Editor’s Note: The Interview took place over the phone on 08/15/22. Mealer is the Republican nominee for Harris County Judge. She will face off against incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo in the November 8th election. Mealer is a West Point Graduate and a former Army Captain. She also holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a MBA from Harvard Business School. After graduating from Harvard, Alexandra pursued a career in energy finance. Mealer’s website can be found at alexandramealer.com.
Garrit: First off, thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to do this. I know you’re incredibly busy. So I’m very thankful for this. To start off, I wanted to talk about the race. A poll conducted by the Hobby School of Public Affairs shows that Lina Hidalgo holds a 1% lead over you with 48% to your 47%. Harris county voted for Joe Biden 56% to Trump’s 43%. What do you contribute to the growing momentum of your campaign?
Alex: The biggest one is people understanding that, whether or not you agree with where I’m at, at the very least I am committed to trying to get change. I think the fact that I don’t sound like every other politician has been very helpful. Just the reason that I live here in Harris County and that I’m talking about the issues that personally stood out to me. I’m sure there’s a nicer way to say it, but people at least understand that I am trying to fix things and am really studying the issues. I spend a lot of time trying to wrap my head around what is the most efficient way that we can really manage this large complex budget, start restoring safety, and invest in our infrastructure. So, I’ve seen a lot of support across the aisle. People understand that I’m coming at this as a very serious veteran just trying to make a positive impact. So, I think that is resonating just by the fact that I’m diving pretty deep into the issues–which I didn’t realize is not a normal thing. So, it was hard for people to be hostile to you if you’re going at it from that angle. People can also tell that Lina doesn’t spend a lot of time in Harris County. I am very accessible. People see me out really trying to represent the community. That is another piece that’s a pretty stark contrast.
Garrit: The poll also shows that you’re performing even better than Governor Abbott is against Beto O’Rourke. The poll showed that Beto O’Rourke leads Abbott in Harris County by nine points with 51% to Abbott’s 42%. I want to get your thoughts on why you think you’re performing better than Governor Abbott who’s a two term incumbent?
Alex: I don’t have a detailed thought on that. I think on local issues, more people are with my stance to be frank. I understand that Harris County is a Democrat leaning County, but when we talk about local issues…right now do you think it’s appropriate to do a tax raise? That’s what they’re pushing–a bond. Most people would say no. Do you think there’s a problem with crime and we need to aggressively fund law enforcement? Most people agree with me on those things. They want to see an expansion in investment in our roadways. So, I just think that on local issues, most people actually are with the conservative side. That might not be the case on national issues.
Garrit: Moving on to some issues. You stated at a press conference with the family of Arlene Alvarez that the county judge position is the “best suited position [here] to tackle crime.” Can you explain why that is, and can you explain some of the specific policies that you would pursue as judge to make Harris County safer?
Alex: Sure. So, one of the first things we did was file a motion to dissolve O’Donnell Consent Decree. That’s what really institutionalized the revolving door at the courthouse. It was for misdemeanors, but we’ve seen that it has been applied to felonies as well. I have an amicus brief that I filed in January, and so quite literally would be just changing that amicus brief to say Harris County on it. I still very firmly think most people would agree that the federal government has no business in our state bail bond decisions. We’re the only county that’s got federal courtroom monitors ensuring that we moved to this cashless bail system. What they’ve done is dismantled the cashless bail system but done nothing in its place. So, there is a legal solution to this. I’m obviously hoping as well that we’ll get new judges on the bench who would prioritize public safety. Right now the majority of our district court judges are very clear in supporting Lina’s stance. They’re using jail as a last resort instead of saying “is this person a public safety threat?” If Yes, then put them behind bars, and then they are owed a right to a speedy trial. Under Lina’s system, your whole jail population is out walking the streets, and then it’s taking years before they go to court. So, we just don’t have a functional criminal justice system. I believe we need to significantly increase the amount of law enforcement we have, but it also means more funding for prosecutors and more funding to expedite evidence processing. There’s a huge backlog with our forensics, but it is a whole system wide approach. To that point, just a couple of weeks ago, Lina Hidalgo asked and said “I don’t understand the backlog.” How are you running the largest jail in the state of Texas, and you aren’t a subject matter expert. We’re at 99% capacity. We not only have inmates killed, but our guards are brutally beaten and raped. And you’re standing there perplexed because you’re so busy spending time on national issues that you forgot to do your own job.
Garrit: Yeah, and on electing judges that are for law and order, do you think with you being on the ballots and the competitiveness of this race that you’ll help other down ballot Republicans?
Alex: I do. I’ll be honest, I’m hoping. We’ve seen examples of excellent judges that are on the bench. We’ve got Maritza Antu and she’s the only Republican judge on the 482nd. She’s proven that this is not just a funding issue. We need people that uphold their oath of office. So, while there is a massive backlog, she has just gone through a barrage and is beyond any sort of statistical outlier. That’s something that gives me more optimism. It matters who we have in these roles. Not everything is just about more money; sometimes people need to do their job too.
