Harris County Commissioners Court today appointed Republican businessman Leo Vasquez to fill the vacancy left by resigning tax assessor-collector Paul Bettencourt.
Vasquez said he first will focus on customer service and efficiency and plans to meet with each department and with community stakeholders during his first 100 days in office.
He said he has enjoyed working behind-the-scenes in Republican politics and is looking forward to the opportunity to "see if I could do some more to help improve efficient government, smaller government and better government for Harris County."
I don't know what else there is to say about Leo Vasquez except that I hope he's an improvement over Paul Bettencourt - the alternative is too hideous to contemplate - and that I hope he gets a serious challenger in 2010. I predict he'll get a Republican challenge for the 2010 primary, as that seems to be the norm for the appointed replacements like him - Ed Emmett, Theresa Chang, and all three judges filling unexpired seats drew competition this past March. He'll probably survive, unlike Willie Alexander, but you never know.
And at long last, we can now be told what the greener pastures Bettencourt sought out really were:
Bettencourt said Tuesday he is leaving the county to open a property tax consulting firm in southeast Texas.
"I'm going to do my passion in life which is to run a mid-size start-up and help people save some money on their expenses for next year," he said as he bid farewell to the court on Tuesday.
UPDATE: Here's the updated story.
Commissioners Court voted 4-1 to appoint Vasquez to fill the first two years of Bettencourt's four-year term. He said he plans to run for the seat in 2010, when a special election will be held for the remainder of the term.
Democratic Commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia first nominated Diane Trautman, Bettencourt's opponent in the November election, saying half a million voters wanted to see her take the job. All three Republican court members voted against her appointment without comment.
Lee said he voted against Vasquez's appointment because he had not met him.
"I can't vote on somebody I haven't met," he said.
While Bettencourt used the office to champion conservative causes, earning scorn from the left and accusations that he let politics bleed into his duties as the county's voter registrar, Vasquez said he expects the office to take on a different tenor under his administration.
He said he eventually may speak out on some political issues, such as appraisal caps. And he hopes to be an ambassador for the Republican Party in the Hispanic community and an ambassador for Hispanics in the Republican community.
But for now, at least, he said his main focus will be on meeting with employees and constituents to craft a strategic plan for making the office even more user-friendly and efficient.
"The politics will come in due time, but let's focus on efficiency at the office," he said.
He said he would try to make voter registration a year-round effort, not just a last-second push shortly before an election. For example, he proposed requiring all county employees to ask people submitting address changes if they also have updated their voter registration.
"I believe that the tax assessor-collector's duties and operations are truly a nonpartisan issue," he said. "It affects everyone in Harris County. Not just Republicans. Not just Democrats."