Eckels Out, Emmett Takes Over in Harris County

It's official... after twelve years on the job, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels has resigned and handed over the reins of the county to a relatively unknown political insider. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The Eckels era ended with a humorous twist when longtime political antagonist, Commissioner Steve Radack, refused to accept the judge's letter of resignation.

"All in favor, signify by saying aye" "You know Robert, I think you're a good guy and we haven't always agreed on everything, but you know what I'm going to do? I vote no." "Three ayes, one no, one present and not voting. The motion passes."

An emotional Eckels was given a standing ovation as he walked out a side door and on to his new life as a partner in the Fulbright and Jaworski law firm.

"It's kind of like graduating and moving off after high school or college or watching your daughter get married or something. You're happy, but at the same time there's a little bit of regret for having to leave behind your friends. But I'm not leaving the city. I'm not leaving the state. I'll still be here and I'll still be caring about the same issues that I've been working on before. It's just as a private citizen and I'm looking forward to that too."

The new man at the helm of Harris County is Ed Emmett, a former state representative who has little name recognition, but has managed to forge strong insider ties that made him a lock to finish Eckels' unexpired term.

"I haven't been visible on the local political level, but I was Interstate Commerce commissioner under the first Bush administration. I've been running an organization representing international shippers for ten years and then I've had a consulting firm here in Houston since moving back. So within my circle and within the business circle, I've been fairly visible."

Although he's been criticized for leaving the county in the hands of a man who isn't well known, Eckels says Emmett is the right man for the job. If he isn't, Eckels says voters will have the last say in 2008.

"He plowed the fields for people like me to come in an elective office. When I served in the legislature, he was there. Ed will have an opportunity to re-establish himself and if he doesn't, he won't be the County Judge much longer because there's other people out there from the Republican primary and the Democratic primary and really that's what this is all about is me getting out at a time people will have time to get out and put their ideas before the voters and have that marketplace of ideas and that competition that ensures we get the strongest judge possible in 2008 and on."

Emmett says his first priority will be emergency management and homeland security. He also says he plans to advance the county's transportation goals in his first few months on the job.

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