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Larry Veselka: The Chron got it wrong in the County Judge endorsement

Judge Lina Hidalgo

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

A couple of weeks ago the Chronicle Editorial Board endorsed Judge Hidalgo’s opponent in a schizophrenic editorial that any objective reader who read it without seeing the headline first would have thought was an endorsement for reelecting Judge Hidalgo. Harris County voters should take it substantively as one.

The editorial praised Judge Hidalgo, in many ways, e.g.:

-appreciating her “dynamic mix of wonkishness and progressive optimism” and her being an ‘inspiration to many”

-saying “if given the choice, we’d rather live in Hidalgo’s vision of Harris County, where government is inclusive, transparent and ethical, policy isn’t tainted by politics, the air is cleaner, the streets are safer, more children can attend pre-K, and climate change is treated with the urgency it deserves”

-“Hidalgo has made good on her promises, including fairness in distributing Harvey funding on a ‘worst-first’ basis and investments in badly needed air monitors in polluted neighborhoods and early childhood education”

– acknowledging, but unduly faintly in only one sentence, her courageous, tenacious, yet gracious leadership in fighting COVID in a way that probably saved thousands, if not more than ten thousand lives of local citizens;

– her handling of disasters, including Winter Storm Uri with “poise and a clear head”

– “it’s true that [Hidalgo] boasts a proposed budget that that would have increased funding for law enforcement… she never tried to ‘defund’ police… her plan would boost law enforcement funding $97 million more than the previous fiscal year, including pay raises for some ‘frontline deputies.”

So what did they see that was so wonderful about her opponent that swayed their opinion when they said this about her:

– She “can come off as combative, talking over others” and interrupting them;

– The board initially backed someone else in the Republican primary, “citing her lack of experience in governing”

– Asking whether “voters should trust an un-tested first-time candidate” without even mentioning that she was recruited to run by Ted Cruz and his wife;

– Her primary promise of “hiring 1,000 new law enforcement officers…is simplistic at this point” acknowledging how dubious such a promise is in light of the tight County budget;

– Her position in the primary opposing the reform of the misdemeanor bail system and incorrectly blaming that reform for the supposed “spike in violent crime” … “would be a deal-breaker for [the Board]” but they will now rely on her saying that she has changed her position, (will you?);

– “her understanding of the system may be incomplete and in some cases even flawed”

– She admitted that prosecuting polluters is “not first and foremost to her” and she does not think the County should address climate change, which the Board characterized as “grating in a low-lying coastal community baking in industrial emissions.”

The editorial claims that the Board was swayed by Judge Hidalgo’s supposed “failure to respond with urgency to Harris County’s crime wave,” citing as the critical factor the backlog in the Courts, while simultaneously acknowledging that Judge Hidalgo “didn’t cause the backlog … has no control over courtroom decisions on bail … [and] isn’t to blame for the provision in the Texas Constitution that guarantees virtually every defendant, even those with violent criminal records, an initial right to bail.”

The editorial went on to acknowledge that:

– “Harris County is far from the most dangerous place in the country, as Republican hyperbole would have it;

– “Mercifully, violent crime is currently declining and even at its peak, criminologists ranked Houston’s murder rate in the middle of the pack among major cities. Last year’s rate in unincorporated Harris County stayed flat….”

– The “felony backlog is down 23% since January.”

So why would the Board’s ultimate conclusion be in such stark contrast to most of its arguments?

The disconnect smacks of a lack of journalistic integrity. Did the Chronicle’s management override the independence of the Editorial Board, strong-arming the Board into backing down from its true position? The fact that the “News” department ran three front page stories about Judge Hidalgo’s opponent immediately after the endorsement evidences support for the conclusion that the lines between departments were blurred, an unforgiveable breach in journalistic ethics.

The Republicans hatched a plan for the midterms to over-hype an increase in crime coming out of two tough years under pandemic lockdowns and layoffs. Even though the Chronicle admits that violent crime has leveled off or dropped some this year, the Republicans needed something to scare people into voting Republican. This became more important once the decision overturning Roe v. Wade this summer kicked off a surge of renewed enthusiasm by
supporters of reproductive rights to register and drive supporters to the polls. Right-wing multi-millionaires and billionaires opposed to the County’s efforts to prevent flooding and pollution, some contributing as much as $350,000 to $400,000 each, began showering Judge Hidalgo’s opponent with millions of dollars of contributions to pay for deceitful attack ads against Judge Hidalgo. They knew that she could not match the millions flowing in, because Judge Hidalgo pledged in 2018 not to accept any contributions from the County’s vendors. In other words, she lived up to her campaign promise to do what all campaigns should do, but none other do, end “Pay-for-Play” politics. The Republican contributors knew that and knew, if County Judge Hidalgo were reelected with the 10 point lead she had earned over the last 3 1⁄2 years, it would mean the Republican state leaders that have carried so much water for them, and have been so bad for the majority of working people of Texas, could be in trouble. So they had to deliver the hits on Judge Hidalgo’s deserved popularity by funding a massive barrage of misleading arguments in favor of a flawed opponent.

