Editorial note: This is the fifth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <email@example.com>.
David Collins, Green candidate for Harris County Judge
Texpatriate: What is your name?
DC: David B. Collins
T: What office are you seeking?
DC: Harris County Judge
T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
T: What is your political party?
DC: Green Party of Texas.
T: What do you think the role of the County Judge should be?
DC: The role depends greatly on the size and character of the county. In Harris County, the Judge should hear the reports of Commissioners and their staffs on the needs of each precinct, assess those needs in light of county resources, and evaluate proposed solutions to meet those needs. I would prefer that the County Judge vote in Commissioners Court sessions only as a tie-breaker. One part the County Judge should notplay is greasing the skids for real estate developers, which is something Harris County Judges have done for longer than I can remember.
T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
DC: Since Democratic candidate Ahmad Hassan has dropped out of the race, and there is no Libertarian candidate, my only opponent is Republican incumbent Ed Emmett, whom I respect. Judge Emmett is one of the few Republican office-holders who don’t turn my stomach: He is more of a pragmatist than an ideologue, and he handled his toughest test (Hurricane Ike) with compassion and courage.
However, Harris County needs a candidate who will advocate strongly for developing clean, renewable energy and public transportation that serves working people. Also, since Harris County is notorious worldwide the death penalty capital of the West, I would encourage the District Attorney’s office to continue the current decrease in pursuit of death sentences, which is not a result of policy change so much as the cost of prosecuting capital cases.
T: What is a specific proposal the incumbent has made in the last term before the Commissioner’s Court that you disagree with?
DC: Our Commissioners Court proceedings are not exactly transparent and don’t get much coverage in local media, so that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s ridiculous how much power five people have over the lives of 4 million-plus, without those 4 million-plus knowing what goes on in the CC. It’s not so much Judge Emmett’s proposals that I disagree with as the lack of sunshine at the county level, even for residents of unincorporated areas who have no city government. I would work to change that.
T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
DC: I don’t.
T: What, exactly, is your plan regarding the Astrodome?
DC: Something similar to that proposed by Astrodome Tomorrow: Save the structure, and turn it into a tourist destination that integrates well with the surrounding Reliant Park complex.
T: What relationship do you believe that County should have with the City of Houston, other municipalities and the State?
DC: The tradition of home rule for counties in Texas is a mixed blessing, but I would like to see it continue. Houston may dominate the landscape of Harris County, but the two governments have no reason to merge a la Miami-Dade; they can continue to work together on projects such as Metro. We can work with Dallas County—and possibly Bexar, Travis, and Tarrant Counties—on connecting the state’s four largest metro areas with high-speed rail. Mostly, I would like to see regular meetings of the commissioners’ courts of the 13 metro-Houston counties, as equals regardless of population, to establish regional policies on protecting our natural heritage and creating incentives for businesses, farms, and residences to collect their own solar and wind power—although I have little faith that the Republicans who dominate the various county CC’s would go for any of that.
T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
DC: “Have done”? The wording of this question appears to be meant for the incumbent. However…
Since issues are interconnected, it is difficult to isolate three as most important. As far as County government is concerned, I could say, “Transportation, energy, and environmental protection,” but these three are facets of the same larger issue, which includes the notion of Smart Growth.
The Green Party believes strongly in encouraging multi-modal transportation options; the city and Metro are moving forward on making this a reality with Metro’s “reimagining” and the city’s Complete Streets initiative. However, the rest of the county outside Metro’s service area still leaves non-motorists out of the picture. Pasadena, Texas, is one of America’s largest cities with no public transit; it’s time for that to change. Let’s look into making FM 1960 and Louetta Road friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians, or expanding Metro’s service area to include more of Copperfield.
The refineries along the Ship Channel have essentially been given a 45-year exemption from Clean Air Act compliance. It is in the interest of health and safety for the entire region, but especially fenceline communities, that we use both carrot and stick to bring the energy companies into line. Despite our recent “coolest city” designations, no sensible person wants to relocate to a city or county with such ridiculously high rates of asthma and cancer. Most people who move here do so out of necessity, then find that they have to drive everywhere and pollute the air even more. Where does it end? I hope it ends with county governments finding and implementing solutions. One solution would be to retrofit those facilities and retrain workers toward the manufacture of solar collectors and windmills; this would take decades, but would be an essential step toward cutting atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases that drive climate change.
Honorable mention for issues of importance goes to housing. Too much recent development has been profit-driven to excess, such as knocking down older single-family and duplex housing in Inner-Loop Houston, which is suitable housing stock for young workers and students, to replace it with luxury lofts and mid-rises. The County should require developers to devote a reasonable percentage of their capital toward building truly affordable and durable housing for low- and middle-income residents, including the use of as much recycled material as practical.