Q&A with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo
Since winning her first term as Harris County judge in 2018, Lina Hidalgo has guided the county through chemical disasters, floods and the pandemic.
- She's hoping to maintain control as the chief executive over county government and stave off her Republican opponent, Alexandra Mealer, in next week's election.
- According to a poll released last week by the University of Houston, the race is in a statistical dead heat.
Axios interviewed Hidalgo about her plans, if re-elected. The interview was condensed for space. Questions were not provided ahead of time.
Moving forward, how will you handle disagreements with Republicans on Commissioners Court?
"I'm afraid things have gotten a little bit extreme lately because of the extremism that's trying to take hold in Harris County. I am very proud of my record reaching across the aisle."
"There have been many, many more 5-0 votes on Commissioners Court than 3-2 votes, and I'm proud of that. I'm very proud of representing everyone, whether they voted for me or whether they didn't."
"Reaching across the aisle is important. I'll continue to offer to negotiate, but sometimes it's impossible to negotiate with a brick wall."
Are there any other ways to reduce crime outside of adding more law enforcement officers?
"My opponent's been running on [wanting] to add 1,000 law enforcement officers. I could say, 'Well I want to run a county that'll hire 2,000 or 10,000 law enforcement officers.' The thing is we need to be realistic, and we can't just pander. Every crime is unacceptable. I was somebody who was born in Colombia during the drug wars, so trust me, I understand the importance of public safety."
"We do need some more officers. The solution is not to pander and say, 'Let's hire 1,000 more.' We have 450 fully funded but unfilled positions in the county across the sheriff, across … all eight constables. These are funded boots on the ground that just don't have any feet in them. That's why what we've proposed is a raise, an 8.25% raise, which is what law enforcement has said they need so we can hire people as opposed to losing them to other counties."
What's your approach to pollution control?
"During a budget hearing for the Pollution Control Department, I remember the question being asked to the director 'do you need more air monitors?' And he said no. We knew the communities that live near industry thought that the county should do air monitoring. But the director saying we don't need air monitors, I figured well, heck, maybe he has some in storage. Move on, next department. Fast forward to the ITC fire, and what the plan was to deal with something like that was for the actual polluter to be the one monitoring the air. Immediately I said no, we can't have the fox guarding the henhouse. We cobbled together a system for air monitoring. Since then, we asked for an independent study."
"The answer that came back was that we needed a lot more air monitoring. We need to be able to inform the community of threats. We need to lean forward when it comes to prosecuting environmental crimes, and we need to have much better systems for communicating threats that exist on a day-to-day basis for people who live near industry and didn't even realize it was there."
Where do you stand now on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project?
"I support the need for a project, and I always have. But it needs to be a project that works for Harris County. I don't support bulldozing our way through Black and brown communities to save folks who commute from surrounding counties an extra few minutes on their way downtown when we know we can look at sustainable solutions and long-term solutions for our residents."
"All we have are these massive highways and a public transportation system that's not robust enough. What we're looking for is room for [bus rapid transit] for I-45, a reasonable footprint and respect for the communities that live there. Part of the reason we're working so hard on this is because I want to be able to turn the page on modernizing transportation in Harris County for the sake of our quality of life but also our economic competitiveness."
What were you not able to accomplish that you want to if elected to another term?
"I wanted to do more work with mental health. We've done big investments with our hotline during COVID. We just put in $11 million toward mental health, but there's so much more we need to do not just in Harris County, really everywhere. We were going to work on that more intently, then the pandemic hit. With early childhood [education], $60 million is a game-changer. It's historic, but I want to work where every kid in Harris County has access to an early childhood education. I want to work on steering our community through the energy transition and the transportation piece. There's a lot to be done."
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