State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, will retire early from the Texas House of Representatives, the lawmaker has announced.
Coleman previously announced his decision not to run for reelection in November. His decision to step down Feb. 28 will require Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election to fill out the remainder of Coleman’s term, which expires in January.
“We don’t do a lot in the interim, quite frankly, in Austin (between legislative sessions),” Coleman told Houston Public Media. “And since someone’s going to be replacing me, this gives them a leg up in seniority. This will make them, if they get elected in a uniform election date, probably number 120 instead of number 150. And that makes a difference with seniority appointments.”
Coleman said that he intended to continue his public service, focusing on developing his think tank, the Center for Civic and Public Policy Improvement.
“We’re working on housing, actually building houses in Third Ward, working on health care, criminal justice reform, and education,” he said.
Last year, Coleman experienced serious health issues that required the amputation of his lower right leg, though he did not say those health issues played a role in his decision to step down.
Coleman began his political career as a delegate to the Texas State Democratic Convention in 1988, then won election to the Texas House in 1990. He is currently the chairman of the House County Affairs Committee as well as the senior ranking member of the House Public Health Committee.
“He’s been on the forefront of Medicaid expansion and the CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) program. He’s been on the forefront for LGBTQIA rights, and has done so much to be a pillar in the community,” said Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu. “His tenacity, his fight for making sure that the neighborhoods are positively impacted for generations to come will be unmatched, and the district will sorely miss him.”
Coleman’s House District 147 stretches from downtown and Midtown Houston across the Third Ward and southeast as far as Hobby Airport. His retirement comes as voting has already begun in a spirited Democratic primary contest to replace him. Former Houston City Councilmember Jolanda Jones and Houston Community College trustee Reagan Flowers are among the names on the ballot.
“If there were a runoff, I would suggest that those are the two individuals that have some name identification and who have been in the Houston community and in that district for some time,” said Michael O. Adams, a political science professor at Texas Southern University.
There may be some dark horses in the contest, including public school teacher Aurelia Wagner, Adams said. Wagner previously challenged Coleman for the nomination in 2020, scoring 29.2% of the vote to Coleman’s 61.5%.
There’s also a sole Republican running for his party’s nomination, facilities director and U.S. Navy veteran Rashard Baylor. A second Republican candidate, Damien Jones, suspended his campaign. Jones previously worked for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke as regional political director during O’Rourke’s unsuccessful 2018 Senate bid.
Asked whether he supported any specific candidate in the race to replace him, Coleman declined to make any endorsement.
“I could endorse someone all day long in a race that doesn’t have my imprint on it, but I believe that the people ought to choose their next state representative without my influence,” he said.