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What if it were Ed?

The question to ask yourself in reading this story about Republicans bitching and moaning about Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is “How different would things actually be if Ed Emmett were still County Judge?”

Judge Lina Hidalgo

By the time Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo ordered residents to cover their faces in public April 22, Dallas, Bexar and Travis counties already had issued similar measures intended to blunt the spread of the novel coronavirus. Laredo’s mask rule, already 17 days old, also carried a potential $1,000 fine.

Only Hidalgo’s order drew the ire of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

He blasted the rules as an abuse of Hidalgo’s authority. U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, another Republican, said potential fines of up to $1,000 for violators would lead to government tyranny. The Harris County Republican Party and business coalitions decried the order.

Gov. Greg Abbott struck down the punishments on Monday, hours after Harris County’s order went into effect.

Much like the widening national political divide over how government should manage the pandemic, criticism of the county’s response falls along familiar partisan lines. Hidalgo has sparred with Republicans — and sometimes other Democrats — over releasing inmates from the county jail, closing businesses and requiring masks in public.

The clashes often are proxy battles over Hidalgo’s vision for the county she has pushed since taking office last year, when Democrats took control of Commissioners Court for the first time in a generation.

“More or less, they’re the same fights, but magnified because of the political implications for where the state is going to go in the future,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston.


Some of the critiques lobbed at Hidalgo focus on her youth, ethnicity and gender. She often asserts herself in these situations — whether a public speaker refers to her as a girl or, as Commissioner Steve Radack has called her, “young lady” — but otherwise moves on.

Most of the criticism is not identity-based, however. Many conservatives fundamentally disagree with her expansive view of government, willingness to raise taxes and dipping into the county’s historically high cash reserves.

The two Republican county commissioners, Radack and Jack Cagle, have accused Hidalgo of ignoring her promises of transparency, failing to seriously solicit their counsel and only seeking the advice of experts who are inclined to agree with her. Commissioner Rodney Ellis, formerly the only Democrat on the court, chalked his colleagues’ complaints up to unfamiliarity with serving in the minority.

The complaints extend to her handling of the pandemic. Houston City Councilman Greg Travis, who opposed closing the rodeo and the stay-at-home order, said Hidalgo did not properly consider the economic damage the restrictions would bring.

“It’s up to leaders to listen to experts in various fields and to try to chart a course that is best,” Travis said. “We put 350,000 people out of work.”

He cited Hidalgo’s mask order, which he said was foolish because police had little capacity to enforce it, as a misstep attributable to her inexperience. Travis said if masks were so important, Hidalgo should have required them a month earlier, along with closing down public transit.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. I cannot take seriously anyone who thinks Judge Hidalgo should not have shut down the Rodeo – she herself thinks maybe she should have acted more quickly to shut it down – and the rest is petty nitpicking from the peanut gallery. CM Travis’ press release that criticized the Rodeo shutdown is one of those things that is Not Going To Age Well. And really, does anyone believe Ed Emmett wouldn’t have done the same thing, perhaps a bit later, perhaps even a bit sooner? We’ve wasted enough time on this.

As for the Commissioners Court complaints, Rodney Ellis is 100% right. Republicans had forty-some years in the majority. Steve Radack got to build a soap box derby park in Hockley as lord and master of his little fiefdom because he could. The county is a different place now, and they are all cordially invited to sit down and suck it up.

Finally, in regard to Dan Patrick and the rest of the nattering nabobs, again I ask what if anything do you think Ed Emmett would have done differently? Remember, Montgomery County and its extremely Trump-friendly County Judge issued a shutdown order on March 27, a mere four days after the Harris County order was issued. Harris County was a day or two behind the likes of Dallas and Bexar and Travis. The specifics of various county shutdown orders – and remember, it was counties doing this because Greg Abbott was too timid to do the potentially unpopular thing of closing businesses and schools – varied a bit from one to the other, but they were broadly the same. Restrictions on churches were controversial around the state, but only Harris County has the Steven Hotze death squad, while no one particularly cared about face mask orders until Lina Hidalgo issued one.

My point is, she’s done the things that county judges have done, more or less at the same time and in the same way as other county judges have done. But she’s young, she’s Latina, she’s bilingual, she’s not been cowed by swaggering dinosaurs like Steve Radack, and worst of all, she’s a Democrat who beat the one Republican everyone thought would survive the 2018 blue wave. (Did I mention that Dan Patrick lost Harris County by a 56-42 margin in 2018? Harris County doesn’t care what you think, Dan.) Especially for a bunch of self-styled alpha males, the level of whining these guys generate is truly impressive.

I should note, by the way, that if Ed Emmett were still County Judge he’s likely have had some rhetorical rocks thrown at him as well, in large part because the Dan Patrick faction thinks he’s a RINO squish. I just don’t think anyone would be comparing him to a children’s cartoon character. You tell me what that says about the critics and their criticisms.

Might a Democrat challenge her in 2022? Anything is possible, and as we saw this year, nobody is likely to get a free pass. Hidalgo has not been a huge fundraiser, but she’s done all right and she has time to step it up. The questions I would ask are 1) what issue that is likely to resonate with the typical Democratic primary voter would such a candidate champion, and 2) what kind of establishment support would such a candidate be likely to get? The 2022 primary will not be as big as the 2020 primary was, but if there are some compelling candidates for the top statewide offices, it will get decent turnout. For what it’s worth, from my vantage point as Democratic precinct chair, I’ve not heard much in the way of complaint about Judge Hidalgo’s performance – quite the opposite, in fact – nor am I aware of any potential candidates out there shaking the trees. Obviously, it’s ridiculously early, we’re in a moment where basically nobody is campaigning for anything, and there’s still plenty of time for things to happen. I’m just saying, if the bulk of the complaining about Hidalgo is being done by Republicans, I don’t see how that hurts her any in the next Democratic primary.

