Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, defeated in re-election bid, talks accomplishments and expectations

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Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has served in that office since January 2007, will preside over two more meetings of Commissioners Court before Judge-elect Lina Hidalgo takes over in January.

Hidalgo, a political newcomer and a Democrat, defeated Emmett, a Republican, on Nov. 6, according to unofficial Harris County election results. The judge is the top administrative position in the county.

Emmett took questions from reporters after the Nov. 13 Commissioners Court meeting about the election and his time in office. He attributed his loss to Democratic straight-ticket voting in the Nov. 6 election. Incumbent Republican commissioner for Precinct 2, Jack Morman, also narrowly lost his re-election bid, giving the court a Democratic majority in 2019.

“I’ve said it over and over, you have straight-ticket voting where 77 percent of the people vote straight ticket, and the margin of Democrats over Republicans is 105,000, and the county judge position is buried way down in the middle of the ballot,” Emmett said. “I made up 87,000 of them [votes]…it just wasn’t enough. There aren’t enough non-straight-ticket voters out there to make up the difference.”

He said he has confidence in the new administration, but Harris County has unique challenges.

“We have almost 2 million people who live in unincorporated Harris County and nobody else has anything like that,” he said. “Sooner or later the state, county and city have got to figure out how do you make an urban area work that is not incorporated [and]that only gets property tax? It’s not a sustainable system, so anything I can do to help that, no matter who’s in office, I’m going to continue to do that.”

Emmett also said he hopes that the next administration does not significantly alter the operations of the Office of Emergency Management, which was instrumental in disaster response such as that after Hurricane Harvey last year.

“The Office of Emergency Management is so critical, and it works very well,” Emmett said. “Leave it doing what it’s doing, because it’s recogniz[ed]worldwide as one of the best. I don’t see any reason why she wouldn’t do that.”

Emmett said he has no immediate plans to resume public life, but he will consider options in the future.

“I had a life before I became county judge,” he said. “As I’ve told many people, I didn’t die. People…were posting things to Facebook on one of my daughter’s pages, ‘Your father was a great man, we’ll miss him,’ and I’m going, wait a minute, I’m still here … We’ll see what the future holds.”

He said he is most proud of the mental health initiatives he helped to launch in the county as well as the development of the Office of Emergency Management.

“We got legislation passed … We now have a jail diversion center for people who have mental health issues. Rather than being arrested and put through the criminal justice system, now they’re going to get the help they need. That’s a lasting legacy,” he said.

Emmett said he also expects the planned Astrodome renovations that started under his administration to proceed.

“We’ve had decisions been made, engineering has been done, construction is ready to start,” he said.

The next two Commissioners Court meetings at 1001 Preston St., Houston, will be held Dec. 4 and Dec. 18. The first meeting of the new year will be held Jan. 8, according to the county website.

“I want it to be a smooth transition, I don’t want to stand in the way,” Emmett said. “And on Jan. 1, I won’t be here.”

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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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