Exclusive: Ed Emmett reflects on tenure as Harris County Judge

In his nearly 12 years as Harris County judge, it seems Ed Emmett has done it all.

Looking back, he's most proud of his work in raising awareness about mental health.

"And particular to begin to get people out of the criminal justice system that really deserve to be in the healthcare system, so that is personally my favorite,” Emmett says.

Many applauded his leadership during Hurricane Harvey.

As judge, he oversaw the county's Office of Emergency Management – now recognized as one of the best in the country.

"Elected officials come and go,” Emmett says. “But if you can put in place a system, that in the case of our Office of Emergency Management keeps people safe, then that's a real legacy."

Emmett was also a force behind that $2.5 billion flood bond voters passed to protect our area from future storms.

As he now leaves office, Emmett says if he has any regrets they would be not doing more to improve the rocky relationship between the state and local governments on issues like taxes, and not fighting harder for a county Pre-K program. 

"The way it was presented to the county wasn't legal, and unfortunately it seems like it never happened after that. Perhaps I and others could have done more to push it,” Emmett says.

Still, Judge Emmett will go down as one of the most likeable politicians our area has seen. Though a Republican, he earned wide support from Democrat and others, thanks in part to keeping partisan politics out of county government.

"So you just find the best people and you do a job and I’m unbelievably gratified that people sort of looked at that and said ‘heck, we like this guy, he just wants to do the job,’” Emmett says.

After some 40 years in politics, including years as a state rep, Judge Emmett has watched Harris County change, the population and the demographics. He says that's progress.

“You have a lot of people who say 'look at all these new people coming in'. That scares them. That shouldn’t scare people. That should energize people,” Emmett says.

In a November upset, Judge Emmett was defeated by political newcomer Lina Hildago. But, he's blessed to land what he calls a dream job at his alma mater, Rice University.

He'll have a special role that includes teaching a government class, and he'll be a senior fellow at Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

"It keeps me in the community. It keeps me active. And in a way, it lets me give back to that institution. Even though they're paying me,” Emmett says.

Emmett, who turns 70 next year, plans to stay active in politics. He hasn't ruled out running for another office in the future.

For now, he says he's focused on a new chapter and feels confident Harris County is much better today than when he took office.

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