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Emmett not ruling out return to public service: ‘We’ll see what the future holds’

November 13, 2018

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday did not rule out returning to public service after he gives up the gavel in January, but made clear he first would return to the private sector following last week’s re-election loss.

Democrat Lina Hidalgo defeated Emmett, a Republican who has helmed Harris County government since 2007. She will assume office Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Emmett said he planned to work with Hidalgo to ensure she transitions smoothly into the role.

With two Commissioners Court meetings left in his term, Emmett likely will decide on his next move in early December and told reporters he faces “numerous options.”

“You know, I had a life before I became county judge,” Emmett, 69, said after his first post-election court meeting. “As I’ve told many people, you know, I didn’t die.”

Emmett continued to attribute his defeat to what he characterized as an insurmountable straight-ticket vote deficit, pointing to Democrats’ countywide advantage of more than 104,000 party votes over Republicans.

“The county judge position is buried way down in the middle of the ballot. I made up 87,000 of them, but that just wasn’t enough,” Emmett said. “There aren’t enough non-straight-ticket voters out there to make up that difference.”

Emmett also offered praise for Hidalgo, with whom he plans to meet Wednesday. The two spoke over the phone Monday, Emmett said.

“She won an election. She’s bright and engaging and she’ll have people around her,” Emmett said. “You have to remember, the county has, what, 15,000 employees. They’re professional, they do very well. So, she’ll be fine.”

Hidalgo, 27, will become Harris County’s first female and Latina county judge. She was pursuing a joint degree in public policy and law, but put her education on pause to seek the county judge seat, her first campaign for office. She has not yet attended a Commissioners Court meeting and was not present Tuesday.

Emmett said he would remain interested in how the revamped court handles Harris County’s growing unincorporated population, and remained willing to offer “anything I can do to help that.” However, Emmett also indicated he would not hover over Hidalgo’s shoulder upon leaving office.

“I don’t intend to be one of those people that every day says something about what’s going on in the county,” he said. “I’m going to move on with my life and she’s going to move on with the county.”

Emmett, a moderate Republican, has been at odds with his party’s more conservative wing, and on Tuesday offered some criticism for those at the top of the ticket, without naming names. During the campaign, he told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that he planned to vote for Mike Collier, the Democratic challenger to Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Every statewide Republican official lost Harris County, including Patrick, who faced a 14-point deficit here. Democrat Beto O’Rourke also trounced Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at the top of the local ballot. Republicans nonetheless won their statewide elections.

“I think that people at the top of the ticket need to start looking at what they’re saying to the voters, ’cause the voters aren’t buying it,” Emmett said. “And I think voters want to pay attention to competence, and people that will address the needs of their daily lives, and get away from all this other stuff.”

Emmett was swept out of office along with every incumbent Republican countywide official on the ballot. The Republican county clerk, district clerk, treasurer were ousted, while Democrats won all 59 Harris County judicial races. Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman also lost to Adrian Garcia, handing Democrats a 3-2 edge on Commissioners Court. GOP Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle won reelection; Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, a Republican, was not on the ballot.

jasper.scherer@chron.com

twitter.com/jaspscherer

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