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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Another Astrodome proposal

Reliant_Astrodome_in_January_2014

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett (R) has unveiled yet another plan for the Astrodome: turning it into a large indoor park and recreation center. Under Emmett’s vision, the area would have “a large open green for festivals and other community gatherings, general exercise facilities, an amphitheater, a pavilion for music and other events  and special educational facilities for children, even museums.”

The announcement was made at a rather grandiose press conference by the County Judge, and served mainly as an opportunity to provide a vision on the idea, not to work out the details. Emmett freely admitted that he has not run the numbers on what all of this would cost, and from the sounds of it, the total expenditures would likely be pricey. As the astute will surely recall, there was a previous proposal to renovate the Astordome –which has stood vacant for about 10 years– last year. The County Judge and Commissioners approved idea, which would have created $217 Million in bonds to repurpose the dome into a convention center, was shot down by voters in a November referendum. Exit polls heavily insinuated that voters’ key concern was its high cost.

After the referendum boondoggle, many began to think the Astrodome would likely be demolished. A much, much cheaper proposal was floated to demolish the dome and convert it into a park with a small “replica dome” around where home plate once stood. However, progress on demolition came to a grounding halt at the end of last month, when a State Commission indefinitely tabled a designation on the site’s historical status. Needless to say, it’s been a long and grueling ride.

As I stated in one of the previous articles linked to this post, I am still very conflicted on the Astrodome. While I wholeheartedly supported last year’s resolution, the people spoke and rejected spending a significant amount of money to renovate it. I obviously still disagree with their small-minded, senseless and carpetbagger-esque rationale, but there is something to be said for a public servant who follows the desires of his constituents. Emmett spoke today about securing private funds for this project. If there is any modicum of a chance that is possible, I sincerely wish it to happen, but color me skeptical. I have no doubt that if outside funding had previously been a realistic source of revenue, in order to mitigate the damage done to taxpayers, it would have been used for last year’s resolution.

All in all, as you are probably aware by this point, the total and final say on what happens to the dome is with the Commissioner’s Court, which Emmett rules over somewhat firmly. Granted that he’s a shoe-in to stay in his current post until early 2019, two years after we host the Super Bowl, this could prove very interesting. Emmett, for his part, has stated that he will, in no circumstances, be okay with the Astrodome being demolished. County Commissioner El Franco Lee (D-Pct 1), for what it’s worth, was the only Commissioner interviewed by the Chronicle to voice an opinion on today’s proposal. He was cautiously optimistic.

What do you think about the dome proposal?

Emmett to go without opponent

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett, who is running for re-election as a Republican this fall, will be unopposed by serious competition after his Democratic opponent dropped out of the race. Ahmad Hassan, a small business owner, is a political gadfly who ascended to the nomination after being unchallenged in the Democratic primary. He has run for a couple of different offices, including both this one previously and Congress, both as a Democrat and a Republican. In short, Hassan is not anyone’s idea of the Democratic establishment. He was not recruited by the local party and, thus far into the campaign, has been a pretty lackluster candidate. No website, no online presence and no good faith effort to campaign within the community. I understand the idea of a cash-strung campaign running a low budget production, or someone with their own business limiting the time they take off from work, but a Facebook page costs exactly $0.

Hassan said that he extensively met with Emmett recently, and was persuaded out of the race to allow Emmett to focus on his office and its duties more.

“I do have things I’m trying to accomplish – the mental health pilot program at the jail, regional governance, the Astrodome,” Emmett said. “I thanked [Hassan]. I thought it was an honorable thing to do. He is a successful person and he truly wants to give back. I can appreciate that.”

Let me stipulate first that I too am a fan of Emmett, and I was planning on supporting him in November over his Democratic opponent. I think, like Hassan noted and Emmett delineated in his comments, that the County Judge has been an awesome representative of the people and continues to fight the good fight on many issues. He is the type of moderate Republican that I would literally love to see run for high office, but I could only imagine he would get clobbered in a competitive Republican primary, considering his support for things such as Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, as well as compassionate approaches to immigration problems.

With that out of the way, I think Hassan totally made the wrong move in dropping out of the race. And I still hold it against the Democrats that a legitimate candidate did not run against Emmett. I don’t know why someone else didn’t run against him, and I am not being rude; I’m legitimately curious. Did the County Party make a decision not to contest the seat, or did they try and fail to recruit someone? I will freely admit that I do not know.

Candidates deserve opposition. President Barack Obama deserved it, Mayor Annise Parker deserved it, State Senator John Whitmire deserved it and County Judge Ed Emmett deserves it. Opposition keeps both candidates and officeholders and their toes and compels them to defend their positions. It is a healthy part of the political process, especially for a job that only comes up for election every fourth year. The citizens of Harris County were deprived of such a fight with Emmett cruising to re-election.

