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Endorsement watch: Commissioners Court and Treasurer

The Chron makes another obvious call and endorses Commissioner Adrian Garcia in Precinct 2.

Adrian Garcia

Among the frequent criticisms we hear about Harris County Commissioners Court is that it’s an opaque repository for political insiders, an entity with limited authority beyond building and maintaining roads, shepherding flood control projects, and rubber-stamping budgets.

When Democrat Adrian Garcia challenged Republican incumbent Jack Morman in 2018 for Precinct 2 commissioner, he set out to break that mold. Garcia, 61, a former Houston police officer, city councilman and Harris County sheriff ran as an advocate for criminal justice reform, environmental justice, and for people without health insurance. He pledged to direct resources to long-neglected neighborhoods in his district, which spans eastern Harris County, North Houston and leafy suburbs such as Friendswood.

As commissioner, Garcia has fulfilled many of those promises and deserves a chance to defend his seat this fall against Morman, who wants it back.

While Republican county commissioners attempt to undo the county’s existing misdemeanor bail reform agreement, Garcia has been a steadfast advocate of staying the course on bail reform since signing on to a consent decree to settle the Harris County litigation in 2019. In a precinct where some county residents are 56 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, Garcia secured funding for air quality monitors. Garcia partnered with the Baylor College of Medicine to bring SmartPods — a one-stop shop for health care services, including clinic spaces, pharmacies and biosafety labs — to medically under-served residents in Pasadena and Aldine. He was the driving force behind bringing a $7.6 million park to Northeast Harris County for children and adults with disabilities, an all-inclusive jewel for an area desperate for green space.

“I have been working tirelessly on all fronts to address all the things that I campaigned on and that my constituents have focused on,” Garcia told the editorial board.

I advocated for Garcia to be the Democratic challenger to Morman in 2018, and I have been happy with him in office. The Chron gripes about a couple of things, including his support of the new map for Commissioners Court, to which I say that setting a good example has gotten Democrats exactly nothing these past few years. If the Republicans in the Legislature and the US Senate want to do something about redistricting, we’re all ears. Until then, I see no point in unilaterally disarming. If I were in Precinct 2, I’d be delighted to cast my vote for Commissioner Garcia. I did not do interviews in this race, but I did interview him in 2018, and you can listen to that here.

Over in Precinct 4, it was a much tougher choice, for which the Chron landed on Lesley Briones.

Lesley Briones

The Democrats running for Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner make a far stronger field than in previous years. And there’s a reason for that: The Democratic majority on the current Commissioners Court significantly altered the precinct and gave it more blue voters, to the potential detriment of incumbent Republican Jack Cagle.

Democrats in the new Precinct 4 — which encompasses much of western Harris County and some territory inside Loop 610 — have a tough choice in a race that’s drawn several impressive candidates.

We settled on Harris County Court at Law Judge Lesley Briones, 41.

The Laredo native graduated from Yale Law School, and then practiced law at Vinson & Elkins LLP before working as general counsel and chief operating officer of the Arnold Foundation. Beginning in 2019, Briones served as a civil court judge before resigning to run for commissioner.

She’s been endorsed by several local elected officials and several groups including the Texas Gulf Coast AFL-CIO and Harris County Young Democrats, and has raised more than $339,000.

Among her ideas, Briones said she’d create a response team that residents could call for ditch maintenance, similar to programs set up for potholes. She’d prioritize constituent services and bird-dog already-funded flood bond projects to make sure they get completed.

[…]

Along with Briones, two other candidates stood out: former Texas Rep. Gina Calanni and Ben Chou. All three offered concise, detailed platforms and plans.

Calanni, 48, is a battle-tested former representative in House District 132. We endorsed her in 2018 and again in 2020. She’s an accomplished legislator, despite only serving one term: she authored or co-authored 11 bills that became law in the 2019 session. She rejected the notion that Commissioners Court ought to stick to the basics such as transportation and flooding, suggesting she’d continue the current practice of Democrats on the court of delving into divisive social issues such as abortion.

On healthcare, Calanni has an intriguing incentive plan for mothers on Medicaid, and we liked her pledge to to hold regular town halls in all the precinct’s neighborhoods.

Other priorities she mentioned, such as combating the school-to-prison pipeline, are important issues, but this is a time for anti-crime initiatives that can show more immediate results.

Ben Chou, 31, graduated from Rice and then worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. A former Harris County clerk employee, he touted an instrumental role in the now-banned drive-thru voting program that contributed to record turnout. Chou is sharp and knowledgable. He said he’ll guarantee fixes within 72 hours on reports of road debris and potholes and commits to attend or have a staff member at every super neighborhood meeting in the precinct.

Most impressive was his commitment to ethics. He was the only candidate to pledge not to take financial contributions from county vendors, as all four of the current commissioners do. “Disclosure, I think, is not enough. We’ve got to end the pay-to-play culture in Harris County,” he said. We agree.

I interviewed five of the seven Dems running in this race:

Lesley Briones
Ben Chou
Ann Williams
Gina Calanni
Clarence Miller

The first four listed there are the top candidates in my view, and I don’t envy anyone the decision. We’ll see who makes it to the runoff.

Finally the Chron endorsed incumbent Treasurer Dylan Osborne.

Dylan Osborne

The job of county treasurer is a bit like being a sports official in one respect: they’re usually invisible unless they mess up.

The treasurer’s basic duties are to cut checks for the county, balance its checkbook and account for funds in designated accounts. The office moved about $20 billion in 2021. Incumbent Dylan Osborne has tried since 2018 to increase the 12-person office’s visibility — without any big mistakes. He participated in the November 2020 Protect the Results rally, making the shouldn’t-be-controversial argument that vote counting and transfers of power needn’t be partisan. He also led the office to partner with Unity National Bank, one of the few Black-owned financial institutions in Texas.

He wants to work with some local schools to build programs for financial literacy training, and pitch to Harris County Commissioners Court a plan to help residents combat financial struggles.

“I run an efficient, tight ship, and we’re working hard to make this office an asset to the community,” Osborne told us.

My interview with Dylan Osborne is here and with his opponent Carla Wyatt, about whom the Chron was complimentary, is here. The Treasurer’s office doesn’t get in the news much, and that was one of the things I asked him about – basically, what have you been doing all this time? He had some good answers, so give that a listen if you haven’t. I agree with the Chron’s assessment that while Wyatt would make a fine Treasurer, Osborne has done a good job and has earned the chance to do it for another term.

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