The "Other" Candidate In Congressional District 18

The Houston Press will be interviewing each of the main contenders in the 18th Congressional District race. First up: Sean Roberts.

One of the few local Congressional primary races generating excitement this election season is the 18th Congressional District race. The incumbent, Sheila Jackson Lee, seems to have a polarizing effect on folks -- you either love her or hate her.

To her Democratic Primary challengers, the term-limited Councilmember Jarvis Johnson and political freshman Sean Roberts, this polarizing effect smells like opportunity.

The district looks different since 1994 when Jackson Lee was elected but that does not mean that Jackson Lee lacks support.

The demographics break down almost evenly at one-third apiece for Caucasian, African-American and Latino voters. Jackson Lee's base is older African-Americans, primarily women. Johnson thinks that he can take a large enough bite out of that base to earn him a runoff spot.

Roberts on the other hand wants to take an Obama-esque approach and mobilize younger voters under 40 and target whites that have moved the district in recent years.

Both challengers represent a generational divide but Johnson is a son of old guard African-American politics. In contrast, Roberts represents a break from the traditional candidates that have run for the seat. His supporters say he has a universal appeal that is attractive to his peers, Anglos and Latinos.

"All we need is 5,000 votes and we are in," mentions an aide to Roberts. Perhaps this is blind optimism by a loyal campaign staffer.

The interview for Sean Roberts, a civil attorney, took place in his law office on the fourth floor of a building near River Oaks. Upon entering the room, it felt like it was a museum ... Roberts was not kidding when he said he loved to collect art.

Roberts had a small entourage that was manning his campaign. There was the campaign manager, a young twenty-nine year old fresh out of law school running his first campaign ever. The scheduler's background included fundraising for philanthropic events.

The team was small but optimistic in their candidate. They genuinely believe that Roberts has a chance of sending incumbent Jackson Lee into a runoff.

An aide remarked, "And when that happens, support and contributions will explode."

This was a young, hard-working team led by a young, good-looking candidate that was new to the political arena. Roberts introduced himself as a Houstonian that arrived in the 713 in 1989 on the doorsteps of the University of Houston with a track scholarship. He graduated and the next step involved law school at South Texas.

After obtaining his JD at the tender age of 24, he joined the ranks of Vinson & Elkins representing corporations. In 2001, he swapped sides to get the plaintiff's perspective and joined Abraham Watkins. In 2005, he started his own law firm, The Roberts Law Firm.

Roberts does not have much of presence in the one-eight and this may come back to bite him but he is determined to improve the district. His three main issues are education, employment and health care. He believes that all three issues are intertwined and one cannot ignore one for the other without addressing each one.

His personal background gives insight as to why these three issues are so important to the candidate. He truly believes in education as a mode of moving up the social-economic scale. Roberts noted how there was one time when everyone in his family was going to school fulltime. They had to rely on Pell Grants and student loans to survive. He feels that education needs to be affordable.

He also understands that the changing global economy requires that folks be trained for the jobs of the 21st century. He does not believe in chasing the old manufacturing jobs. He wants to bring jobs to the district and feels that Jackson Lee has failed to secure employment opportunities for the district.

Health care was also important to Roberts. His brother was fatally wounded seven times by the Harris County Sheriffs Department, a victim of the flawed and broken health care system that does not treat mental patients effectively.

As Roberts entertained the possibility of winning the primary, he often reference to Obama and how the President inspired him. Many tell him that he should wait until it is his time. He chuckles, "That's what they told Obama when he was running against Hillary."

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David Ortez