Editorial: Last Day for Runoff Voting Tuesday

If flood risk still concerns you, remember to vote on Tuesday in the runoff election for Harris County Judge. Current Judge Lina Hidalgo has already won the Democratic primary. But two formidable competitors still vie for the Republican nomination.

At Stake: Shifting the Balance of Power in Commissioners Court

Winning the county judge position back represents the fastest way for Republicans to swing the balance of power in Commissioners Court.

Right now, Harris County has three Democrats and two Republicans. The Democrats vote as a block on virtually every topic in every meeting. That power has shifted massive amounts of flood mitigation money to their inner city strongholds away from outlying neighborhoods.

Lack of Equity Seen in Flood-Mitigation Spending

For instance, Harris County Flood Control District currently has $226,000,000 in active capital improvement projects underway. But only $2,000 of that total is currently deployed in the Lake Houston Area. Yet historically, Lake Houston has been one of the most heavily flood-damaged parts of the county.

historical flood loss map of Harris County after Hurricane Harvey
Flood loss map of Harris County updated after Hurricane Harvey: Source MaapNext.org. This map shows where all flooding claims have occurred throughout the county since 1978. 

This massive shift in funding comes in the name of “equity.” But less than one thousandth of one percent hardly seems equitable. That’s right, the Lake Houston Area gets 0.0008% of total flood-mitigation construction spending. That’s not equity! That’s hijacking.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis constantly tells his constituents that Kingwood gets all the money and that poorer neighborhoods get none. In reality, low-to-moderate income watersheds (one third of all watersheds) have received almost two thirds of all Flood Control spending since 2000.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia wants to fix 500-year flooding in poor neighborhoods before 2-year flooding in more affluent neighborhoods.

Garcia also tried to cancel $191 million of flood-mitigation projects in the Cedar Bayou watershed and shift the money to areas inside his newly redrawn Precinct 2.

The three Democrats have run off the heads of 20 out of 24 Harris County Departments. Their hatchet men have also run off multiple layers of management underneath the heads, leaving much of the county rudderless.

As a result, it takes longer to get things done. Case in point, the Community Flood Resilience Task Force requested data that would show the level of risk in each watershed more than a year ago. Now we’re told, we probably won’t see it until after the election.

Republicans Put Up Two Strong Competitors in Runoff

So, for whom should you vote for County Judge if you’re a Republican?

Republics have two excellent candidates: Alexandra del Moral Mealer and Vidal Martinez.

Mealer is a West Point graduate who commanded a bomb squad in Afghanistan. After serving her country, she earned MBA and law degrees from Harvard before going into banking. She structured billion-dollar, oil-and-gas deals as a VP for one of the nation’s largest banks. She and her husband have two young children.

Martinez has one of the most enviable resumes you will ever see. He, too, has a law degree. Martinez has been on the board of Methodist Hospital for three decades. He also served as a federal prosecutor, a Port Authority Commissioner and UH regent. And because he has been around longer, he knows all the players in Harris County politics.

Alexandra del Moral Mealer (left) and Vidal Martinez (right), candidates in Republic runoff election for Harris County Judge.

Both have an impressive list of endorsements. Both see crime and flooding as major issues.

In the primary, Mealer had more votes. She received 50,000 to Martinez’ 44,000. But the race had seven other people in the running.

Can Either Beat Hidalgo?

As the incumbent, Hidalgo easily won her party’s nomination in March with 114,000 votes. But that doesn’t mean Hidalgo is a shoe-in come November. The Republican vote was split nine ways in March. Note, however, that 10,000 more people voted for a Republican Judge candidate than a Democratic one.

In the 2018 election for county judge, Hidalgo won 49.8% of the votes compared to Ed Emmett’s 48.2%.

Hidalgo received 595,000 votes to Emmett’s 575,000. So, she won by 20,000 votes. But out of her 595,000, 105,000 were straight ticket votes, which are no longer allowed.

Also consider that Hidalgo’s administration has been plagued by crime, cronyism, waste and scandals. She will have an uphill battle in November.

Which Issues Are Most Important to You?

I can’t tell you whom to vote for. The decision is complex. Different people have different priorities. I’ve had a chance to spend two to three hours one-on-one with each candidate.

Both feel solid. Both are brilliant. And both are straight shooters. It’s a shame that so much of the advertising in this race has gone negative. That can only damage Republican chances in November.

If flooding remains one of your highest priorities, here are interviews with each of the Republican candidates on that topic.

Just make sure you vote Tuesday, if you did not vote early already.

Remember: if you didn’t vote in the primary in March, you can still vote in the runoff. But if you did vote in March, you must vote in the same party’s runoff.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/23/22

1728 Days since Hurricane Harvey