The myriad issues confronting Harris County right now require keeping Judge Hidalgo’s steady hands on the wheel. It would be truly unconscionable for the Chronicle’s flawed endorsement and the millions of dollars in deceitful attack ads to wrest her hands away merely to turn it over to an inexperienced right-winger beholden to Trump, Cruz, and the multimillionaire and billionaire classes. Our democracy and our Constitutional rights are at stake. Embrace the wisdom expressed in the editorial while rejecting its inconsistent conclusion by voting to re-elect County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Larry R. Veselka is a Houston lawyer and former County Chair for the Democratic Party who has been active in politics for 50 years.

NOTE FROM CHARLES: I’m just going to put this here:

A question that maybe the Chron editorial board should have asked themselves.

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22 Comments

  1. Manny says:

    What an excellent way of saying that the Chronicle is a whore willing to endorse or report what their puppet masters demand of them.

    I tried hard to support the local newspaper, but their endorsement and jump in price were too much to stomach. We may do better without the Chronicle as a local newspaper.

  2. C.L. says:

    Mattress Mac, who appears to have a gambling addiction, and who is certainly no stranger to endorsing political candidates (John Culberson, Bill King, George P. Bush, and now Crazy Eyes Mealer), may have crossed a bridge too far this go round. I’ve never purchased any furniture from him in the past, but his shifty set of commercials where he touts the Manchurian Candidate as the Second Coming of Christ in Houston will seal his fate as far as me ever patronizing his Vegas-esque furniture emporium going forward.

    As far as the Houston Comical goes, I had forgotten Houston even had a viable/respected print/online news source.

  3. Jonathan Freeman says:

    The Chronicle endorsement means little to me or any other faithful Democrat given their support based on factors other than quality of governance. On the donor list issue, do we have a list of county vendors donating to Mealer or a list of potential vendors because few of these stand out as particularly problematic on first glance. Maybe someone more in the know could outline what any of these donors hopes to get in return?

  4. HL Smith says:

    I’ve always depended on the Chron for fair coverage of news and especially of candidates for upcoming elections. So I was very understandably confused with the County Judge recommendation of Mealer without a convincing argument supporting the recommendation. The comments by My Velseka now make sense to me on the why of the Chron endorsement.
    Lisa Falkenberg, VP Editor of Opinion, what say you? Did your department cave as it certainly looks? Is there integrity left in the Chron? Please convince me. Thanks from a 40 year Chron subscriber.

  5. C.L. says:

    @Jonathan…. David Modesett, second on the list, is a President of Vega Energy – what dog he has in what fight on a Harris County Judge level is a mystery to me.

  6. Jonathan Freeman says:

    CL, other than he lives in Houston, even a quick check doesn’t show any obvious reason. He has donated to candidates or PACs on both sides but that is part of what I am asking. I’ve seen the ads claiming large donations are an effort in buying county contracts or influence but few of these donors appears ready to financially benefit themselves or their companies. Questionable donations aren’t going to alter who I vote for but people who make these assertions should at least offer us some rudimentary connection if they are going to imply influence pedaling. I can’t say political donations to a favored candidate would alter my desire to do business with someone either for that matter.

  7. Manny says:

    Giving large amounts of money is influence peddling.

    Certainly, ads stating that large contributions are influence peddling are much closer to the truth than Hidalgo has anything to do with crime going up or down.

  8. C.L. says:

    Knowing McIngvales penchant for gambling and the odd amount donated, the donation may have more to do with taxable income considerations and burden reduction as I can’t see a direct connect.

  9. Jonathan Freeman says:

    CL, lacking something stronger than our speculation, it’s making me wonder even more about any possible connection. McIngvale doesn’t seem to lack for tax write-offs and he was her first big name supporter long before the primaries. Today’s piece on donations shed no light whatsoever either so we may not ever find out.

