DALLAS — As a nurse in the late 1960s, Eddie Bernice Johnson became the first African American to become chief of psychiatric nursing at the veteran’s hospital in Dallas. Then she entered Texas politics, and again, her career was marked by a series of firsts: First Black woman to be elected from Dallas to the Texas Legislature. First Black woman to chair a major Texas House committee.
Now with a political career that has spanned 50 years, including nearly 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Johnson, 85, is an icon of Texas politics and a steady force to be reckoned with in the Democratic Party.
But on Saturday, that distinguished career may finally wrap up at a press conference called by Johnson’s office to make what it said would be “an important announcement.”
Or, it might not.
Speculation that Johnson will use the news conference to announce her retirement began circulating last week after her office put out a news release asking her supporters to join her for a special announcement from the congresswoman.
That came in lieu of what was supposed to be a luncheon with Johnson and other Texas political headliners for what was billed as “The Justice Tour” for Democratic Party activists and judicial candidates.
The event will now be Kirkwood Temple CME Church in Oak Cliff on Nov. 20 at 1 p.m., according to the church’s Facebook page.
Since then, speculation about what the 15-term congresswoman will do has had the Democratic Party in a buzz.
Johnson, the most senior member of the Texas delegation, has represented the 30th congressional district covering much of south Dallas since 1992. She currently chairs the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and is the first woman and first African American to lead the committee.
Johnson’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the event.
In 2019, during her reelection campaign for a 15th term, Johnson said if she won, it would be her last term. That term will end in January 2023, when a new House of Representatives will be sworn in.
Even if the speculation leans toward Saturday’s event being a retirement announcement, no one would put it past the Dallas congresswoman to announce she’s running for term sixteen. If she won, it would not make her the longest-serving member of the Texas delegation in the House of Representatives. That title belongs to John Barton, a Republican from Ennis who served for 17 terms until 2019 amid a scandal in which a nude photo of the congressman appeared on social media.
But it would certainly make Johnson the longest-serving Black woman to represent Texas in the U.S. Congress.
Democrats are on edge about midterm elections next year after several foreshadowing defeats of party members in temperature-measuring gubernatorial races such as in Virginia, it’s possible the congresswoman could decide to run again.
Johnson’s seat is not vulnerable, however. Johnson has a high approval rating and has won reelection nearly every year with a wide margin in a Democratic stronghold of south Dallas.
Johnson’s political career has been marked by many firsts.
Johnson was born in Waco and grew up wanting a career in medicine. After receiving her nursing degree, she became the first African American to serve as Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital.
In 1972, she won a landslide victory to become the first Black woman to win an elected seat from Dallas in the Texas House of Representatives, where she served until 1977.
Johnson entered the national stage in 1978, when President Jimmy Carter appointed her as the regional director for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She was the first Black woman to hold this position.
She ran and won a State Senate seat from 1986, which she held until she ran for what was then a newly carved out Texas 30th Congressional district in 1992.
Thirty years later, Johnson is the senior member of the Texas delegation. In her tenure, she has had an elementary school and a Dallas local transport station named in her honor.
On Saturday, Johnson will be surrounded by potential candidates who could announce as early as this weekend their intentions to run for her seat, should she decide to retire.
State Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, is slated as the event’s master of ceremonies. Seated with Johnson at the event will be State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, considered to be a potential contender, as well as Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.
Another rumored potential candidate for Johnson’s seat is Texas State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, who as a freshman in the 87th Texas Legislature made a name for herself as an outspoken opponent of the Republican-led election reform bill.
Crockett was one of many State House Democrats who broke quorum in June by fleeing to Washington, D.C., in an effort to block a vote on the controversial bill, which they said would restrict voting rights. The bill, known as SB 1, eventually passed in a second special session this summer.