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Garcia promises focus on environment

November 27, 2018

After he takes office in January, Harris County Precinct 2 commissioner-elect Adrian Garcia says that one of the issues he will focus on is holding industry accountable for environmental abuses while at the same time supporting the economic base it provides the region.

“I am not against the refineries; I am not against the petrochemical industry,” said Garcia, 57. “I support and applaud and am grateful for what they contribute to our economy, but none of that is permission to make the community sick. It’s important that we sit at the table together and make a commitment to recognizing that we have among the highest rates of cancer in children and adults in Texas. I don’t think it is a coincidence that you have that and then you have the refineries.”

Garcia, a Democrat who defeated two-term Republican incumbent Jack Morman in November, has a list of other priorities, including staging regularly scheduled town hall meetings and other community events and taking a fresh look at flood control.

“You’ve got to be from another planet if you take office in this community not realizing that Houston and Harris County floods and as a result, (that) should be a priority on Day One,” said Garcia, who previously was a Houston City Council member and Harris County sheriff.

In addition to traditional measures such as building more detention basins, Garcia said he wants to “challenge the status quo” in addressing flood protection systems.

“Our society has given birth to more innovative and brighter engineers that have a different perspective on this issue, and I want to bring that creativity to the table,” he said.

Garcia believes that decisions made by the federal government, which controls much of flood protection funds, do not benefit lower-income areas. Residents in low-income neighborhoods, he said, are the most vulnerable to disasters, particularly in the region along the Houston Ship Channel and near the petrochemical industrial complex, where flooding can pose the threat of toxic spills.

During the campaign, Garcia said that Morman should have criticized Gov. Greg Abbott for suspending environmental regulations for companies in the seven months after Harvey. Precinct 2 includes the Houston Ship Channel, where 460,000 gallons of gasoline spilled during the storm. Garcia said only a brief suspension, given the magnitude of Harvey, was appropriate.

Plans for town hall meeetings

Garcia said that conducting community events and regular town hall meetings will set him apart from Morman, who Garcia claimed became “complacent” during his term.

Precinct 2 encompasses a sizable portion of east Harris County including Deer Park, South Houston, Webster, Clear Lake, La Porte and much of the city of Pasadena.

The Precinct 2 commissioner controls more than $150 million in funds and represents a precinct of more than 1 million residents.

Garcia also said he would focus on after-school, job-training and early education programs.

“Whatever public investment we make in our communities has to be tied to our schools,” Garcia said. “It has to be tied to the local economy, and you have to make sure that people are participating in the revitalization and redevelopment in our own communities.”

For Garcia, many issues, like criminal justice reform and equity, go back to a strong educational foundation and begin with questions on how to reach people before it’s too late.

Garcia said the black cowboy boots he wears every day remind him about the importance of education and positive influences.

These particular boots aren’t manufactured by Lucchese, Tony Lama or Old Gringo, but handmade as a gift from a death-row inmate while Garcia was sheriff.

“The boots serve as reminders to me that here was a guy who could have been making a lot of money with these type of boots with his skill, and yet he was sitting in a prison system,” Garica said. “What could we have done for him early on that would have kept him from taking that route?”

Hispanic representation

Precinct 2 has a large Hispanic population. Pasadena has a population of over 60 percent Hispanic according to U.S. Census data from 2017.

Garcia was born to Mexican immigrant parents and grew up not speaking English. While he said he doesn’t believe that only a Hispanic can represent a Hispanic constituency, he added that elected officials must work to understand those residents’ experience.

“You don’t have to look like people to effectively represent them, but if you don’t, then you sure as hell work your ass off to do it. When you do (look like them), you work your ass off even more,” Garcia said.

“If I have any legacy, I want it to be that a kid like me who grew up in a tough neighborhood, who is a product of public schools, who didn’t get a college education, took on a blue-collar career and did some of the hardest work, like patrolling the streets of Houston, can grow up to be the commissioner of the one of the most significant geographies in our country,” he said. “I want kids to say that I can do that, so can they.”

Pasadena City Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler said he is looking forward to the change in representation Garcia brings to Precinct 2.

“I’ve always said that it’s important for elected officials to be reflective of the population they represent,” he said. “That’s not to say that you have to be a certain race or ethnicity, but I think it’s important to share backgrounds and values to fully understand a community.”

“I think we’re going to see a lot more of our county commissioner now that Adrian Garcia has taken office,” Wheeler said.

Garcia will be the first Hispanic and the first Democrat to represent in the Precinct 2 seat since Sylvia Garcia, who was ousted after two terms by Morman in 2010.

Adrian Garcia was part of a Democratic surge in Harris County that flipped the Republican stronghold in key positions held by Morman, former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and others.

During the campaign, Morman, a Deer Park resident, inferred that Garcia was running to use the Precinct 2 office as a stepping stone to seek higher office.

Garcia spent 23 years with the Houston Police Department. He was elected to Houston City Council’s District H in 2004 and served six years as sheriff.

He left that position in 2015 to embark on an unsuccessful mayoral run. In 2016, Garcia ran unsuccessfully to unseat longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green.

Garcia said he is ready to represent by meeting his constituents where they live.

“I’ve always believed in campaigning at the voter’s door so that I could understand the issues in the respective neighborhood — Baytown, Galena Park, Pasadena or Deer Park,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that I have a good understanding because seeing the challenges people face helps digest the issue and helps me develop a plan on how to respond.”

Garcia lives with his wife, Monica, in Precinct 2’s Lindale Park.

yorozco@hcnonline.com

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