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Mattress Mack’s Quest to Turn Houston Back Red

For forty years, Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale has been a staple of Houston culture. He’s also a major player in the extreme rightward political shift happening in the city.

Mack’s furniture store chain, Gallery Furniture, launched in the 1980s, selling modestly upscaled pieces to well-paid workers during the oil boom. He quickly became famous for his television appearances. Sometimes he dressed in an actual mattress costume, ending his commercials with the phrase, “Gallery Furniture will save. You. Money!” while brandishing a fan of bills.

He was also known for his philanthropy and generosity. Houston’s frequent floods were always met by Mack handing out relief money, food, shelter for the displaced, and sometimes replacement furniture. One of those recipients was my own grandmother, who Mack personally helped pick out pieces at a steep discount following a storm.

Mack was a character, not unlike Vince McMahon (whom he would help set-up Wrestlemania X-7 with) or former President Donald Trump (Mack recently sold him couches for Mar-a-Lago). If he was a bit gauche and cheesy, that was alright. Texas is full of weird millionaires. Until very recently, you’d be hard-pressed to find Houstonians who didn’t think of Mack fondly.

However, like a lot of white millionaires, Mack changed during the Obama years. While always conservative, Mack fell further and further and further into the extreme right during the backlash to America’s first Black president.

As the Tea Party rose to prominence, Mack helped organize rallies in the Houston area. He would form a fast friendship with Sen. Ted Cruz, arguably the Tea Party’s greatest electoral success story. During that rally, conservative figureheads decried Obama as a socialist. Mack was more subdued in his speech, but the start of his path into extreme rightwing circles was apparent.

“Obviously the government approach is not working,” he said. “Stop providing handouts, but instead, help others help themselves.”

As time went on, Mack got deeper and deeper. He changed the flashing marquee outside his flagship store to an Ayn Rand quote. When Trump announced his candidacy, Mack was an immediate donor. He appeared on stage with Trump in another Woodlands event, and the two seem to have remained close.

However, it’s Mack’s efforts in local politics that show where his real descent has happened. Houston went blue for Obama in 2008, and has grown into the largest stronghold of Democrats in Texas. Mack backed John Culberson to try and keep District 7 red, only for it to be a surprise flip for Lizzie Fletcher. His efforts to support Republican mayors has also backfired, though the relatively conservative Democrat John Whitmire (who previously represented Mack in court), did just win the mayorship.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo best illustrates Mack’s desire to undo the leftward shift. When she took the top executive position in Harris County, Mack launched a lawsuit to prove that the election was somehow stolen. It was a microcosm of the nationwide Big Lie surrounding Trump’s presidential loss in 2022.

Mack’s opposition to Hidalgo grew so boisterous that she even referenced him in her victory speech, calling him a furniture salesman. Miffed, Mack took out a full-page ad in The Houston Chronicle where he spoke of himself in the third person and used far-right buzzwords like “virtue signaling.” He even launched a website that he hoped would collect evidence of voter fraud. None was found.

It’s clear that Mack has consistently drifted into the more conspiratorial areas of politics as the demographics of Houston have changed. His work to undue the leftward shift has mostly been in vain, aside from his support of Whitmire. Still, he’s progressed from local personality to dedicated opponent of liberalism in the city.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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