The loss of Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee this past January triggered a rarely used section of the Texas Election Code. The statute allows for the Party Precinct Chairs from within that official’s jurisdiction to select their nominee upon the death or withdrawal of the current nominee. The last time this statue was used was in 2006 when then Congressmember Tom Delay resigned after the primaries.
Now, Harris County Democrats have the unprecedented task of selecting the next Precinct One County Commissioner.
Given the unusual circumstances and public pressure, Democratic Party leaders held a Public Forum to meet the potential candidates for the seat. Though anyone can be nominated for the ballot, only six potential candidates were present at the forum to state their case. This included current Commissioner Gene Locke, State Senator Rodney Ellis, Council Member Dwight Boykins, local businesswoman Georgia Provost, and two others who were mostly unknown to the audience. The forum was somewhat chaotic and the questions presented did not give the attendees a better understanding of the true jurisdiction of a County Commissioner.
While the forum was able to give potential candidates the platform to showcase their ideology, it lacked the in-depth conversation needed to select the right nominee. There was a lot of back and forth on controversial issues, such as the potential abolishing of the County Department of Education and the lack of diversity on the Commissioner’s Court, but candidates only scratched the surface of potential solutions to the problems around Precinct One.
The major problem is the majority of the Precinct lies within the City of Houston. This makes the Commissioner operate more as a quasi-Council Member instead of a regular county official. County Commissioners in mostly rural, unincorporated areas of the state are provided large appropriations for public safety, rebuilding roads, controlling flooding, maintaining quality parks, and providing comprehensive solid waste and water management. For Precinct One, all of these duties are performed by the city and would require the Commissioner to somewhat “ask permission” from the Mayor to complete these projects. For late Commissioner Lee, it was better to focus on programs for senior citizens, children, and persons with disabilities, which truly uplifted the Precinct.
Whoever becomes the next Commissioner will have to work to transform the office. Commissioner Lee was able to think outside the box and helped develop the Precinct into an urban district. While he was not able to gain partnerships among Houston’s past leadership, the new Commissioner will have Mayor Sylvester Turner to help share the sacrifice of rebuilding the Precinct. When selected, the nominee will need to create new programs and projects not just expand those started by Commissioner Lee. The next Commissioner must understand this seat does not belong to them as it did not belong to El Franco Lee. Harris County Precinct One will also belong to the residents of Harris County Precinct One. #ijs