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Fort Bend residents vote out longtime GOP judge

November 8, 2018

Republican Robert Hebert, the longtime Fort Bend County judge, was not stunned as he saw the election results roll in Tuesday night showing that he was losing to school board member and Democrat KP George.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Hebert inside his courthouse office on Wednesday afternoon. “Matter of fact, I made a decision to run because I saw the trend in the county was blue and I thought my performance might hold that off another four years and help some of the down ballot judges. Obviously, that didn’t work.”

Hebert, 76, who’s served as county judge since 2003, lost by more than 14,000 votes to George. Hebert’s loss comes as Fort Bend residents voted in Democrats to many county seats. They even ousted longtime Republican Precinct 4 county commissioner James Patterson, who’s served almost two decades. The county also elected their first ever African-American district attorney Brian Middleton, who will be the first Democrat in 26 years to serve as the county’s top prosecutor.

George, 54, who said he would be the first south Asian county judge for Fort Bend, had an inkling about the results on Tuesday night—noting he felt the county was going to lean blue. He currently serves on the Fort Bend ISD school board and has raised his three children in Sugar Land, along with his wife who is a Fort Bend ISD teacher.

“I grew up in a little village in South India and I came to this country with very little English and few bucks in my pocket,” said George by phone on Wednesday. “I was able to come this far in my life simply because I have a desire for public service.”

Despite the local victories, Elizabeth Pilgrim, who sat outside on the lawn at Sugar Land Town Square on Wednesday, said she was drawn to the race because of Democrat senator Beto O’ Rourke and congressional Democrat candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni for the 22nd district.

Although both lost their races, Democrats in Fort Bend voted for Beto O’Rourke over Cruz. In 2016, Fort Bend County voters also supported Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump.

Pilgrim, who’s in her 60s and has lived in Fort Bend since 1981, has watched the county’s political views change as it has grown into a diverse hub where various languages are spoken and many minorities call it home. Fort Bend County is made up of more than 765,000 residents----with 35 percent white, 21 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic, and 21 percent Asian and other.

“Our diversity has enabled us to be broad-minded,” said Pilgrim. “You choose your candidates based on their experience and based on what you know of them. You choose the best person now. It’s no longer a race thing. It’s just who you feel is the best candidate that will bring your county or your state forward.”

Although Hebert, who saw the county through Hurricane Harvey and has been working on recovery efforts ever since, said he felt Fort Bend voters chose party affiliation over candidate. His defeat also comes as Harris County voters elected 27-year-old Lina Hidalgo over longtime Republican county judge Ed Emmett.

“I’m convinced that it had nothing to do with the quality of my job and nothing to do with my qualifications,” said Hebert. “It wasn’t a race between KP and I. It was a party vote. That’s exactly what took (Ed) Emmett out. It took me out.”

New district attorney Middleton said he woke up to 108 text messages on Wednesday morning as the news of his victory Tuesday night emerged. He won by more than 19,000 votes over his Republican opponent Cliff Vacek, a former district judge.

“My sense was always that the (county’s) demographics didn’t support the election results,” said Middleton, who runs his own law firm in southwest Houston. “I knew sooner or later that the Democrats would show up and vote.”

Hebert has seen the county’s diversity continue grow throughout the years, but he believes it was President Trump’s election that this year ultimately doomed him.

“I know for a fact that if Hillary Clinton had won the election in 2016 then I would’ve been re-elected because it would’ve been the reverse,” said Hebert. “The Republicans would’ve been energized and the Democrats would’ve been rather complacent.”

brooke.lewis@chron.com

twitter\@brookelewisa

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