Politics

Harris County leaders face a slew of challengers this election season

County Judge Lina Hidalgo and County Commissioner Adrian Garcia each face multiple Democratic opponents, and Democrats are lining up to challenge Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo at a Commissioners Court meeting in February 2020.

March 2022 marks an unusually crowded primary season for Harris County politics, with three Harris County leaders facing reelection challenges from a number of candidates.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia each face multiple challengers within the Democratic fold.

“It used to be that incumbency, particularly if a Democratic or Republican candidate held that incumbent office, you just didn't see a primary challenge," said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University. “That's just not the case (anymore.)”

Meanwhile, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle faces no internal Republican opposition, but several Democrats are jockeying for the opportunity to face him.

Harris County Judge

Hidalgo — who has three years in office behind her and nearly $1.5 million in her campaign war chest ahead of the upcoming election — defeated an extremely popular Republican incumbent in her first bid for public office in former County Judge Ed Emmett.

Hidalgo's biggest critics see the upset victory over Emmett as a fluke, according to political analyst Nancy Sims, and that’s led to a lot of competition.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia

Hidalgo is facing no fewer than five challengers within her own party to reclaim the nomination. Her most serious Democratic challengers are likely former Houston City Council candidate Georgia D. Provost and Erica Davis, who is chief of staff to Constable Alan Rosen.

“She has a couple of African American women opponents that are well known, and so she's got to really go out and shore up her base to win her primary,” Sims said.

The Republican primary to challenge Hidalgo is even more packed, with a field of nine candidates. Some recognizable names include Randy Kubosh, brother of Houston City Council member Michael Kubosh, and Humble ISD board president Martina Lemond Dixon.

Other Republicans in the race include former Army captain Alexandra del Moral Mealer, attorney Vidal Martinez, real estate appraiser H.G. Bolanos Bolanos, marketing manager Robert Dorris, retired deputy sheriff Oscar Gonzales, insurance broker Warren A. Howell, and business owner George Harry Zoes.

That primary is likely to go to a runoff, with no candidate gaining a clear majority in the first round, Sims said.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner

One of the Democrats swept into office in 2018 was Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who beat incumbent Republican Commissioner Jack Morman by a little more than 2,000 votes — a margin of less than 1%.

Now, Morman is looking to reclaim his old office.

But before Garcia can face Morman, he'll have to beat two primary challengers: long time Justice of the Peace George Risner and retired police officer Gary Harrison. Sims said Risner could be a formidable opponent, noting he's "been a justice of the peace in much of the new area that Commissioner Garcia represents.”

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, after announcing his candidacy for Harris County Commissioner on Dec. 5, 2017.

In fact, Risner has experience running — and winning — in Precinct 2 long before Garcia came into the picture. Risner has been a justice of the peace in the area Garcia now represents since 1987.

If Garcia holds off Risner and Harrison, he'll enter the general election with two significant advantages. First, he has more than $2 million in the bank. Second, his district was recently redrawn with an eye towards helping him win reelection in November.

But nothing is certain, particularly if Jack Morman is the Republican nominee. The other GOP contenders are businessmen Daniel N. Jason and Jerry Mouton, marketing executive John Manlove, and pastor Richard Vega.

Morman previously won Precinct 2 twice. The first time, he defeated a Latina Democratic incumbent, now-Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia.

“It'll be interesting to see if Morman has any base of support in what was at one point for him a receptive Hispanic vote," Bob Stein said. “He never won a majority of it but did very well.”

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner

Commissioner Jack Cagle looked like a sure bet to win reelection this year.

But that was before the Democratic majority commissioners court redrew the county precinct maps in October. The new maps shifted the geographic center for Precinct 4 from Harris County's northern tier to the county's burgeoning west side.

That by itself might not have posed a problem for Cagle — western Harris County was previously the center of Precinct 3, represented by Republican Commissioner Tom Ramsey — but Democratic commissioners also redrew Precinct 4 to include more territory within the 610 Loop and less within northwest Harris County.

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle hands out water at a distribution site Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Houston, after Winter Storm Uri.

Critically, the new Precinct 4 is majority-minority, with a combined non-Anglo population of more than 70%.

All that has encouraged seven Democrats to jump into the primary to challenge Cagle. They include former civil court judge Lesley Briones, former state Rep. Gina Calanni, former county elections official Ben Chou, Alief ISD Board President Ann Williams, former Muncipal Utlity District 24 president Clarence Miller, paralegal Sandra Pelmore, and sheriff’s deputy Jeff Stauber.

Briones has the endorsements of County Commissioners Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis. Calanni has the endorsement of state Rep. Gene Wu.

The crowded field will likely lead to another primary runoff, said Stein, who prefaced his remarks by saying Chou was a former student of his.

“I don’t think any one of these...candidates is likely to win 51% of the vote, or 50% + 1,” Stein said.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media's business reporter, covering the oil...

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