Elections 2022Local NewsFormer Rep. Gina Calanni Joins Democratic Primary Race to Unseat Harris County’s Commissioner Cagle

Former Rep. Gina Calanni will likely face Civil Court Judge Lesley Briones in the upcoming Democratic primary.
November 18, 2021
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Progressive Democrat and former state Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Katy) officially launched a campaign to unseat Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) Thursday.

“Friends and neighbors, I am running for Commissioner Precinct 4 because Western Harris County needs a leader with proven success fighting for this community in the halls of power,” said Calanni in an announcement statement. 

In the 2018 elections, Calanni narrowly defeated incumbent Mike Schofield to capture the right-leaning district centered in Katy, but Schofield recaptured the seat in the 2020 elections with 51.8 percent of the vote. 

During her single term in the Texas House, Calanni earned an A-plus rating from LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas and an 18 percent rating from The American Conservative Union Foundation.

In her announcement Calanni emphasized the Harris County region’s struggle with hurricanes and other extreme weather “caused by climate change,” and pledged to work to improve infrastructure, but she asserted that the county had a larger role in the lives of residents.

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“County government isn’t only about building roads and bridges. Our commissioners court must ensure Harris County is doing all it can to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible, especially for folks in need of quality mental healthcare.”

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) has endorsed Calanni, but another candidate has already garnered endorsements from Harris County’s Democrat commissioners in the upcoming 2022 Democratic Primary election.

Last week Judge Lesley Briones of Harris County Civil Court at Law 4 announced her candidacy for the Precinct 4 seat with endorsements from Commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2). 

I am proud to endorse Judge Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, Precinct 4,” wrote Ellis in a statement. “Lesley’s proven values of fairness and equal justice, combined with her proven skills at getting results for children, seniors, and families, will help keep Harris County safe, healthy, and thriving for all our residents.”

Briones’ appointment to the bench in 2019 sparked controversy since the three Democrats on commissioners court rushed through her appointment without seeking public comment or giving Republican commissioners time to review her resume. 

Comments made during a public meeting at which Briones was approved in a 3 to 2 vote roused suspicion that Judge Lina Hidalgo, Ellis, and Garcia had discussed the issue over the weekend with each other.

The former occupant of the Civil Court at Law 4 seat, Judge Bill McLeod, had announced his candidacy for the Texas Supreme Court in April of 2019, seemingly unaware that the announcement triggered an automatic resignation from the lower court bench. McLeod was eligible to be reappointed by commissioners’ court but was snubbed in favor of Briones. 

Briones easily won re-election to the civil court bench in 2020, but has resigned to run for commissioner.

Prior to her appointment, Briones had been general counsel and chief operating officer of the Laura & John Arnold Foundation, which advocates for controversial bail reform policies some have attributed to Harris County’s rising violent crime rates.

Although Cagle has been a popular commissioner in what was a strongly Republican precinct, last month commissioners voted to adopt a controversial redistricting map designed by Ellis that effectively swaps precincts 3 and 4 and has now drawn a lawsuit alleging the plan violates voting rights under the Texas Constitution. 

Update: A third Democrat, Ben Chou, has also filed to run for the Precinct 4 seat. A graduate of Rice University, Chou served as the director of innovation at the Harris County Clerk’s office and previously worked for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

He notes that if elected, he would be the first Asian American and first openly gay person to serve on the commissioners court.

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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.