Elections 2022Local NewsControversial Harris County Judge Hidalgo Draws Multiple Challengers in 2022

As the region grapples with rising homicide rates and concern over the county’s criminal justice policies and funding, Hidalgo faces challenges from both major political parties.
February 8, 2022
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With increasingly heated discussions over public safety and rising homicide rates, and a grand jury investigation over an $11 million vaccine outreach contract looming, multiple Democratic and Republican candidates have filed for a chance to challenge Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in 2022. 

Hidalgo faces five challengers in the Democratic primary, most notably Erica Davis, chief of staff for Constable Alan Rosen (D-Pct. 1) and Harris County Department of Education trustee, who has been vocal about rising crime in the county and has garnered the endorsement of the Houston Police Officers Union.

In the 2020 general election, Harris County voters chose Joe Biden with more than 64 percent of the vote, but in the 2018 “blue wave” election, Hidalgo narrowly beat incumbent Republican county Judge Ed Emmett with 49.8 percent of the vote. That year Libertarian candidate Eric Gatlin captured more than 24,000 votes: enough to tip the victory to Hidalgo over Emmett. 

This year, nine candidates have filed in the Republican primary, but the frontrunners in terms of fundraising and endorsements are Martina Lemond Dixon, Vidal Martinez, and Alexandra del Moral Mealer.

Dixon, president of the Humble Independent School District (ISD) board of trustees, was the first to announce her candidacy last fall and has since raised over $200,000 and had $33,705 cash on hand according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

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Her endorsements include former Congressman Ted Poe, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02), state Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deerpark), former state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), and The Kingwood Tea Party. Last weekend, the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle announced they too would endorse Dixon, calling her the “Republicans’ best shot at beating Hidalgo.”

Martinez, an award-winning attorney, and former federal prosecutor, has raised a whopping $519,410. He holds more than $506,000 in cash on hand, and his endorsements include the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, the Texas Latino Conservatives, and well-known conservative activist Dr. Steven Hotze. 

Mealer works in finance in the oil and gas sector and is an Army veteran who graduated from West Point and earned a JD and MBA from Harvard. Since announcing her candidacy, she has raised nearly $180,000 and had $119,666 cash on hand as of January 31.

Endorsements for Mealer include former Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack (R-Pct. 3), former county Judge Jon Lindsay, Harris County Constable Ted Heap (R-Pct. 3), and local celebrity Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale.

Some conservative Republicans have expressed concerns over the political contributions Dixon and Martinez have made in the past, with Dixon having donated small amounts to the Obama campaign in 2012, and Martinez having made two $1,000 donations to Hidalgo in 2019.  

Dixon and Mealer met at a candidate forum at the University of Houston and live-streamed by FOX26 Houston last weekend, while Martinez and candidates Warren Howell and Randy Kubosh, who have both raised less than $20,000, met at a competing forum at the Bayou City Event Center.

Dixon explained that her three reasons for running were crime, flooding, and wasteful spending in county government. She shared that one of her cousins had been killed by a suspect out on bond, but also took aim at the county’s reprioritization of flood mitigation projects under Hidalgo’s leadership.

Originally from the Harris County area, and Dixon emphasized her deep roots in the community and her ability to work with both sides of the political aisle. She also spoke about her experience managing Humble ISD’s budget as well as emergency management and construction projects, and her visits to Washington D.C. to secure funding for rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey devastated school facilities.

Regarding the county budget, Dixon said funds removed from the constable’s budget should be restored while the vast expansion of social spending by the county should be curbed. 

“I honestly believe it is not the role of the county judge to do social programs,” said Dixon. “I’m not against helping others, but that’s not where our tax dollars should be spent.”

Dixon also advocated for completion of the I-45 improvement project that has been bogged down by a now-suspended county lawsuit and intervention from the Biden Administration.

Mealer also criticized the county for poor management of public safety issues and noted that she had submitted an amicus brief with the federal court in Houston requesting dissolution of the ODonnell consent decree governing misdemeanor bail and the dismissal of another lawsuit over felony bail. 

Emphasizing her experience commanding a bomb squad in Afghanistan and managing and resolving procurement issues for the Army there, Mealer decried the county’s draining of essential emergency reserve funds under Hidalgo’s leadership and the massive spending increases that she called “fat” in the budget.

“If you realize where we were spending, in [former county judge] Ed Emmett’s last year…we took in $4.5 billion, spent only $3.5 [billion], so a strong surplus,” explained Mealer. “This last fiscal year that was completed, we spent $7.6 billion, we only took in $7.1 billion, so we started running a deficit.”

Mealer added that much of the county’s maneuvering under Hidalgo’s leadership, including the redistricting of commissioners’ precincts, was to be able to raise taxes on residents to cover the massive spending increases, much of which includes social programs.  

Regarding some of the county’s budget priorities, Mealer noted the county had siphoned funds from the toll road authority for flood mitigation and was not providing enough for maintenance, while engaging in spending on things that were not county issues such as fighting climate change. 

Both women emphasized keeping taxes low while providing transparency and refocusing the county on core services.

Regarding Hidalgo’s pledge to avoid taking campaign contributions from vendors doing business with the county, Mealer pointed out there had been multi-million dollar contracts awarded to controversial consulting groups, and the COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract awarded to a one-woman Democratic consulting firm. Dixon agreed and committed to transparency about donations, noting her efforts on the Humble ISD board to provide such.

Both Dixon and Mealer condemned efforts to make Harris County a sanctuary for illegal immigrants and funding of legal defense and health care for illegal immigrants. 

While there was much agreement on issues, Dixon said Harris County had become blue in recent years but that this year offered an opportunity to make the region “purple.”

“There are eight people in my race, and they are all really good people, that is my belief,” said Dixon. “But once we get through the primary, I truly believe I am the only person in this race that can beat Lina Hidalgo.”

Hidalgo has amassed a $1.5 million campaign war chest, and although she pledged she would not take funds from vendors, she has received multiple donations from attorneys involved with suing the county such as Neal Manne of the Susman Godfrey firm. 

Democratic challenger Davis has raised just over $100,000.

Organizers for the alternate forum featuring Martinez, Howell, and Kubosh, say they plan to make video of that event available to the public sometime this week.

Other Democratic candidates running are Maria Garcia, Ahmad “Robbeto” Hassan, Kevin Howard, and Georgia Provost. The Republican primary contest will also include H.Q. Bolanos, Robert Dorris, Oscar Gonzales, and George Harry Zoes. 

Early voting for the 2022 primary elections begins Monday, February 14.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Dixon’s father worked for former county Commissioner El Franco Lee (D-Pct. 1). We regret the error.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.