Sheila Jackson Lee

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Sheila Jackson Lee

Sheila Jackson Lee (born January 12, 1950 in Queens, New York), an American politician, has been a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives since 1995. She represents Houston's 18th Congressional District (map (, which was once the domain of her role model, former congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

Jackson Lee graduated from Jamaica High School in Queens. She went on to earn a B.A. in political science from Yale University in 1972, followed by a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975. Jackson Lee moved to Houston after her husband, Dr. Elwyn C. Lee, took a job at the University of Houston. Her husband now holds a dual position of Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Houston System and the University of Houston, respectively.

Jackson Lee made two unsuccessful attempts at local judgeships before becoming a municipal judge from 1987 to 1990. In 1990 she won an at-large seat on the Houston City Council, serving until 1994. While on the city council, Jackson Lee helped push through a gun safety ordinance that punished parents who did not keep their guns away from children. She also worked for expanded summer hours at city parks and recreation centers as a way to combat gang violence.

As a federal legislator, Jackson Lee speaks loudly and often and as a result she has been accused of being a publicity hound. But this also means her liberal views — which range from supporting affirmative action to immigrant and women's rights — do not go unnoticed in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Jackson Lee presents herself in the mold of her role model, the famed black legislator Barbara Jordan, who represented the same congressional district from 1973 to 1979. Jackson Lee — borrowing a page from Jordan's book — uses her seat on the Judiciary Committee to focus attention on civil rights, abortion rights and other liberal causes.

Minority issues are at the forefront of Jackson Lee's political agenda. Within the past few years she has also traveled to South Africa to decry racism and has backed sanctions against Sudan. She is the first vice-chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

When it comes to the residents of her district — which are overwhelmingly poor and black — Jackson Lee does not shy away from partnering with Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose conservatism sharply contrasts with her own views. Hoping to boost the Houston area's oil industry, Jackson Lee sided with DeLay in backing President George W. Bush's energy plan, strongly criticized by environmentalists. The two have also cosponsored a bill strengthening child protective services.

Jackson Lee is a liberal ideologue, but she does not always side with her Democratic Party, particularly on trade issues. In 2000 she favored permanently normalizing trade status for China, arguing that it would aid both human rights and Houston's economy. It was also a priority for Enron Corporation, with which she has financial ties.

During Enron's financial collapse in 2001, Jackson Lee — who is a famous talker — was content to allow other Democrats to speak against Enron's alleged corporate abuses. Enron's CEO, Kenneth L. Lay, was one of her major financial backers when she was elected to her first congressional term in 1994; Enron itself has given generously to her campaigns.




To her critics, Jackson Lee is well known in Houston and on the national scene for her reputation as a publicity hound. Critics charge her with a tendency to volunteer unsolicited on-camera commentary and press statements on a wide range of political issues, such as a 2003 request to use more African American-sounding names when naming hurricanes and tropical storms [1] ( This has caused conservative critics to nickname her "Hurricane Sheila."

Jackson Lee volunteered herself as an unsolicited advocate for the father of Elián González in the international custody controversy and reportedly spends hours seeking out prime seating locations in the House of Representatives chamber to increase her camera visibility for special events such as the State of the Union address. She was also one of the few members of congress to come to the defense of Michael Jackson during an ongoing criminal investigation of the pop star [2] ( She also attracted controversy in 2003 by meeting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and offering to sponsor a visit for the controversial leader to the United States.

Keeping with her camera-friendly reputation, Jackson Lee is one of the few members of Congress outside of the leadership who seeks time for a House floor speech almost every day. According to the gossip columnist of a local free paper, The Houston Press, the congresswoman's reputation as a "floor hog" has also given rise to a humorous betting game among Capitol Hill staffers in other member's offices in which quarters are deposited into a jar each time she speaks. The office staff in possession of the jar when a whole day goes by without Jackson Lee speaking wins and gets to keep the contents [3] (


Jackson Lee's penchant for misspeaking (called Sheila-isms in Houston political circles, similar to Bushisms) has also made her the object of ridicule from the political right, especially over a well publicized episode in which she asked NASA scientists if the Mars Pathfinder robot probe had photographed the location of the 1969 Moon Landing. In early 2004 Jackson Lee praised the Houston Super Bowl for upholding "family values," seemingly unaware of the infamous Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction that marred the event. More recently, conservative talk radio heckled Jackson Lee's claim "I came here as a slave, and I deserve to vote" during the 2005 challenge of the electoral votes from Ohio.

Other criticism

According to the Houston Press and The Hill, Jackson Lee has also reportedly been involved in several altercations with airline flight personnel over her requests for a complimentary upgrade to first class based on her celebrity. [4] ( The Press reports one altercation, which Jackson Lee later denied, she loudly derided a staffer over her travel arrangements:

"You don't understand. I am a queen, and I demand to be treated like a queen"

Another altercation onboard an airplane was reported by The Hill. During a full flight on Continental Airlines Jackson Lee was denied a complimentary upgrade to first class. According to a witness interviewed by the Capitol Hill newpaper, "When she saw that she had to sit with other people, she started shouting that she was in Congress and worked hard. She was really loud. Everybody in the plane could hear." Later in the flight she is reported to have had a "friendly visit" with the displaced passengers. [5] (

The Press further reports that Jackson Lee has a reputation on capitol hill as a "high-maintenance" employer and has exhibited one of the largest staff turnover rates for years [6] ( Several former employees have cited her demeanor and incidents such as the travel arrangement altercations as a major reason why so many staffers leave her office. The Houston Chronicle reported that one staffer even quit after she threw a cell phone at him.[7] (

Adding to her reputation as an elitist, she was criticized after an investigative reporter from the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard photographed her using a chauffeur to travel the distance of approximately one block from her congressional office to the U.S. Capitol Building entrance. The Capitol Hill magazine Roll Call reported a couple weeks later that Jackson Lee was seen pressuring her driver to tailgate another member of Congress through a security checkpoint.[8] (

Alleged use of the Race Card

Other critics have charged Jackson Lee with frequent political race baiting to obtain political goals. In a publicized 2002 incident Jackson Lee became engaged in a shouting match with Republican Dana Rohrabacher, the Chairman of the NASA subcomittee, after Rohrabacher ruled her out of order for exceeding her allotted time for questions. Jackson Lee snapped back at Rohrabacher, "I'm the only member that you comment on. It may be that I'm the only African-American woman sitting here."[9] ( Jackson Lee also accused the Houston Republican Party of racism after an email it sent to members criticizing the local Democratic congressional delegation included a photograph of her but not the Democratic "white male" members from other Houston districts.[10] (

External links

  • Official website (
  • 2004 campaign finance data (
  • "What's Driving Miss Sheila?" in the Houston Press [11] (
  • Map of her district (



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