If you are like many Harris County voters, County Judge-elect Lina Hidalgo’s win caught you by surprise. Unless you closely followed the county judge race, attended the limited number of forums between the candidates, or spent time in the areas she campaigned, it may seem as though the 27-year-old researcher popped up out of thin air.
In a blog post titled “How We Did It” Hidalgo says, “We knew we’d be outspent, so we decided to take an innovative approach to reaching voters.”
She certainly did.
According to Hidalgo, she targeted over 300,000 voters who were at risk of splitting their ticket and specifically messaged to them while still winning over 80,000 voters who didn’t vote for either party’s straight-ticket ballot. Her campaign also heavily invested in Spanish language radio and TV ads, something that, despite the county having a large Hispanic population, Republicans don’t take advantage of.
Though money wasn’t pouring in as much as for her competitor, incumbent Judge Ed Emmett, early on Hidalgo had supporters providing small-dollar and in-kind donations. Even her campaign logo was an in-kind contribution.
Eventually, Democrat networks kicked in and her financial reports started looking like a who’s who of Hollywood: actresses Barbra Streisand, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Aniston, and Ashley Judd; Lisa Broock, Vice President of Communications for Sony Pictures; Jeff Shell, Chairman of Universal Films; Kevin Conroy, the voice in the Batman series; Bradley Falchuk, co-creator of the TV show “Glee” and husband to Gwyneth Paltrow; and famous chef Bobby Flay. Even makeup artists, celebrity fitness trainers, and talent managers all donated to her upstart campaign.
While Hidalgo says she has watched commissioners court meetings online, she has never actually attended one, so naturally, there is concern over how she will preside over the “court” governing the third-largest county in the nation.
In 2013, Hidalgo graduated with a political science degree from Stanford and also became a U.S. citizen. In 2015, she started a joint-degree program with Harvard’s Kennedy School and NYU, but she put her education on pause in order to run this race.
As a Spanish translator working in Houston’s Texas Medical Center, she focused heavily on delivering her message surrounding criminal justice reform, transparency, and flooding to Hispanic communities.
Some of her priorities were investing in infrastructure for a better transportation system and addressing the growing population in the juvenile detention center. Notably, she also wants to create an early childhood education program for the county.
She has also discussed bail reform and flood control, two topics that have dominated the conversation around the county in recent years.
During Emmett’s campaign for the $2.5 billion flood control bond over the summer, he was asked if he would do line-item voting on the bond proposals. Line-item voting would have not only allowed voters to decide what specific projects they wanted, but it would have also required the flood control district — the recipient of the funds — to spend the bond dollars specifically on those projects.
Emmett dismissed the idea at a Kingwood Tea Party event, saying line-item voting would limit their ability to move bond dollars around. Hidalgo has refused to commit to keeping in place the proposed project list Emmett sold to voters and said she has yet to determine whether or not she is making changes. She has the freedom to do so only because of Emmett’s decision to bring a vague proposal to voters.
On the bail reform lawsuit, Hidalgo said she is interested in settling the suit instead of keeping taxpayers on the hook. June marked a little over two years into the county’s suit defending it bail system; by that time, taxpayers had paid over $6.1 million. If Hidalgo does indeed choose to settle, the money that would have been spent defending against the suit could then go to other priorities.
As this is Hidalgo’s first elected office, there is no way to determine what will happen when she takes office in January and, at this point, all one can do is take her for her word. While spending more on things like countywide daycare or other social programs seems questionable and changing the proposed projects may warrant a deeper look, addressing the ongoing bail lawsuit and focusing on county infrastructure are necessary functions.
One thing is certain: everyone in Harris County should wish her the best since — regardless of their political persuasion — she will be the county administrator for the next four years.