by Bill King
Those who are regular readers know that I rarely use [my] forum to endorse candidates. However, there is an election this year in which I feel compelled to do so. That race is for Harris County judge and I am recommending you vote for Alex Mealer.
Like most of you, I was shocked to wake up the day after the election in 2018 to find that Ed Emmett had been defeated by a virtually unknown opponent. The unlikely outcome was a result of the last vestiges of straight-party voting in Texas.
But while I lamented the loss of what I considered one of the most able county judges in the county’s history, I was impressed by Hidalgo’s pledge not to take campaign contributions from county vendors and contractors, a reform I have long supported. I was also impressed that she returned a campaign contribution from a strip club owner, something few of our other elected officials have had the moral compass to do. I thought perhaps some new blood would be positive and hoped for the best.
But it soon became clear that Hidalgo’s priority was pursuing a radical, progressive agenda to burnish her credentials for higher office rather than effectively managing the county. She has led a Commissioners Court that has, time after time, promoted ideological priorities over sound management of the county. And they have put the county on an unsustainable financial trajectory in the process.
She systematically replaced longtime county employees, many of whom were highly qualified, with unqualified, crony politicos. In the process, she has created new bureaucracies costing Harris County taxpayers nearly $100 million annually. She brought in “experts” from the east and west coasts but never once called Ed Emmett for his advice or counsel.
But I finally gave up all hope for Hidalgo when the details of the now infamous vaccine contract came to light. When Greg Groogan showed me the documents he had obtained through his open records request, I told him bluntly that it was the worst bid rigging I had ever seen. Unfortunately, bid rigging is much more common than the public is aware. But this case was particularly reproachable because its purpose was to divert federal money earmarked for COVID relief for blatant political purposes. Over 11,000 people in Harris County died from COVID. How many of those could have been saved if this money had been directed to neighborhood health clinics to get vaccines to their patients instead? (Note: The county never recovered over $1.2 million it paid in the first weeks of the contract. Where did that money go and how was it spent?)
I appreciate that some may be leery of voting for Mealer because she is a newcomer to the Harris County political scene. Most of us have only recently met her.
First, I think we can take much solace in this regard from her astonishing resume. A West Point educated, combat veteran, who went back to school (at Harvard no less) to earn an MBA and law degree. She then followed up her education with an investment banking career at Wells Fargo. These alone tell me she has the smarts and character to do the job.
Also, I have spent enough time with Mealer by now to see that she is laser focused on fixing the problems we have in Harris County, especially the ongoing disaster in the criminal justice system. When the hyper-partisans in her own party have tried to drag her into national political issues that have little to nothing to do with running for the county, she has consistently pushed back. Her campaign reminds me of a “Back to Basics” campaign run by a Houston mayoral candidate a few years ago.
Another overriding factor for me is Hidalgo’s unwillingness to debate Mealer. If a candidate want people’s votes, he or she should have the guts to stand up and make the case in a forum where the opponent can contest the assertions. Candidates that will not debate are admitting they cannot defend their record. To me, refusing to debate is an absolute disqualification.
Ronald Reagan famously asked in a 1980 presidential debate, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” I think that is the question before Harris County voters in this election. Personally, I cannot name a single thing at the county that is working as well as it was in 2018 when Hidalgo was elected. To the contrary, almost every aspect of county operations is in shambles and the county’s finances, which once were impeccable, are now being depleted. I shudder to think where we might be with another four years of the current administration.
To me the answer is clear. The county is not better off than it was four years ago. It is time for change.
The article above is reprinted by permission of Bill King. Feel free to submit topical articles/essays/releases for our consideration to [email protected]. As with our usual articles, the views expressed are those of the author.