ELECTION Q&A: Harris County judge candidates present views on local issues

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Three candidates are running for Harris County judge this November. Community Impact Newspaper asked candidates for their thoughts on flood control, traffic and challenges facing the precinct.

Ed Emmett
Party affiliation: Republican

Occupation: Harris County judge
Experience:
Texas House of Representatives (1979-1987), commissioner, Interstate Commerce Commission (1989-1992); Harris County judge (2007-present), CEO of several transportation policy organizations prior to 2007

Top priorities:
emergency management, flood mitigation, mental health initiatives, juvenile justice, mobility, government efficiency

Contact information:
832-474-9608
www.edemmett.com

1. What do you see as the most critical project or initiative to prevent future flooding in the county?
Resilience is top priority. The most important project is really a lot of projects. We must complete the projects listed in the flood bond as soon as possible.

2. Aside from flooding, what is the biggest challenge facing the precinct? How would you address that challenge?
Harris County is unique in the nation. Almost 2 million people live in unincorporated Harris County. If unincorporated Harris County was a city, it would be the fifth-largest city in the United States. We must have an improved system of urban governance for Harris County that will allow more ordinances, more cooperation with the city of Houston and relieve the burden on property taxpayers.

3. How should the county address increasing traffic on roads with its limited revenue sources?
The Harris County toll road system will continue to provide mobility along the Beltway, Hardy and Westpark. However, the commissioners will continue to be challenged in meeting the increased mobility needs on county roads. That is a major reason for needing an improved system of urban governance that does not rely upon property tax. Harris County must work with the Legislature for reform.

Lina Hidalgo
Party affiliation: Democrat

Occupation:
campaigning; previously seeking master’s degree at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, worked as an advocate

Experience: working with vulnerable populations as an advocate in criminal justice reform, health care access and other issues; managing people and budgets
Top priorities: flood control, criminal justice reform, transparency, health care access, transportation
Contact information:
lina@linahidalgo.com
www.linahidalgo.com

1. What do you see as the most critical project or initiative to prevent future flooding in the precinct?
Instead of building a wall along the border, we need a coastal barrier to protect our industry on Galveston Bay. After [Hurricane] Ike, we had $5 billion in losses and environmental costs, and we have to make that a priority. We need to stop making the problem worse; the county has not enforced drainage regulation so people got away with building inside the flood plain. It has to be a completely new vision of how we deal with flooding.

2. Aside from flooding, what is the biggest challenge facing the precinct? How would you address that challenge?
Transparency, because no one knows what the county judge is or does, and you can’t hold government accountable if you don’t know what government is. We need to have town halls—not just when there’s an election; we need to make sure that they know this position controls property taxes, whether they have mental health access, whether their roads are safe, if they have public transportation. We must make Commissioners Court transparent, accessible … we need to streamline agencies, so people knowing where their top dollars are going and hold government accountable so people can do their job. We must also overhaul the criminal justice system; it is wasteful and it is not smart; we are spending millions keeping people in jail who don’t need to be there.

3. How should the county address increasing traffic on roads with its limited revenue sources?
We need to do public transportation. We’re the last community without a transportation system, and we have to focus on that, so instead of building roads that encourage development in places where we know we should not be building, we have to work with METRO*, we have to reshuffle our priorities and so that we don’t have hundreds of people dying every year … so that people have an alternative. We have to be proactive instead of responding to things when there is a body count.

* Note: METRO stands for Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County

Eric Gatlin
Party affiliation: Libertarian


Gatlin did not respond to profile questions before press time.

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Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of the paper in March 2017.
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