By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
When Texas legislators used their redistricting clout in 1991 to draw a Houston congressional district that a Hispanic could win, a wily state senator named Gene Green helped in the design. He had ulterior motives.
The final shape of the district resembled a praying mantis, with arms snaking out in search of identifiable Hispanic households that pushed the Latino percentage of the district to 60.6 percent. At the time, many political observers assumed that would be enough to guarantee the election of Houston's first brown-skinned member of Congress.
Green knew better, banking on the core group of Anglo voters he had represented for 19 years in the Texas House and Senate. The legislator jumped into the 1992 Democratic primary race, and with equal measures of luck and gritty campaigning, he managed to beat out then-Houston city councilman Ben Reyes in a marathon fight that was extended to a second runoff after the first was invalidated because of voter irregularities.
Green then went to work winning over disappointed Hispanics, displaying the qualities that have earned him the reputation as one of the hardest-working elected officials in the city. "Gene is a very effective old-style service-oriented congressman," says Dr. Bob Stein, dean of social sciences at Rice University. "His voting record is less important to this constituency than delivering goods and services."
How effective has Green been with his Hispanic constituents? In 1998 the League of United Latin American Citizens made the congressman an "honorary member."
Political consultant Marc Campos, a former foe, credits Green's hustle with allowing him to continue to hold a majority Hispanic district without serious opposition.
"He's a workaholic member of Congress," explains Campos. "When he comes home from Washington, he doesn't go hang out at an icehouse. He goes to a civic club meeting. During the flood in June, he was everywhere. The guy just works his ass off."