Politics Texas' Jasmine Crockett on the Leaders Inspiring Her Run for Congress: 'Bold' and 'Unapologetic' The state representative has the support of beloved Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and looks to history in a campaign to follow in her footsteps By Aaron Parsley Aaron Parsley Aaron Parsley has been a part of PEOPLE's digital team for more than 15 years. People Editorial Guidelines Published on February 11, 2022 09:10 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Trending Videos Photo: Ray Umscheid When Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson announced her retirement late last year, she told supporters in her Dallas district that she hoped the seat she'd held for nearly 30 years would be filled by another woman. "My goal is to look for a female that is qualified," Johnson, 86, said at the time. Four days later, she endorsed freshman state Rep. Jasmine Crockett. "A vibrant congressional district like TX-30 needs a representative in Washington with high energy, a passion to fight for us, shrewd intelligence, leadership, and an incessant drive," Johnson said in a statement. "After proudly serving the City of Dallas and Southern sector for 30 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, I firmly believe that Texas State Representative Jasmine Crockett is just the person we need in Congress at this critical time." Crockett, 40, is now considered a front-runner in a crowded primary contest that includes eight other Democrats. The edge she has in that race is partly due to Johnson's endorsement. But Crockett says other the Texas lawmakers also expressed support for her, though in a less public way. Black Lawmakers Walk Out in Protest as Mississippi Senate Votes on Critical Race Theory Bill Kevin Dietsch/Getty "One of our retiring Republican senators, oddly enough, had these great things to say about me in a private conversation … And she said, 'I wanted to let you know that I admire you,' " Crockett told PEOPLE in a recent phone interview. "And she said, 'When I got to the legislature, I was not as self-assured as you.' She said, 'But you came in, you knew who you were and you fought for what you believed in, and I respect that.' And I think that having principles in the legislature earns you respect even if they don't agree with you." That courage, Crockett said, was honed during her time as a litigator and civil rights attorney. "I have to be that way in a courtroom. I typically have people's lives literally in my hands and they're relying on me to be their warrior," she said. "No matter how scared I may be, especially with somebody potentially is facing life in prison, I have to be confident." In the Texas legislature, Crockett says, she felt empowered to take decisive action based on her constituents and "knowing my district and not worrying about elections." Case in point: In July 2021, Crockett was one of 56 Democratic lawmakers who fled Texas in an effort to block Republicans from passing voting legislation. During her time in Washington, D.C., Crockett appeared on national news programs to explain the party's position, raising the profile of a state rep who had then only been in office for less than a year. Chip Somodevilla/Getty "I believe in democracy," she says now. "I've fought all summer long and in session for democracy. I'm still fighting for it now." "I really believe that you should get to know the people that you are trying to represent. And when you go in there, you're supposed to do what you really believe is in their best interest," she adds. "Ultimately if you missed the mark, then that's what elections are for. But I was okay with that because it was never about me when I ran for office, it was always about doing what I thought was best for the people that I represented." A new political ad for Crockett features Johnson, whom the candidate calls "my congresswoman." "Are you ready?" Johnson asks. "I think so," Crockett replies. "I know so," Johnson says, adding later in the spot, "You are ready, Jasmine. And it is time for your generation to carry the torch and light the way." Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty The ad features images and sound from Johnson, whose House of Representatives biography says she was the first registered nurse to be elected to Congress and the first African-American and woman to chair the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Bakari Sellers on His New Kids' Book and Teaching His Twins About Black History Throughout the Year It also features a clip of legendary Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who was the first African-American elected to the Texas Senate since 1883 and the first Black woman from the South elected to serve in Congress in the 20th century, according to her bio. On Twitter, Crockett has paid tribute to Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress. "I wouldn't have an opportunity if it wasn't for these women, these specific women. They decided to literally knock down barriers. They were bold. They were unapologetic," Crockett tells PEOPLE of the trailblazers she admires. "Considering the times that we're in, I think if we're going to channel anybody, these are the type of women that we need to channel." These Black women who left their mark on American political history are on Crockett's mind as she prepares for early primary voting in Texas (which begins Monday), the primary election on March 1, Election Day in November and beyond. 10 Black Icons Who've Been Honored with Stamps by the USPS "Knowing that they came through in a time where it hadn't been done, I can't imagine how scary it was for them, but they believed that it mattered, they believed that their voices were needed at the table. I do believe that them having a presence only provided an opportunity for me," she says. Bob Peterson/Getty; Alex Wong/Getty; Shelly Katz/Getty "When we look at the Democratic Party, Black women have been the backbone of the Democratic Party," Crockett says. "To be in a state that has more African-Americans than any other state, and we don't have a young Black woman, I think that that's an error. I think it is time." Crockett says that if elected, she hopes to work closely with Reps. Mondaire Jones and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Maxine Waters of California, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and others. Crockett also spoke of former Barack Obama, whose historic presidency remains a source of hope for young Black leaders. "Who doesn't love President Obama?" she says. "He's inspired generations of Black politicians. When we say representation matters, it really does because somebody can say, 'We're going to have the first Black president,' but it's a whole other thing to see it. And so to see someone who went from a community organizer to an elected official, who was knocked down in the very beginning, but somehow rose to become president, that's inspiration." Now, Crockett is influencing young people herself. She was recently interviewed by a student at Texas Woman's University as part of a project on history makers. "I was like 'history maker? But I'm not a history maker. I'm just me,' " Crockett says of her reaction to the request. "It really blows my mind when people act as if I'm doing something more than just trying to serve."