According to unofficial totals posted Wednesday morning, Hidalgo had captured just over 50 percent of the vote to Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer’s 49.3 percent. A third-party candidate, Naoufal Houjami, took 0.01 percent.
“While we did not accomplish our goal of changing leadership in Harris County, we were successful in elevating the profile of critical issues like the need to appropriately resource our law enforcement and criminal justice system as well as the desire to eliminate corruption and increase transparency in local government,” Mealer said in a concession statement.
“This campaign was always about good government and I am hopeful that we have played a role encouraging that going forward. I am extremely grateful to our supporters and all those who contributed to this campaign.”
With a campaign finance haul of more than $8 million, Mealer set fundraising records for a local political race, outraising even some statewide candidates. The most recent poll taken by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs had indicated the race was at a statistical dead heat, and even after the early vote results posted last night showed Hidalgo with a slight lead, political analyst Mark Jones told The Texan Mealer could still win the election day vote.
Despite trailing Hidalgo, Mealer outperformed statewide Republicans in Harris County where Gov. Abbott only captured 45 percent. Many Republican candidates for the county’s judicial races also took between 48 and 51 percent of the vote.
After a narrow victory in 2018, Hidalgo oversaw the settlement of a federal lawsuit over misdemeanor bail reform and has construed county expenditures on mental health services, free Wi-Fi, and cleaning blighted lots as “public safety.” She has also publicly sparred with the district attorney and constables offices over funding for prosecutors and patrol officers.
Since 2018, crime rates in the county have dramatically increased with a record 720 homicides reported by the medical examiner’s office in 2021. The dispute over tax increases and funding for law enforcement played into a decision from Commissioners Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) and Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) to boycott multiple meetings this year to block a proposed tax increase.
Earlier this year, Hidalgo said she expected to be indicted in relation to a controversial $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract that drew an investigation from the Texas Rangers and resulted in the felony indictments of three of her staffers.
Although Hidalgo had declined all invitations to debate Mealer, the two met during an interview with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board, which led to the board’s endorsement of Mealer.
During a victory speech at Harris County Democratic Party headquarters Wednesday afternoon, Hidalgo thanked those who had helped her campaign but warned fellow Democratic officials who she said “wouldn’t do an ad for me, that wouldn’t have a fundraiser, that wouldn’t help at all when it got tough.”
“Oh, I remember who they are,” quipped Hidalgo, who also chided District Attorney Kim Ogg, a fellow Democrat, for accusing the county of defunding law enforcement.
Hidalgo thanked Mealer for her concession and for her military service, but also decried Mealer’s supporters as “far-right Trump mega donors” and referred to Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale as a “furniture salesman,” drawing boos for the iconic Houstonian from the crowd of Democratic politicians gathered on stage.
Surrounded by fellow elected Democrats including Reps. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Hidalgo asserted, “Whether you voted for me or not, I am proud to represent you,” and pledged to continue to work to expand county services and “on public safety in a way that actually solves the problem.”
In reference to the felony indictments of three of her staffers, Hidalgo said she was especially proud of two of them: Alex Triantaphyllis and Wallis Nader.
Harris County finally reported unofficial election results Wednesday morning after a slew of election day issues that included delayed polling site openings, malfunctioning equipment and more than 20 locations running out of paper ballots.
During an emergency hearing Tuesday evening, the county attorney’s office admitted that some locations never received the needed paper ballots to process voters.
Initially, a district court judge ordered the county’s polling sites to remain open an extra hour allowing late voters to cast provisional ballots, but the Supreme Court of Texas stayed the judge’s Temporary Restraining Order, allowing the extra votes just before 8:00 p.m.
Unofficial totals also indicate that Democrat Lesley Briones has defeated Cagle in the Precinct 4 commissioners race with nearly 52 percent of the vote. Briones is the former chief executive officer of the controversial Laura & John Arnold Foundation, a Houston-based LLC that engages in efforts to end cash bail and provides grants to progressive groups such as the Vera Institute of Justice.
Commissioner Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) has also fended off a challenge from former commissioner Jack Morman, giving Democrats a 4-to-1 majority on the commissioners court.
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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.