Alexandra Mealer is one of two candidates in the Republican runoff election for Harris County Judge. Mealer is a West Point graduate who retired from active duty as a Captain after ten years of service in the US and Afghanistan. She returned to graduate school where she earned MBA and JD degrees from Harvard before pursuing a career in energy finance. She worked on billion-dollar mergers, acquisitions, and financing projects for public and private energy companies as a VP for one of the nation’s largest banks.
Flood Bond: A Promise to Taxpayers
Rehak: I’d like to discuss flooding in Harris County and what you would do differently to improve flood control.
Mealer: The county judge wants to talk about everything but governance. That’s my big takeaway. She isn’t interested in doing the hard work. And that’s showing up. When I’ve been at Commissioners Court, they’ll talk for hours about a football team.
In Flood control, the flood bond was a promise to taxpayers. We have an obligation to complete those projects. Voters approved just under 200. So, I would ask, “Why isn’t Lina Hidalgo actually attending some of her own flood task force meetings?”
Rehak: That’s a good question.
Mealer: One of my highest flood-related priorities is to make sure we’re budgeted to cover maintenance, instead of deferring it.
After that, a lot of my time will go towards making sure we are getting outside dollars if we’re going to do more mitigation projects. Hopefully they’re going to do this tunnel system. Tunnels alone could cost another $5 billion. But that’s just fixing one area of the county when we’re shifting money from other departments to help pay for current projects.
We know we need a lot more. But Hidalgo isn’t really focusing on the budget. Or spending the time on flood control that it deserves. That’s where I can make a difference. I just got back from Cypress Creek. You need to understand all these different areas because this is probably the most complicated topic of any governance issue the county faces right now. Hidalgo just hasn’t shown the time commitment at that basic level. And there’s no excuse for that. Time is the one thing you CAN control. Instead, she seems to be focusing on patronage jobs.
The best thing about my background is that all these backroom deals disgust me, to be frank.
Proposed Solutions for Next-Level Flood-Control Funding
Rehak: What solutions would you propose. Your website talks about a bipartisan state delegation and bipartisan federal delegation to help with funding; and establishing a technical task force. And you gave yourself a 90-day timetable to put all that together and get that plan rolling. You also said fixing flooding must be above politics. Regarding the last point, how does your military experience relate?
Mealer: At the highest levels, military decisions, of course, are political. But the closer you are to boots on the ground, they become more mission driven.
Rehak: I’m assuming that you would try and keep flood-control priorities on a mission level as opposed to a political level.
Mealer: Yes. I’m very data driven, too. To say “Kingwood gets all the money”…that was unfair. Just look at the dollars! That doesn’t need to be political. You can just look and see where dollars were spent and rebuff that assertion.
Mealer’s Definition of “Worst First”
Beyond that, I don’t hear anyone saying much of anything except “worst first.” We need define that and go beyond it.
I’m looking at a) the most impacted areas and b) what’s shovel ready. If you told voters you’d do X, that’s your obligation when you’re using their money. And that’s why we need such a strong focus on partner funding. We made promises. And they will require partner funding to fulfill them.
But Lina isn’t upholding those promises. It’d be different if she’d exhausted all options. But there are tons of state delegates and congressional reps that we’ve never even spoken to. I want to hold quarterly meetings with those delegations. And I’ll be the first to compliment anyone who brings home flood-control dollars. We need to throw our weight around until people act on this.
Start blocking and tackling those roadblocks. Don’t just move on when someone gives you bad news.
Improving Upstream/Downstream Cooperation
Rehak: Down by the West Fork San Jacinto, we had some condos swept off their foundations by the 240,000 cubic feet per second coming downstream from outside the county. What can we do to get our neighbors to the north to be more sensitive to the amount of floodwater that they’re sending downstream?
Mealer: We can offer our staff to advise them on regulations and help institute them.
Obviously, they’ll have some builders who won’t want to see higher retention pond requirements. But flooding is not good for economic vitality.
We need to get all community leaders to recognize that. And be very vocal about it to exert pressure on the outliers.
We also need ways to catch bad plans and mobilize people downstream before the plans go forward. That’s a problem. Neighbors don’t catch onto them until permits are being pulled and the project is well underway.
Some counties are not living with consequences. It’s easier to send floodwater downstream. And that’s where I think you can use more of governments’ full weight and power. Having good regulations downstream while those upstream get a free pass…that doesn’t work.
“Every Citizen Should Be Terrified when a Politician Says Equity”
Rehak: What are your priorities? Would you fix 500-year flooding in a poor area before two-year flooding in an affluent area?
Mealer: I’d attack the worst first. And then within that, “Who’s the most shovel ready?”
Every citizen should be terrified when a politician says “equity.” You should have clear standards.
Lina Hidalgo doesn’t really mean “worst first.” She means “worst first plus equity.” But equity means whatever she wants it to mean today. It’s changed three or four times already.
Rehak: Does worst mean “when the poorest area floods” or does it mean “areas that had the most damaged structures”?
Mealer: Damage. But even that’s not clear because somebody who floods every two years should be higher on the priority list than someone in the 500-year floodplain who would only flood in a mega-storm.
Getting It Done Faster
We’re confined by what voters approved. All flood-bond projects are underway. We need to keep pushing the ball forward where and when we can. I would not hold money up for a project that won’t move forward for six months if there’s something we can build with that money now. The whole point is to fund all the projects. I’m not changing approved projects that we promised voters.
More About Mealer’s Background: From Bomb-Squad Operations to Billion-Dollar Boardroom Deals
Rehak: Your primary runoff opponent touts his local experience. Tell me about your background.
Mealer: I was born in Sacramento, California, and recruited by colleges on both coasts as a tennis player. Then 911 happened. At 18, I went to West Point. Then, I spent the next ten years living in eight different states and overseas.
In 2012, when I got out of the Army, my husband and I decided to move to Houston. We both wanted to work in oil and gas, so we did summer internships here while going to grad school. We officially moved here full time in 2016.
My primary runoff opponent and I are very different. He’s got 40 years of experience in politics and a lot of good relationships. But sometimes coming in with a fresh slate is good, too.
I also have a lot of executive emergency-management experience. I spent years working in a bomb-squad operation center. That high-pressure experience is a very transferable to hurricanes. The skills you use – the decision-making criteria – are very similar to when I had to do an all-nighter in a tactical operations center. You’re trying to quickly make decisions and allocate resources…with little margin for error. So, I know the battle drill.
I wanted this job because it’s so heavy on the budget/financial side. That’s where I spent my last six years. I’ve had true executive experience, building organizations.
A Boots-on-the-Ground Leader: “I’m About Shoe Leather”
How you run a campaign is, I think, a reflection of how you will govern. I have a lean staff and a grassroots campaign. I try to be very “boots on the ground.” I’m about shoe leather. That reflects my personality.
I’m not satisfied to just have somebody tell me the answer. I want to dig in and make sure I understand it. I have that curiosity, which I think is important, especially in flood control.
We need somebody who’s going to get out there and not just be holed up in the office.
To learn more about Alexandra Mealer, visit her campaign website. The Republican runoff is on May 24, 2022.
To compare her opponent’s positions on flood control, read this interview with Vidal Martinez.
Posted By Bob Rehak on 4/1/2022
1676 Days since Hurricane Harvey