  10. Manny says:

    Freeman, why do you think people give large amounts of money to campaigns? They can’t write off campaign contributions.

    While there may be exceptions, the usual motive for giving large amounts of money is to influence someone, not necessarily the one that will get the campaign contribution.

    Koch Industries does it for what reasons? Think you could figure that out, Freeman?

    The gambling addict has his reasons. No different than buying tickets for a boy who wants to go to an Astro game or, if you prefer, the Pillow Man.

  11. C.L. says:

    Manny, please expound on what you believe Mattress Mac will get out of Mealer should she win. Try to limit your response to actual items she could deliver.

  12. Jonathan Freeman says:

    Manny, as I do not believe such donations are tax deductible, the first thing that comes to mind when no obvious connection can be made is ego. Donating lots to a governor, a senator, or a congressman offers a lot of potential for influence. Donating to a county judge by someone with no ties to the county is not as readily apparent. If the remaining Koch brother donated to one of the candidates, I hadn’t heard but what would he directly gain from it?

    What does the Netflix owners wife get from donating to the current county judge? If you think these are unfair questions for both candidates I’d like to know why or even your belief what any of them get from helping elect someone that can’t help them in return. Maybe Charles Koch considers a million dollars the same as one of us considers a twenty but if we’re going to insinuate a donation buys influence, shouldn’t we have some idea what influence they think they are buying?

  13. J says:

    The I45 expansion would wipe Gallery Furniture off the map, along with many other homes and businesses. Mattress Mack has hosted press conferences against it at his store.

    Democrats have been opposed to the expansion, but they don’t have any political power over TxDOT. If you were a gambler, wouldn’t you bet on a candidate from the party in power that would make sure your furniture stored was spared?

  14. Manny says:

    JR and CL, you all must have missed the;

    “While there may be exceptions, the usual motive for giving large amounts of money is to influence someone, not necessarily the one that will get the campaign contribution.”

    They could have easily given to a PAC where their names would not have shown up, and having donated to an R.

    I have no idea what they may get from the county, but they expect “something” in return, even if it is the belief that contributing to the party that promotes hate will get them to heaven.

  15. Sue says:

    It could be as simple as Jim Mcingvale just loves this city and the county which he calls home. He has given back a lot to this community over the years. He’s a very generous man. Lina Hidalgo has more than a few ethical problems of her own.

  16. Manny says:

    Sue, it could be he hates Democrats and finds that the rhetoric of the Rs matches his true thoughts about certain people. Could be?

  17. Frederick says:

    Was McIngvale as vocal about crime concerns when he was personally supporting the hard core drug trade, which we know is the major cause of crime?

  18. Manny says:

    Frederick, I promised myself that no one with an R in front of their name would ever get my vote. I am baffled by the compulsive gambler supporting hard core drug trade.

  19. Alva says:

    Newspapers should not be endorsing candidates. They should simply put them side by side with their positions on issues that are critical to the community. The Chron has endorsed questionable candidates on flimsy rationale in the past. The endorsements don’t affect my vote, not from the Chron or any other organization or person.

  20. J says:

    Mattress Mac is an intensively conservative Catholic. He may well think that the County Judge could have some influence over abortion prosecutions in Harris County. In any case he is hoping to gain access in order to inject more Church doctrine into government, which is a goal of many ultra wealthy religious conservatives. The current conservative Supreme Court majority was specifically selected because of their openness to allowing more religious control of the legal system, government and our daily lives. This control is already here with the Dobbs decision and sadly, much more to come.

  21. J says:

    In case my previous comment was unclear, allow me to clarify that Mattress Mac is an anti-abortion zealot who has used his wealth and influence to deprive millions of Texas women of their rights to privacy and autonomy. So regardless of his charitable works this is a man who has worked very diligently and successfully to rob women of their rights and so is not a nice guy.

  22. […] WHY HIDALGO’S OPPONENTS ARE BEATING HER: Right-wing multi-millionaires and billionaires opposed to the County’s efforts to prevent flooding and pollution, some contributing as much as $350,000 to $400,000 each, began showering Judge Hidalgo’s opponent with millions of dollars of contributions to pay for deceitful attack ads against Judge Hidalgo. They knew that she could not match the millions flowing in, because Judge Hidalgo pledged in 2018 not to accept any contributions from the County’s vendors. In other words, she lived up to her campaign promise to do what all campaigns should do, but none other do, end “Pay-for-Play” politics. “ […]