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  1. I am not taking up for the Harris County Republican Party not by any means. I can’t tell you how many times I have taken their slates and voted against them. Ed Emmitt could have won if he would have campaigned. He didn’t even have people at the polls. He didn’t want the position any longer. My prediction/opinion I don’t have any personal knowledge of the things I am about to type. It is just a guess on my part….Mayor Parker runs for County Judge and Rodney “art collector” Ellis’s days are numbered.

  2. Bill Daniels says:


    I believe I agree with you here, partly. Given Ed Emmett’s unhealthy fixation with saving the Astrodome, damn the cost, damn the torpedoes, I believe he probably also would have disregarded the will of the people and issued a similar diktat to the one Lina issued. Because toward the end, Emmett became tone deaf, became removed from what he was actually running. I’m thinking Paul has a good theory. Maybe Emmett was just burned out, and started just phoning it in.

    Where I disagree is, I think Emmett, having issued such an economy killing neutron bomb, would be equally vilified as Lina for his action. I’m not sure what kind of cartoon character Ed Emmett would be, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t get saddled with his own cartoon moniker.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    For what it’s worth, and for those who don’t know, Trump supporters often depict Vice President Pence as Race Bannon, the cartoon character from the old Johnny Quest cartoon. Associating politicians with cartoon characters isn’t new.

  4. Bill,

    I agree. Also LOL “Race Bannon”. By the way I would have cancelled the rodeo.

  5. Mainstream says:

    I think Emmett had a respected track record of success dealing with prior storms, and a gravitas which Hidalgo lacks. I doubt he would have issued as many edicts, and think he would have been a superior communicator to explain why masks work, exactly what he meant by social distancing, etc. Patrick and others might have sniped at him, but he would have held his own.

  6. Also agree with Mainstream.

  7. C.L. says:

    I’d like to know where Greg Travis got his ‘350,000 people out of work’ (at the HLS&R) figure. Anyone ?

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    + 1, agree with Mainstream.

  9. Jason Hochman says:

    Emmett had to go after he was hailed as a genius for spending millions of dollars on the jury assembly building, which was underground. It lasted for about 5 years before Harvey ruined it. What a waste. I spend 20 dollars on something and I expect it to last a lifetime. The county spends millions on something and it lasts 5 or 6 years.

  10. CatHair says:

    Pence as Race Bannon. LOL.

  11. Jason Hochman says:

    I’ve been waiting for this blog to post about the city may furlough all workers, except police and fire, according to Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin. This is due to the budget shortfall.

  12. The city will furlough all workers except emergency responders. It has not sunk in yet because it happened so suddenly but we are in the second Great Depression.

  13. Jason,

    I agree. Why does anyone build anything underground here in the City of Houston? Its the Bayou City for goodness sake.

  14. Jen says:

    Re: Mainstream comment- “gravitas which Hidalgo lacks” means ‘is an old white guy’, and “would have been a superior communicator” means ‘I might have actually listened to explanations from an old white guy’. Judge Hidalgo is enduring plenty of unjustified sniping from the right, and is holding her own. I am a Democrat, Harris County is majority Democrat, and I am quite pleased with her performance…and her gravitas.

  15. brad says:

    I agree with the secret white supremacists above.

    Emmett would have more gravitas in this situation since he isn’t a Latina.

  16. Jules says:

    Jen, exactly!

  17. Mainstream says:

    Jen, and entourage: I am offended by your knee jerk response, but it’s a free country. I guess I am not allowed to disagree with or criticize anyone female, Hispanic, inexperienced, etc. based upon the substance of their actions.

  18. Jules says:

    Mainstream, your offense is duly noted but you basically said Emmett is better than Hidalgo because he’s an old white guy and she’s not. Not sure why reacting to exactly what you said offends you so, maybe you should take your nonsense elsewhere.

  19. Manny says:

    I agree with brad and Jules, the people that come here 11 years ago were protesting the election of a black man as president. They cover themselves in flags, but at the end of the day what they are telling us is that, Black people and Brown people need to remember their place in this society.

  20. Bob Jones says:

    The problem is she just wasted 17 million dollars making a bad decision with taxpayer dollars. 17 millions bucks just down the crapper. 17 million. Well, I guess we citizen-taxpayers just chalk that up to inexperience and learning. The problem is that county judge should not be an elected position. It requires degrees in economics, urban planning, political science, fluid dynamics.

    Secondarily, wasn’t she hired to fix flooding? Can she do two things at once? I was not happy with Ed and Lina is just doing another terrible job, except now her incompetence is actually racking up the body count.

  21. Manny says:

    $150 million to go golfing in less than 3 years, you must really be pissed at Trump, Bob Jones.

    As to her incompetence about body counts, only goes to prove that you are one of those Trump loving Republicans that are responsible for the nearly 80,000 deaths of Americans.

    Blame the idiot that you voted for for the body counts, but he is white, he is old, he has lots of business experience. White men can make all the mistakes they can, but people like you Bob Jones will always excuse their mistakes.