election, voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have raised the mandatory retirement age for judges by four years to 79.
One challenge in reaching young people is making it easier to vote, Rottinghaus said.
Officials in Democratic-run Harris County, where Houston is located, expanded access during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 with drive-thru voting and 24-hour polling places, two initiatives popular with younger voters. But they were later banned by the Republican Party-led Texas Legislature.
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Rottinghaus also said some younger voters may not vote because issues they care about often don’t factor into local elections.
While Houston’s mayoral race has been dominated by discussions about crime, crumbling infrastructure and potential budget shortfalls, other issues important to voters like Meza and Portillo, such as supporting reproductive and immigration rights and the LGBTQ+ community, have been largely absent.
Kit Delgado, a 19-year-old arts student at Houston Community College, said that while a mayor can’t really have much influence on these issues, it’s important for younger voters to have someone in government who shares their values.
If we have a mayor who supports our ideas, maybe we can get a governor who supports our ideas, and then representatives. I think this is a good reason to vote locally, like for my age group, Delgado said.
Fernando Dowling is an author and political journalist who writes for 24 News Globe. He has a deep understanding of the political landscape and a passion for analyzing the latest political trends and news.