I’d vote Emmett for higher office, but I would like it even more if he switched parties. I don’t know if the Democrats would unanimously welcome him, but I certainly would!

Update: As my friend Perry Dorrell at Brains & Eggs rightly points out, there will still be a second candidate on the ballot this November. David Collins, of the Green Party, will run for the post as well. His Facebook page has been attached at this link.

Conflicted on the Dome

Reliant_Astrodome_in_January_2014

EricEnfermero –

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Astrodome now looks slated for demolition. The Houston Texans and the Livestock Show & Rodeo have both endorsed a $66 Million plan to level the dome and replace the space with some sort of “green space.” The plan, which I recall hearing my friend Perry Dorrell (Brains & Eggs) discuss at length in the past, demolishes all but the outside skeleton of the dome, then fills in the depression with grass. Thus, an open air structure would stand that would pay tribute to the Astrodome while requiring minimal upkeep. It is a fitting tribute to the dome, though it is significantly more expensive than just paving over it.

As the astute will surely recall, a contentious fight erupted last year when a proposition was put on the ballot to spend over $200 Million renovating the dome into a modern convention center. Texpatriate wholeheartedly supported that proposal, but it ended up failing by a few percentage points. After that, some talk has occurred over designating the structure a landmark, though it is exceedingly unlikely this would actually prevent demolition if the powers-to-be truly wished for it. In the last few months, the Editorial Board has heatedly debated the prospect of another editorial on the topic (e.g., “Tear down the Dome!” or “Not yet, a desperate plea”), but there was not enough support one way or another to write anything.

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Commissioners’ salaries go up

The Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Commissioners’ are discussing hiking the salaries of most county officials. The notable exceptions are the Judges with a local jurisdiction, whose salaries are tied to that of the District Judge, set by the State Legislature. Similarly tied is the salary of the County Judge.

However, the Constables, County Attorney, County Clerk, County Commissioners, County Treasurer, District Attorney, District Clerk, Sheriff and Tax Assessor-Collector will all receive modest increases in their salaries. When I say “modest,” I truly mean somewhat miniscule. For example, the County Commissioners accused of these nefariously dealing with regard to “voting themselves a raise” would simply see 11% hike, which would be near the top of the raises. Towards the low end, the District Clerk would only see his salary go up by little more than 5%.

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The Harris County GOP Chairman race

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett has endorsed Paul Simpson in his race for chairman of the Harris County GOP, against incumbent Jared Woodfill. Emmett, a Republican, is the highest ranking member of the county party, holding the de facto executive leadership role over Harris County.

The news was broken last night on Quorum Report, where it was also reported that Emmett had donated a generous $10,000.00 to Simpson’s campaign. As the astute may recall, this is Simpson’s –a local attorney– third bid against the incumbent chair. However, unlike a previous race, this year’s election simply features the two candidates, making Woodfill somewhat more vulnerable. Emmett blasted Woodfill as being out of touch and implicit in the recent losing streak of the party. Ronald Reagan would probably not be welcome in today’s Republican Party. I would like to see the base in Harris County to be 400,000, not 150,000,” Emmett says.

Today, Jared Woodfill hit back by announcing some big name supporters of his own. Two of the three Republican Harris County Commissioners (Jack Cagle and Jack Morman) endorsed Woodfill’s candidacy, as did both Emmett’s predecessor (Robert Eckels) and the Tax Assessor (Mike Sullivan). Given that Woodfill is the incumbent, it would be a waste of time to really dig in too deep as to why an officeholder might support him. Simply put, it is far safer to support an incumbent out of habit then warm up to the challenger (if [s]he wins) than to support the challenger then face a victorious incumbent.

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The Harris County lineup

Laziness heralded the day for the Texas Democrats shooting themselves in the foot at the close of the filing deadline, but it is unbridled stupidity carrying the banner for the Harris County Democrats next year. Again, not from the leadership, but from the average people. I will post a full list at the bottom of the post, but would like to talk about a few things first.

There will be six Court of Appeals slots up for election to a 6 year term, between the seats on the 14th Court of Appeals and the 1st Court of Appeals. These elections were remarkably close in 2008, meaning that changing demographics should probably make them just as competitive –if not more– in 2014. But will they be competitive? No. Because the Democrats, once again, were too LAZY to contest half of the slots. One candidate, Jim Sharp, actually won in 2008. He will be running for re-election, and Kyle Carter, a good District Judge, will run for another post. These two men will be great candidates! Another candidate, Gordon Goodman, has filed but I do not have any info on him yet, nor do any of my attorney sources have information on him.

When it comes to District Courts in Harris County, there are a full 36 posts up for election, between Civil, Criminal, Family and Juvenile courts. In 2010, every single one of these posts had a Democratic candidate, and as I recall most every candidate was well qualified and overall competent. Only 27 of these will be contested by the Democrats this time around, including four races where Democrats will be fighting one another instead of the incumbent Republican judges.

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