Oct. 12, 2022
“It was the first time they’d been in the same room debating the issues and during one particularly tense exchange in their interview before the editorial board, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo turned to her Republican challenger, Alexandra del Moral Mealer, and told her sternly, ‘if you want to be county judge, you need to be able to listen.’
It’s true that Mealer, a West Point graduate and a former Army captain who commanded hundreds in Afghanistan — not to mention a mom of two toddlers — can come off as combative, talking over others and, during our 90-minute screening, interjecting numerous times as Hidalgo responded to questions. But where it counts, particularly on the issue of crime, Mealer seems to be listening to many in our community who otherwise feel unheard: crime victims and their families.
Hidalgo would do well to follow her own advice.
The woman who campaigned on high ethical standards had three staffers indicted for allegedly steering an $11 million contract toward a Democratic operative. Hidalgo says the indictments are meritless and politically motivated but some evidence is compelling and one of the indicted staffers still sits behind her at Commissioners Court meetings. She has supported hiring unqualified Democrats for key positions, including the elections administrator, Isabel Longoria, who botched the primaries with delays and 10,000 uncounted mail-in ballots — mostly belonging to Democrats. To her credit, Hidalgo promptly called for Longoria’s resignation but why was someone so lacking in election experience ever trusted with the newly created, high-stakes position?
Our gravest concerns, though, involve Hidalgo’s failure to respond with urgency to Harris County’s crime wave. In a county where more than two-thirds of likely voters list public safety as the most important issue in this race, it weighed heavily on our decision.
Even for those of us whose neighborhoods aren’t aglow in flashing police lights, the seemingly infinite ticker tape of suspect mug shots on the 10 o’clock news has us looking over our shoulders and praying that the next road rage incident won’t target our families.
Mealer’s proposal of hiring 1,000 new law enforcement officers, spread across the sheriff’s office, constables, and county jail, is simplistic at this point. Each would cost $100,000, coming to roughly 5 percent of the county’s $2.2 billion budget. She says she’d fund it by cutting back on overtime, reducing administrative overhead, and yes, by defunding new programs that are well-intended but aren’t essential, such as pre-K investments that serve a relatively few number of kids.
‘How do you start a new service when the basics aren’t working?’ she told us. “Everything in county government should be ‘how can you help the most people as quickly as possible.’”
Is Mealer as ‘extreme’ as Hidalgo painted her in a recent campaign ad attempting to align her with Donald Trump and election-deniers? We don’t think so. In our screening, Mealer clearly stated ‘I have not seen any evidence of widespread, systemic-scale’ voter fraud. Later, she clarified further: ‘Trump lost. Biden is president.’
We found something Paul Castro said instructive: ‘If I have cancer and I’ve been stabbed and I’m overweight, I’m going to handle those in a certain order,’ he said.
He’s right. Some call it triage. Maslow called it a ‘hierarchy of needs.’ Harris County must treat the stab wound: the murders and violent crimes being committed by repeat, violent offenders who are enabled by an underfunded criminal justice system that’s paralyzed by severe backlogs.
For that reason, we encourage Harris County voters to back Mealer in this race. We can only hope that once in office, she’d effectively address crime, tend to basic services and restore civility on the court by governing as a strong local leader, not a partisan. We’d also like to see her expand her vision to something more hopeful, ambitious and worthy of Harris County’s potential.”
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