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Behind the Headlines: The Lubbock County Judge, Obama and the U.N.

The jail fiasco behind Tom Head's now-infamous remarks.
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“He’s going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. And we’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.

“Now what’s going to happen if we do that, if the public decides to do that? He’s going to send in U.N. troops. I don’t want ‘em in Lubbock County. OK, so I’m going to stand in front of their armored personnel carrier and say ‘you’re not coming in here.’”

—Tom Head, Lubbock county judge, in an August 21 interview with Fox 34 on why the county needs extra public safety measures if Obama is reelected.

 

When I first heard the comments made by Tom Head, the suddenly infamous Lubbock County judge, on the local Fox affiliate, my first thought was of Woody Allen’s line in Annie Hall, after Duane, played by Christopher Walken, explains his fantasies of swerving his car into oncoming traffic.

“All right. Well, I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet Earth.”

Just when Missouri had swiped the title for state with the wildest-sounding politician—thanks to Senate candidate Todd Akin and his “legitimate rape” comment—Texas seizes it right back. And we’ll probably hold the title for quite some time. This one looks like a keeper.

Tom Head’s venture into an alternate reality—in which an American president abdicates to the United Nations, citizens rise up in revolt and the United Nations invades anyplace, let alone West Texas—is the looniest damn thing I’ve ever heard a Texas elected official say. The competition is fierce, mind you, but I think Head’s comments barely beat out Debbie Riddle’s “anchor babies” interview. It certainly makes Rick Perry’s secession remark seem plausible by comparison.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfZL2zACM-4

(By the way, the best part of that video of Head’s remarks is the interviewer who’s awkwardly stuck there nodding like a bobble-head doll and answering Head’s fantasies with “rights” and “uh-huhs” and even one “true.”)

But, as always in politics, there’s a story behind the story. In this case, the backstory may help explain what Head was up to—well, maybe not explain it, but at least provide some context. I’ll add the disclaimer that I have no idea why Head said what he did. I don’t know whether it was a political ploy or whether he actually believes it. I have no insight into what Tom Head actually thinks, and that’s probably a good thing.

But if you look at the backstory, it seems the reelection that should most concern Tom Head isn’t Obama’s, but his own.

Head’s remark was meant to justify a tax increase. Lubbock County commissioners are considering a hike in the property tax to pay for seven new positions and new equipment for the county sheriff’s department, and salary raises for the DA’s staff. It’s your basic tax-and-spend plan.

The extra officers are needed to ensure public safety in Lubbock—at least that’s how county commissioners have been trying to justify the tax hike at a time when every other Republican in America is trying to cut taxes. Head’s comments were just another variation of this, taken to another level.

The sheriff’s department has asked for funding increases in recent years. The reason it needs more money? Mismanagement by Head and other county officials. (For all you out-of-staters: In Texas, the “county judge” is actually an elected administrator, who along with the other county commissioners, oversees county government.)

In 2011, Lubbock County opened a massive, 1,500-bed $100 million county jail. The county didn’t need a jail nearly that big, but Head and other officials hoped to lease out jail space to the federal government or other outside entities that needed to stash prisoners somewhere.

This is a racket that many communities in Texas have tried with diminishing returns. (The criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast has excellent coverage of the issue here and here.) Lubbock County missed the boom in immigrant detention, and now the big expensive jail sits only 70-percent full, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

Meanwhile the staffing costs of operating the massive jail are draining sheriff’s department resources, which has led to call response times going up and some cases going uninvestigated.

As the Avalanche-Journal reported last year, “The almost $100 million county jail dominated county budgets even before voters approved $82 million for its construction in 2002. Call times have languished and cases gone without investigation as spending on the roughly 1,500-inmate facility crowded out new deputies and other officers for the growing county.”

The county instituted property tax increases to help pay for the jail, but it’s still been a disaster that’s straining county resources.

All that eventually comes back to Tom Head, who’s been county judge since 1999.

So let’s recap. Under Head, we have multiple tax increases to compensate for a bloated government project that isn’t functioning as planned. That kind of record could earn Head a Republican primary opponent in a conservative place like Lubbock. He’s up for reelection in 2014.

I don’t know if Head plans to run for office again. But given that he’s pitching another tax increase to make up for the county jail boondoggle, you can begin to understand why he wanted to change the subject and make the tax-increase debate more about Obama’s U.N. invasion or whatever other unlikely catastrophe he could dream up that needed more county law enforcement.

Either way—whether he actually believes what he said or was trying to distract voters from a tax increase caused by the jail fiasco—Head will have a lot to answer for.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.