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Thu Jul 1, 2021, 05:46 PM

Lina Hidalgo's Political Rise [View all]

Lina Hidalgo’s Political Rise

The thirty-year-old Houston chief executive is creating a model for how progressives can govern effectively.

By Stephania Taladrid at the New Yorker

June 28, 2021

“There’s an earnestness to her,” the progressive activist Ross Morales Rocketto says, of Hidalgo. “People mistake that for being naïve—and they make that mistake at their own peril.”



On a recent Wednesday morning, Lina Hidalgo, the chief executive of Harris County, Texas, visited the Greater Pure Light Church, in northeast Houston. In front of the church—a sand-colored building with colonnades and a white steeple—a half-dozen people awaited Hidalgo, who arrived in a Chevy Tahoe with a pair of security guards. A petite woman of thirty, with an orb of black curls and a no-nonsense demeanor, Hidalgo rose to fame in 2018, after narrowly defeating Ed Emmett, an eleven-year incumbent, who is four decades her senior. Critics questioned whether she had the experience to lead Texas’s largest county, with a population of more than four and a half million and a budget of five billion dollars. During her first eighteen months in office, she has reimagined the role of a county executive, managed multiple crises, enacted progressive reforms, and gained popular support, all the while fending off a steady stream of criticism of her youth, ambition, gender, and ethnicity. The pandemic dominated Hidalgo’s tenure and mired her in political controversy for more than a year, but she has emerged from it as one of Texas’s rising Democratic stars.

At church that morning, Hidalgo was intent on steering clear of politics. She was there to greet people getting their vaccines and to brief her constituents on the county’s vaccination efforts. The neighborhood, Aldine, a predominantly Latino area of fifteen thousand residents, had some of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases in the county, and among the lowest vaccination rates. Bedevilled by crime and poverty, it was an unlikely place for a county judge—the local title for chief executive—to visit. The church’s pastor, Darryl Broussard, said that he did not recall Hidalgo’s predecessor ever visiting the area during Emmett’s eleven years in office. “If he ever came to the north side of Houston,” he said, “I knew nothing of it.”

Broussard, a rangy man of fifty-nine, wearing a blue shirt emblazoned with the word “pastor,” escorted Hidalgo into the church. As she approached the pews, she walked a few steps ahead of him. “Good morning. County Judge Lina Hidalgo. I’ll give you a fist bump,” she said to a woman who was waiting to be called on by a nurse. Hidalgo repeated the gesture with everyone who was to receive a shot. “I got mine last week,” she said. “Thank you so much for being here.” If anyone knew who Hidalgo was, it didn’t show. Undeterred, Hidalgo showered the group with attention. “How are you? Happy to be getting the shot?” she asked, in Spanish, to a mother with her young daughter. “Oh, I’m overjoyed to see you both here.”

Hidalgo then walked to the corner of the hall to deliver a briefing. Standing ramrod straight, in a pencil dress and with a flower-patterned mask, her arms hanging loose, she delivered good news: the county had administered more than three hundred thousand vaccines, roughly six thousand a day, across more than seventy-seven sites. Journalists asked the judge why Harris County’s covid-19 threat level remained severe, or red. Had the judge considered reducing the threat level? “The decision as to what our threat level is is not something I decide based on a feeling, or based on an arbitrary date, like some folks have done,” Hidalgo said, alluding to a decision by Governor Greg Abbott to end all pandemic-related restrictions on Texas Independence Day. Harris County’s positivity rate, she added, would have to dip below five per cent before anything changed—experts at Rice and Baylor universities had set the threshold. A reporter asked what she thought of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s claims that opponents of the state’s new “voter security” bill were a “nest of liars” solely interested in “race-baiting”? Hidalgo calmly replied that the bill—which would limit voting hours, forbid drive-through voting, and embolden partisan poll watchers—was no different from a literacy test or a poll tax. “It’s the same old story: suppression under the guise of some excuse,” she said. “So let’s keep calling it what it is—Jim Crow 2.0.”


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