Garrit: The Texas Tribune reported back in April that three of Hidalgo’s aides had been indicted on felony charges of misuse of official information and tampering with a government record. Judge Hidalgo has also called these indictments a “political exercise” and has even gone on to attack the Harris County DA Kim Ogg. Incidents like these weaken the faith and trust that citizens have in their government and in their elected officials. How do you plan to increase transparency and restore integrity back to the office of Harris County Judge?
Alex: One thing that doesn’t get talked about enough is that with Ed Emmett [ the former Harris County Judge ], whether you liked all of his stances or not, people didn’t immediately associate him with a party. People at least thought of him as a judge for the whole county. Lina has used this position for being a mouthpiece of national DNC talking points. When you spend all your time focused on all the partisan talking points, you fail to represent the county. When you’re the Harris County Judge, you are the advocate for the county. So, it just seems like a misalignment of priorities. When your letterhead says “Harris County Judge Democrat,” it’s hard to show that you’re building faith and support. There are a lot of Republicans and there are a lot of Democrats. When you isolate and cut out essentially half the county it does weaken trust. It’s so interesting that Lina really tries to talk about red meat points and uses a lot of incendiary language towards the public and towards her own party. Saying these indictments are partisan is a huge attack at the ethics and honor of our district attorney’s office. I think there’s a real chance to just get back to local issues. Let’s figure out how to restore law and order in our County and build trust that, yes, we have secure elections, yes, we have a functioning criminal justice system that is efficient and fair. But having someone at the helm that’s constantly adding gasoline to everything is not productive. I think that’s another area where we’re pretty excited to stand up and offer that contrast. It’s not normal to have multiple staff members indicted for corruption. I’ve read those search warrants and to be so defiant is incredibly unprofessional.
Garrit: Absolutely. On the issue of elections, the Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria resigned back in July after she came under fire for her mismanagement of the March Primary, for failing to tally 10,000 mail-in-votes mail ballots, and for taking nearly 30 hours to tally the votes. Of course, Harris County has also recently been randomly selected for an audit of its 2022 election results. How do you plan to make sure Harris County elections are conducted in a safe, secure, and timely manner?
Alex: For this upcoming election, to be frank, my focus is on driving turnout and getting as many votes as possible. But again, talking about easing tensions, as leader of the county, Lina had a real opportunity here to demonstrate leadership. She created this appointed position that by all measures was an abject failure. She could have at least transferred it to two public officials–both democrats of her party–but people who had experience running elections in Harris County. She could have given it back to the elected officials, because that would have been something that Republicans would have supported. Instead, she decided to go and pick somebody from DC who doesn’t even live in Harris County and has never ran a Harris County election. So, I think it is incredibly important to support the audits. Why would you not want to build confidence in how we run our elections? So, I think the fact that we’re having an audit is a good thing. There is a lot of mistrust. At the most basic level, there’s been a lot of incompetency. That’s why I continue to try to get people to vote during early voting and to get as many people to vote. Another good question to add, is that I don’t understand why more people aren’t asking what is wrong with Teneshia [ Hudspeth ]. She’s worked under four different county clerk’s. She’s sitting in office there now, and Lina Hidalgo said “I don’t think you’re competent to do this. I’m gonna bring in somebody who’s never run a set of elections.” So, those are opportunities to show that you’re for Harris County–not just for the party. I think people are just tired of it. It shouldn’t be so hyper-partisan. What they’ve done is they’ve replaced a lot of technocrats with political appointees. How do you spend so much money and deliver so little? They’re not the best person for the job.
Garrit: I know we’ve talked a whole lot about local issues, you’ve spoken about the importance of focusing on those local issues, but one issue that has been definitely in the news…back in June, the Houston City Council, in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, voted to explore ways to use a local and federal tax dollar tax dollars to promote and lobby for abortion. Do you plan to address the issue of abortion as county judge? [Editor’s Note: It was the Harris County Commissioners Court, not the Houston City Council, that voted to use taxpayer dollars to promote and lobby for abortion.]
Alex: I don’t think that’s something that our county should be funding. Right now we’re failing to protect our families, our neighborhoods, and our small business owners. That’s my priority. I don’t think funding travel to other states is an appropriate use of county dollars.
Garrit: Is there any way that you would plan or you could address that issue of cities like Houston using tax dollars to fund things like that?
Alex: It’s something that Hidalgo has been looking at. It is a clear difference between us because that is not something I would use county dollars for. We continue to expand the scope of government. How can we start looking at funding that, when you can’t fund law enforcement or when children are being killed at record levels? That’s my priority: how do we protect our families and protect our small business owners. That’s part of your mandate as government.
Garrit: Yeah, absolutely. Do you have anything else that you’d like to say as we conclude the interview?
Alex: I just think that there’s an opportunity where people can be so divided on a lot of national issues, but I don’t think there’s very many people that feel like this has been an administration that is focused on supporting small businesses, supporting families, or that’s been a good steward of resources. It’s hard to say you’re an “ethical government” when three of your staff members are indicted. We failed to run an efficient election; people are thinking about these issues. Now, let’s get back to the record here. There’s often a track record of success. However, it’s been a pretty clear track record of failure, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to really lead and unify our county.