Harris County is electing a new County Judge this year. For the Lake Houston Area, it’s arguably the most important race on the ballot. It represents a chance to win a majority on Commissioners Court sensitive to the Lake Houston Area’s needs. We’ve been de-prioritized for four years. Tomorrow, November 8th, is your last chance to change that. It’s Election Day.
Why This Race is So Important
I don’t want to downplay the importance of other races. But this particular race is about your quality of life. Getting your fair share of flood-mitigation funding. Keeping your tax bill stable. Restoring public safety. Rebuilding competence in local government. And increasing transparency.
Turnout in Early Voting was Dismal
County wide, only 750,000 out of 2.5 million registered voters voted. That’s 30%. After 12 days!
Kingwood had 18,872 early voters out of 44,000 registered. That’s 43%. A little better.
But four years ago, 63% of all ballots were cast during the early-voting period. So turnout on Election Day will be critical this year.
The number of people who have not yet voted in the Lake Houston Area have the power to swing this election. By all accounts, it will be close.
Overview of Candidates: Problems Vs. Potential
The two candidates are incumbent Lina Hidalgo and challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer.
Let’s look at their respective records.
Hidalgo’s only real-world job experience before assuming the helm of a 16,000-employee organization was reportedly as a medical interpreter. Her rookie errors were predictable. I’ll detail them below.
Mealer is also a newcomer to politics, but comes to the job with vastly more real-world experience. She:
- Graduated from West Point
- Was a Captain in the Army
- Commanded a bomb squad in Afghanistan for a decade
- Obtained MBA and JD degrees from Harvard
- Put together billion-dollar deals in the oil-and-gas sector as a VP for one of the nation’s largest banks.
More About Hidalgo’s Record
Hidalgo had no management experience when elected. And it showed. Under Hidalgo, the County’s budget increased along with employment. She created six new departments. Hired thousands of new employees. And paid for the largesse by drawing down the county’s reserve funds.
She also replaced the heads of 19 departments. One department had three leadership changes under Hidalgo. And four had at least two. Some departments, such as Engineering, have lost 4-5 layers of management. Whole capabilities, such as disaster relief, were wiped out. And every group head in the IT Department (Universal Services) left.
Political credentials became more important in hiring decisions than professional competence. Knowledgeable, capable employees left county employment in droves. Some are still there. But it’s reportedly getting harder and harder for them to keep things running.
One Misstep after Another
I’ve learned to judge Judge Hidalgo by her actions, not her words.
She talks about serving the entire county, but I’ve only seen her break ranks with her Democratic Commissioners twice in four years. In fairness, there may have been more times. But it’s hard to sit through meetings that have lasted up to 16 hours. Robert’s Rules of Order are not her strong suit.
Much to her discredit, Hidalgo led efforts to:
- Create a redistricting plan that forced Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey to switch districts, a move that:
- Disrupted service to half of Harris county
- Denied former Precinct 4 residents of their right to vote for Commissioner.
- Left Precinct 3 (which the Lake Houston Area is now in) with 47% of the roads and 25% of the budget.
- Develop an “equity” plan that pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into flood-mitigation projects in Democratic precincts while denying projects in Republican precincts.
- Create a County Administrator’s Department. It added cost to projects without adding value and slowed things down.
- Float three new bond proposals before the 2015 bond was fully spent.
- Skew the distribution of money from the proposed bonds toward Democratic precincts.
- Not disclose the skewing in the ballot language.
- Hire a county IT manager with no IT experience, who then drove out every group manager underneath him.
- Replace highly skilled professionals in the County’s IT department with political loyalists who couldn’t reboot the County’s bail-bond system after it crashed. As a result, hundreds of criminal suspects didn’t receive probable cause hearings in time. So, they had to be released.
- Steer an $11 million COVID outreach program to a political crony – a one-woman company operating out of an apartment. The company never did do any COVID outreach, but managed to spend more than a million dollars on Democratic campaign software/systems.
- Increase taxes.
- Hire an activist as Elections Administrator who had no experience. She lost 10,000 ballots and blew deadlines.
- Replace the activist just two months before the fall election.
- Divert toll-road income to flood-mitigation projects in minority neighborhoods instead of using $750 million in available HUD money.
- Table engineering contracts for months in Republican-led precincts.
Destroying Trust in Government
But Hidalgo’s greatest sin, in my opinion, is that she destroyed trust in county government by misleading people. For instance, she:
- Tried to minimize the impact of a tax rate increase without projecting the impact on a family’s tax bill, given large increases in valuations during her tenure.
- Argued for “worst first” in flood mitigation. But her definition has nothing to do with depth of flooding, deaths, loss of critical infrastructure, or the percentage of damaged homes and businesses in a community.
- Redefined “equitable” distribution of funds in voter-approved flood-bond language, so that equitable has nothing to do with the dictionary definition.
- Says she can’t rely on partner funding for flood-mitigation projects, when she has had $750 million in HUD funding sitting on the table for 17 months. Her Community Services Department (which changed leadership three times under Hidalgo) still hasn’t submitted one project for approval to the GLO or HUD. The $750 million could fully fund every project in the flood bond.
- Trumpets her transparency, but routinely fails to provide backup for tens of millions of dollars in spending and hasn’t defined one project for proposed bonds totaling $1.2 billion on the ballot.
- Says she values community input but has never attended a Community Resilience Flood Task Force meeting.
As far as I can tell, after four years, Hidalgo still has not figured out how to run Harris County. She’s just a bad manager. She came to the job with no experience and has not learned along the way.
More about Alexandra del Moral Mealer
Mealer has actual leadership and job experience. Her military and business background is far more qualifying than Hidalgo’s. Mealer has Harvard MBA and JD degrees, and years of experience as a VP of a bank that has almost two trillion dollars in assets. She’s more equipped with the skill sets needed to be a county judge than Hidalgo ever was.
Mealer also has a laser focus on the things that matter to people at the county level: Crime. Courts. Jails. Flooding. Roads. Budgets. Taxes. She refuses to get bogged down in national issues that she has no control over.
She has a conservative fiscal stance on how to spend OUR money. And it doesn’t involve creating jobs for political cronies through a vast expansion of the bureaucracy.
Virtually every law enforcement agency in the county has backed Mealer’s plan for addressing crime.
She hopes to lower or maintain taxes and tax rates by eliminating wasteful spending.
Finally, having met and talked to Mealer at length several times, I believe she cares about all areas of Harris County regardless of their economic status. Said another way, I think she would treat all people and neighborhoods fairly. Mealer has integrity.
November 8th – Your Last Chance
Tomorrow is your last chance to make a change if you want one. If you’re happy with having the deepest flooding in Harris County and seeing flood-mitigation funding go elsewhere, then by all means, vote for Hidalgo. If you’re happy with soaring crime and revolving-door jails, vote for Hidalgo. But if you want to change that, vote for Mealer.
Please forward this link to all of your friends, neighbors and family members…and VOTE! Remember, tomorrow is your last chance for change.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/7/22
1896 Days since Hurricane Harvey