Sheila Jackson Lee
The Houston congresswoman praises her hometown's shopping, resilient spiritand humidity.
Which part of Houston is your home?
I live in the wonderful MacGregor Park neighborhood, near the University of Houston. There are great people, large magnolias, wonderful green yards, streaming bayous. When I’m there, I take morning and evening walks along those bayous—I miss them when I’m in Washington. And, of course, there’s MacGregor Park, a family-friendly park with play areas, picnic tables, stretches of unspoiled nature. And there are tennis courts, the ones where Zina Garrison honed her greatness and where she launched her tennis program for kids.
I want to know what your life is like as a Houstonian. What do you do for fun when you’re here? Where do you shop?
As someone who represents different parts of the city, I do the right thing and shop all over town. I do my grocery shopping, for instance, off of Shepherd, on Old Spanish Trail, on Griggs Road. The only thing is, I do it late at night. That’s the only time I can squeeze it in. If you want to find me on Christmas Eve, look in the grocery stores at midnight.
What about other kinds of shopping?
I like bargains, so I go to Wal-Mart and Target. But I also like the Galleria, and I’m very proud of our home-state store, Neiman Marcus, even though you have to save up your dollars to be able to shop there. The sale prices at Last Call are pretty good, aren’t they? Mostly I’m led by what my children want—not so much my 22-year-old, who just finished college, as my eleventh grader. He wears a uniform to school, but he buys one or two hip-hop outfits a year, so I have to go out and get them.
Does the weather bother you much?
I may be alone in this, but I love the heat and the humidity. There’s something about leaving chilly Washington for the embrace of warm Houston.
How often do you see your fellow Texans in Washington? Do you ever go out for brisket together or do other Texas-y things?
We go to breakfast when we can, Republicans and Democrats. I can’t say we eat Texas goodies every time, but when we get together, we talk about issues affecting Texas: NASA, highway funding, education dollars. If we’re lucky enough to find good barbecue, we eat it. And, of course, we make fun of everyone who thinks their state has better barbecue than ours does. I tease my friends from the North Carolina delegation over and over about their “real” barbecue. I had pulled pork once. That was enough.
Tell me about life after Enron. How battered is the city’s psyche?
Certainly we had to swallow hard when Enron, our good corporate neighbor, made headlines. Now, of course, it turns out that we all missed it, not just in Houston but nationwide. The problem of corporate accounting was systemic. So I think we have some sense of vindication in knowing we were only part of the sickness. We also have a lot to be proud of in terms of our resilience. We’ve survived a number of hurricanes in Houston over the years, and we’ve drawn upon our strength to survive this one. Many other cities would not have fared so well.
Did the national press make things worse?
You’re never going to get bad news sweetened up. The national press was extremely pointed, extremely strident. They gave the impression that it was Houston at fault rather than Enron. But you know what? The press is the press. The First Amendment gives them a great deal of latitude, which is how it should be. What we have to do now is write our own story.