Hidalgo’s comments came in response to a question from FOX 26 reporter Greg Groogan, who quoted Whitmire as saying, “The nonsense of experimenting with defunding the police so you can fund other programs.” But Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) cut him off before he finished the quote, and Hidalgo called Whitmire’s comments a “laughable lie.”
“You know why John Whitmire is saying that? Because he’s running for office,” quipped Hidalgo, referencing the senator’s plan to run for Houston mayor. “He’s willing to pander just like all of these Trump sycophants are willing to pander and say the election was stolen.”
While not using either woman’s name, Hidalgo also accused both Democratic District Attorney Kim Ogg and the 2022 Republican nominee for Harris County Judge Alexandra del Moral Mealer of lying about public safety spending.
For the past few years, Ogg has repeatedly requested funding for additional prosecutors to address the county’s rising crime and extensive criminal court case backlog. This year, she accused the commissioners court of “defunding law enforcement” after party-line votes in 2021 to remove so-called rollover funds from the offices of the district attorney, sheriff, and constables.
Del Moral Mealer pointed out to The Texan that while Hidalgo touts added $21.7 million to constables, the commissioners court had taken away nearly $25 million in constables’ rollover funds.
“While crime has exploded with a nearly 60 percent increase in homicides between 2018 and 2022, we haven’t had a comparable increase in law enforcement,” said del Moral Mealer.
Mealer also noted that part of the increase in funds for the district attorney’s office was for environmental law prosecutors, not prosecutors needed to address the case backlog.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Hidalgo also interrupted an attempt by Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to answer questions about his previous requests for additional resources and whether his department was adequately funded. Last December, Gonzalez called the state of the county’s jail “unsustainable” and in need of more resources.
“There was a proposal to commit more law enforcement resources by my colleagues and the proposal included cutting funding from public health,” said Hidalgo. “Now, public health is needing additional funding for monkeypox.”
Although the commissioners approved spending on alternative public safety programs and late last year added $2.6 million for overtime pay for existing officers to patrol crime hotspots in the county, in a partisan vote, they rejected 82 percent of funding requests from traditional law enforcement agencies for current and upcoming budget cycles.
Garcia, who is facing Republican nominee and former commissioner Jack Morman in this year’s election, insisted that public safety was his number one priority.
“Two-thirds of our budget is proof that we prioritize public safety in Harris County,” said Garcia, who touted salary increases for sheriff’s deputies and the county’s Violence Persons Task Force to address a backlog of warrants. He also called skipping tax rate increase votes and spreading “misinformation” about crime in the county “dangerous” to public safety.
“Misinformation hurts the morale of our frontline brave men and women in uniform,” said Garcia.
Hidalgo acknowledged that crime had increased, but said homicides were down this year compared to the same time last year.
David Cuevas, president of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization, countered the narrative that crime had declined, telling The Texan that murders in unincorporated Harris County had risen from 55 in 2019 to 91 in 2022. Cuevas defended Whitmire, saying, “It’s ironic that the Dean of the Senate who is of the same party recognizes that Lina Hidalgo is pushing for progressive policies that are unsafe for Harris County.”
Cuevas’ organization has sued the county in federal court over working conditions at the jail and has joined other county law enforcement associations in endorsing del Moral Mealer and Morman over the incumbents.
Held at the sheriff’s office, the advertised purpose of the press conference was to counter “misinformation” and unveil a new website on county justice and safety goals, including “efforts to foster public trust, prevent violence and trauma, reduce racial and economic disparities, and minimize criminal justice system exposure where at all possible.”
Hidalgo added that public safety spending accounted for 65 percent of the county’s budget.
Since taking office in 2019, Hidalgo has pushed for alternative approaches to criminal justice. During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, she attempted to issue emergency orders freeing thousands of inmates from the Harris County Jail system.
Whitmire did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan 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.