HOUSTON - As election day for the 2022 midterm elections looms around the corner and early voting comes to a close, FOX 26 has been extensively looking at the tight races, especially for Harris County Judge.
This is due to Hidalgo facing scrutiny over allegations of not doing enough to combat a rise in crime and an ongoing lawsuit over an $11 million COVID-19 outreach contract. FOX 26 recently learned that very contract, after obtaining financial documents, appeared to be used for political-mining purposes.
FOX 26 contributor Bill King, who obtained the documents from the Harris County Auditor, noted something of particular interest in the invoices from three highly focused software companies.
"All of them were Democratic campaign operations," King said back in late October. "They were all companies that specialize, that provide data services to Democratic campaigns that obviously has nothing to do with COVID. All of them brag about what a great job they did identifying Democratic voters and getting them to the polls."
Simultaneously, Mealer has been hammering away at Hidalgo on the crucial issue of crime control. This comes on the heels of a budget agreement for 2023 that failed to occur due to two county commissioners refusing to attend the hearings.
Hidalgo claimed the additional money was necessary to fund pay raises and to expand health care in Harris County and law enforcement programs. The plan was meant to give law enforcement officers an 8.25% raise, but due to their absences, that won't happen, and other cuts would have to be made.
"What has happened now that they refused to show up is that we have now defaulted to an even lower tax rate, which means we don't have the revenue we need to maintain basic services," she said. "There simply isn't money for that. We were going to give you an 8.25% raise. Now, it's going to be 4%. We will no longer have an additional 35 investigators or an additional cadet class for the sheriff's office. We're cutting money to the tune of $60 million for the sheriff, $5 million for the DA, and for the constables, I think it's around $11 million."
However, even a recent political attack ad against Hidalgo by Mealer's campaign team arguably went too far in its statements about the incumbent's legal trouble.
"Hidalgo faces criminal indictment for rigging an $11 million contract for insiders," declares the narrator in the advertisement.
This is because, as FOX 26's Senior Legal Analyst Chris Tritico pointed out in a previous report, it erroneously predicts the lawsuits outcome.
"Lina Hidalgo is not indicted, is not charged," he said. "We have no idea if she is going to be indicted. That part of the ad I have big problems with. I think that is a misleading statement and I don't think it should be used in an ad."
According to the Texas Tribune, her response to several natural disasters made her one of the state's most recognizable Democrats. And her public clashing with state authorities, who seemed to challenge her every move, show that she was doing what she could with what she had.
"She and other urban county judges enacted measures intended to slow the spread of the virus like mask mandates and occupancy restrictions in stores and restaurants — drawing the ire of conservatives," Joshua Fletcher with the Texas Tribune writes. "Early in the pandemic, Hidalgo publicly clashed with Gov. Greg Abbott when he took the authority to enact pandemic restrictions away from local officials, unsuccessfully pleading with Abbott to take stronger action as COVID patients overwhelmed many Houston hospitals. Hidalgo also oversaw the county’s response to the 2021 winter storm that crashed the state’s power grid, as well as the region’s ongoing recovery from Hurricane Harvey."
Despite this, crime looks to be the key issue voters are looking for, which Mealer seems to be the placing a majority of her campaign's focus.
"What I take away is, this is absolute lawlessness and how do you have that in a county that's roughly 30 percent of the state's GDP?" Mealer said during a forum with the Houston Super Neighborhoods Alliance, which Hidalgo did not attend.
And while Hidalgo has touted that crime has gone down in Harris County, FOX 26 recently learned there might be more to the numbers than previously reported and serious questions are being asked, especially after the Sheriff's Office reported zero murders, rapes, and robberies in September.
In fact, it was crime that ultimately led the Houston Chronicle to endorse Mealer over Hidalgo, which the editorial board admitted was not an easy decision. A West Point and Harvard Business as well as Law graduate, Mealer certainly has an impressive resume but still has a few things to learn.
"Subsequent conversations with Mealer leave us confident that, while her understanding of the system may be incomplete and in some cases even flawed, her main goals are ones we share: better funding of pretrial services and interventions, accountability for the accused, protect judicial discretion and rely on individualized risk assessments, which factor in such things as violent criminal history and gang affiliations in determining someone’s likeliness to reoffend while on bail," the Editorial Board writes. "We don’t like that Mealer’s campaign, like Hidalgo’s, has pandered and stretched the truth in campaign ads. But frankly, we can see Mealer governing more like a technocrat, head down in a spreadsheet planning for impending economic turbulence or stocking flood control with qualified drainage engineers."