Molly Cook on the role of John Whitmire
When Senator John Whitmire, the longest-serving member of the Texas Senate, announced he would not be seeking re-election or running for mayor of Houston, Molly Cook had heard enough.
Republicans had just wrapped up their most extreme legislative session yet, effectively banning abortion and passing a sweeping voter suppression bill whose effects are now being felt by voters in Texas.
Whitmire planned to be re-elected and step down from the legislature midway through his next term, leaving the seat up for grabs in a special election.
Believing there was too much at stake for a lawmaker with divided priorities and that it simply made more sense to settle things in March, Cook filed documents with the Whitmire primary.
“He’s supposed to be focused on getting our voting rights back,” Cook, a registered nurse and activist, told The Signal.
Houstonians in District 15 needed someone in Austin who was dedicated to grassroots issues, not planning a full-time job to campaign for another office, Cook said, herself now working just a day a week to support his first candidacy for political office.
A graduate of the University of Texas and Johns Hopkins, Cook worked as a nurse for several years, most recently in a Houston emergency room.
The job was a childhood dream for her, spurred on by watching the pastor’s wife and the college nurse come to the rescue when a child broke his head on the playground. “I thought, man, I want to do this,” Cook said. “I want to be the person you call in an emergency.”
In the ER, Cook has seen some of Texas’ worst disasters, from Hurricane Harvey, a pandemic she says has highlighted and deepened inequality, and Winter Storm Uri, which Cook says has more congested Houston hospitals than Harvey.
The freeze and subsequent power grid outage was nightmarish, Cook said, recalling his stay at a hotel near the medical center to help deal with the overflow of patients, many seeking undamaged drugs that required refrigeration at specific temperatures or access to vital medical care. Technology.
“People were heading to the emergency room to get what we call compassionate dialysis, which lasts a few hours to keep you alive until we restore services to people,” Cook said.
Nursing has been an eye-opening experience of the flaws in America’s health care system, the ugliest face of the nation’s inequality. The emergency room and often the jail, Cook explained, were places where society put people they didn’t know what to do with. “Health care is one of the places where you can see the haves and the have-nots most clearly, it’s just very, very austere — especially in the emergency department,” Cook said.
Cook saw patients struggling with chronic illnesses and lifelong injuries, their lifespans shortened by living in communities that had been disinvested and were in unsafe and dangerous environments; sacrificing areas that were disproportionately faced by communities of color.
Clean air for a community couldn’t be prescribed in a bottle, and so after graduating and returning to Houston in 2019, Cook set out to seek volunteer opportunities to improve public health on a large scale.
She eventually came across Stop TxDOT I-45, a grassroots group fighting a controversial freeway expansion in Houston that Cook has been organizing with for the past three years.
From door-to-door to protests, Cook said activism with Stop TxDOT I-45 has been one of the most meaningful experiences of her life, though she admits to having stumbled somewhat in the fight. “I started showing up at some meetings, and the next thing you know you’re in charge of things,” Cook said with a laugh.
The group has made preventing major freeway expansion a living room issue for Houstonians, and their efforts have helped partially suspend a project that opponents say will flatten hundreds of homes and businesses, will cause more pollution and fail to reduce congestion.
The fight over the project, which follows familiar fault lines between state and local fault lines, has even reached the office of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. If elected, Cook plans to push for legislation that would allow TxDOT to study and fund local transportation projects, like more robust bus and bike infrastructure.
Organizing and activism seem to have primed Cook for her new life on the campaign trail, where she now roams Houston on foot and by bikeselling potential supporters on his core vision: a bottom-up approach to legislation and environmental justice, overhauling ERCOT and preventing another grid outage, and progressive public health policies like Medicare for All – all encapsulated in the campaign’s unofficial slogan, “It’s time for something different.”
In 2003, Whitmire was the first Democrat to return home from Albuquerque where Democrats broke quorum to halt a mid-decade redistricting plan.
At the time, the move earned him the nickname “Quitmire” from some Democrats, a moniker that resurfaced in July when the incumbent was among four lawmakers to stop the Texas Senate from breaking quorum again. to thwart a discriminatory redistricting plan.
Praising Democrats who broke quorum, Cook said unlike her opponent, she was willing to do everything in her power and leave the state to prevent harmful legislation that attacked the dignity of transgender high school students or denied the right to abortion.
“It really breaks my heart,” Cook said of Senate Bill 8, a new law that implemented an archaic bounty-hunting system to ban abortion in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy. forcing most abortion patients to flee the state. Cook said she had a surgical abortion in 2014 which was emotionally difficult. “It shouldn’t have been, it’s a basic medical procedure that needs to be available to people who need it,” Cook said, pledging to expand access.
If elected, Cook would be the first woman to represent the district in its 176-year history.
And while it never appears in campaign posts, Cook is a pretty serious harp player – something worth knowing as she attempts to play the oldest man in politics with grace. Houston.