Once again, Lina Hidalgo overcame the odds with a narrow reelection win for Harris County judge—the top elected post in the state’s largest county.
Hidalgo beat her Republican opponent Alex del Moral Mealer by just 15,000 votes, marking one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise disappointing election for Texas Democrats. Republican County Commissioner Jack Cagle was also ousted by Lesley Briones, expanding Democrats’ majority on the county commissioner’s court to 4-1.
In the final stretch, Mealer was seen as the potential—even likely—favorite as Hidalgo had become mired in political corruption scandals, crime concerns, and budget feuds. Mealer vastly outraised the incumbent as GOP megadonors pumped $9 million into her coffers. Mealer and her Republican allies sought to make the race a referendum on crime and police funding in the sprawling county.
The 31-year-old Colombian immigrant first sent waves through the political scene in 2018 when, as a young first-time candidate, she ousted popular Republican County Judge Ed Emmett by a similarly narrow margin. It was part of a huge blue wave that swept through Harris County, with Democrats sweeping county-wide offices for the first time.
She instantly became a rising star in Texas politics, positioning herself as a foe of the good-ole-boy establishment in Houston. During her first term, Hidalgo led the county through one major disaster after another—including hurricanes, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 winter grid collapse.
As the most high-profile local Democrat, she also became a top target for statewide Republicans like Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who made her a poster child in their attacks against local control on everything from voting access and pandemic restrictions to law enforcement funding and property taxes.
In the leadup to November, Republicans initiated a state investigation into alleged “defunding” of law enforcement—which is now a punishable offense under Texas law—via a proposed county budget that increased funding for police. The manufactured crisis was fueled by the political fiefdom of local constables and prompted the county’s two Republican commissioners to boycott commission meetings in order to prevent the Democratic majority from enacting their proposed budget.
As returns slowly trickled in from Harris County, Hidalgo and Mealer were neck and neck. But ultimately, she pulled ahead, denying Republicans the chance to reclaim their county crown. Democrats managed to hold onto most of the criminal judgeships that they won in 2018, though Republicans did manage to win back a handful of judge posts—their sole victories in the county.
Hidalgo instantly became a political rising star when she won in 2018. With another victory, in the face of even steeper odds, she’s only cemented her stature in Texas politics.