These ten simple words mean little individually, but collectively sent shockwaves around Harris County’s conservative circles: “He’s voting for Democratic candidate Mike Collier for lieutenant governor.” In black and white in the Houston Chronicle endorsement for incumbent Harris County Judge Emmett (R) was an announcement sure to ruffle some feathers.

To say that Republican precinct chairs, elected officials, and activists were caught off guard would be an understatement, but even more shocked were the scores of down-ballot candidates who expected Emmett—the highest-ranking elected Republican official in the county—to help them succeed in November.

After the monumental countywide Republican defeat in 2016, many would have expected Harris County Republicans and elected officials to do everything they can to urge straight-ticket voting this November, the last opportunity to do so.

But our county judge is putting petty, personal grievances above the best interest of Harris County by endorsing against Dan Patrick, the sitting lieutenant governor of his own party, who notched over 80 percent of the vote from Harris County Republicans in the March primary. Emmett has long scoffed at attempts by the state to limit the power of local officials whether it be on property taxes or local spending. Patrick, being lt. gov., often finds himself the target of the judge’s frustration, but Emmett’s endorsement is the most public display of their tense relationship to date. 

I disagree with Emmett on a number of issues: his determination to redevelop the Astrodome yet opposing voter approval of the spending; continued spending supporting what some consider to be an unconstitutional bail scheme; his opposition to property tax reform; and, most recently, his decision to hold a multibillion-dollar bond election in the middle of the summer rather than placing the item on the November ballot.

Nonetheless, I planned to vote for him, in part because of something someone once said: “If you don’t have something nice to say about somebody, just be quiet. … If I’ve got a disagreement with a state official, we need to say, ok, we agree on 80 percent of things, let’s talk about that 80 percent and leave the 20 aside.”

Ironically, that “someone” was Emmett speaking to the United Republicans of Harris County just one year ago. But that was before the heat of the 2018 elections was on. Now that he depends on Democrats to help carry him over the edge in a tough election year, he is endorsing Democratic candidates.

I’m not one to argue that you must always vote straight-ticket or “toe the line.” Everyone should review each individual candidate and make an informed decision about who they choose to vote for. But as the figurative head of the Harris County Republican Party, it is Emmett’s duty to put personal differences aside — that 20 percent he mentioned — and help down-ballot candidates.

There’s no question that endorsing a Democrat does the exact opposite.

Is a vote an endorsement?

Almost immediately after his intentions were made public—and after activists began calling his office—he attempted to “clarify” by saying he was only voting for Collier, not endorsing. Even his office’s communications director took to Twitter to say, “Just to be clear, Ed Emmett did not endorse anyone in this race. He merely answered a question about whom he would be voting for. There IS a difference.”

Such an absurd statement has no basis in fact; a public statement of vote is an endorsement. And if I were Mike Collier I’d send Harris County voters with a Republican voting history with a mailer featuring a picture of Republican Harris County Judge Ed Emmett saying, “I’m voting for Mike Collier.”

If he were only voting for Collier, he could have kept quiet on the topic. Instead, he offered his opinion in the public square with the full knowledge it would be interpreted as an endorsement.

Is that a weapon Harris County Republicans want their highest-ranking official to hand to their enemies?

Assuming he wins reelection, 2019 will mark Emmett’s 40th year serving in elected office in appointments ranging from state representative for Districts 78 and 127 to county judge. After four decades in politics, it is unlikely that he genuinely believes announcing who he intends to vote for will be taken as anything other than a full-throated endorsement.

What’s in a vote?

Regardless of personal differences between him and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Emmett’s vote is a vote against much of what Harris County taxpayers and Texans across this state stand for.

First and foremost, Emmett is saying he opposes property tax reform. Then again, it isn’t really a surprise. Emmett has for years publicly opposed Patrick’s attempts at property tax reform, despite more than 95 percent of Republican primary voters in 2018 supporting a ballot proposition mirroring what the Senate, led by Patrick, passed. What the Texas Senate was offering, and the county was opposing, was property tax relief for all Texans including those in Harris County—which has seen a 36 percent increase in property tax revenue in three years.

By voting for Collier, Emmett is saying he opposes further limiting the growth of both local and state government.

He’s saying he opposes the right of property owners to have a say in whether or not their property is annexed by neighboring cities and counties.

He’s saying he opposes providing inner-city families, much of his constituency, the educational options they so desperately desire to tailor their children’s education to their needs.

He’s saying he opposes the strength of the Texas economy which, under the leadership of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has its lowest unemployment rate in 40 years with 750,000 jobs being created since Abbott and Patrick took office.

Make no mistake, Emmett’s vote isn’t just a vote against Patrick. It’s a vote against the best interest of the people he serves, the county party that he is the informal head of, and the down-ballot candidates who will directly or indirectly suffer due to him encouraging voters to split their ticket.

Are there areas where Patrick and the Texas Senate could do better?

Sure. Criminal justice reform is the first area that comes to mind, but I refer back to Emmett’s quote about finding the 80 percent we agree on.

Emmett’s move likely won’t negatively impact him or Patrick in November, but it could hurt those who don’t have the countywide name ID or campaign war chest that he does.

Regardless of what type of Republican you consider yourself to be—old school or new school, pro-Bush or pro-Trump, urban or rural—the likelihood is that if you put policy first, you will find more to agree on with Dan Patrick than Mike Collier. If you put petty political and personal squabbles first, you will find yourself voting for the Democrat instead of the best candidate for Harris County and all of Texas.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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