Longtime Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis said Friday that he will seek the Harris County Commissioners Court seat vacated when 30-year commissioner El Franco Lee died Jan. 3.
The timing of Lee’s death, however, means Ellis will have to travel an unusual path to the county office that pays $167,556 annually (versus $7,200 as a senator representing Houston), oversees a staff of more than 300 and represents about 1 million people.
The ballots for the March 1 primary — in which Lee is running unopposed — are already printed, so Democratic precinct leaders will choose a replacement candidate to appear on November’s general election ballot. Because no Republican is on the ballot, the precinct leaders will be acting as kingmakers.
“I’m excited to visit with Harris County precinct chairs and other leaders about continuing El Franco Lee’s legacy of service to his community,” Ellis said Friday.
If Ellis is chosen to replace Lee on the ballot, he could finish his Senate term, while Democratic leaders in his Senate district would go through the same process to pick a replacement candidate for the November ballot. Ellis is unopposed in the primary and general elections.
A senator since 1990, Ellis is known for a gregarious manner and pragmatic approach, but he also has been increasingly vocal about his frustrations as a member of the minority party, particularly after a 2015 rule change left Democrats relatively powerless in the Senate.
On Friday, former Houston city attorney Gene Locke was sworn in to complete Lee’s term, which ends Dec. 31, after which Locke plans to return to private law practice.