Texpatriate endorses for County Judge

Counties in Texas are managed by a five-person Commissioner’s Court. Four commissioners are selected from different precincts, each representing roughly a quarter of the population. The fifth member is the County Judge, elected countywide to manage the affairs of the county and preside over the commissioners’ court, though no trials.

Since 2007, the County Judgeship of Harris County has been in the capable hands of Ed Emmett. A former member of the Texas House of Representatives for four terms from 1979 to 1987, Emmett represents a seemingly dying breed of moderate Republicans. A transportation planner by trade, he has served on the Interstate Commerce Commission and understands the need for vigorous expansion of mass transit options. He has fought for Texas to assent to Obamacare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, and he is a perpetual advocate for the preservation of the Astrodome. On social issues, Emmett takes a largely moderate stance, and thinks the County should have no role in regulating or commenting upon them.

But Emmett’s greatest asset is his inimitable leadership qualities. In 2008, when Hurricane Ike devastated the entire region, Emmett was a familiar face who tirelessly worked day and night to turn the lights back on and maintain normalcy in Houston. While voters have judged Emmett twice since that time, and we should really be judging his actions in the last quadrennial, his skillful leadership during the tragedy have set the stage for a constantly prepared County Judge. Emmett’s face is usually on a billboard or two every summer, with his signature phrase “Hunker Down,” and his office is one of the best prepared in the State for dealing with possible tropical cyclones.

Simply put, we believe that Emmett is our best representative on the Commissioner’s Court. He shows an understanding and a empathy for the average person to an extent nearly unheard of in today’s crop of politician. And, most importantly, he prioritizes pragmatism and big solutions over ideology and small-minded partisanship.

This was put on full display earlier this year when Emmett put his money where his mouth was, so to speak, on that front. He largely underwrote the campaign of Paul Simpson, who had challenged Jared Woodfill for Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. Woodfill was a zealot who put undue priority on divisive social issues and bullied more moderate members of the party. Simpson, with Emmett’s help, defeated Woodfill and has begun making the County Republicans arguably a little more of a “big tent” party. We are ecstatic to see it.

Emmett’s only opponent, after his Democratic adversary dropped out, is Green candidate David Collins. While he means well, even he lauds the record that Emmett has. Simply put, we think that, since the incumbent has done a good job, he should be rewarded with another term.

Unfortunately, Emmett has announced that -assuming he wins- this next term will be his past. We thoroughly hope this means that he will run for Governor in 2018. Removed from party labels, he has done wonders for Harris County. Hopefully, Texas will be next.

Accordingly, this board endorses Ed Emmett for County Judge.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the board.

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Texpatriate’s Questions for David Collins

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 <info@texpate.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.
DC: None.

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.