In a historic win, Harris County Commissioner-Elect Lesley Briones defeated Republican incumbent Jack Cagle, making her the first woman and Latina to be elected as Precinct 4 County Commissioner.
According to the latest voting count by the county elections, Briones defeated Cagle by 7,811 votes. With Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Adrian Garcia also winning their races, Briones’ victory gives the court a 4-1 democratic advantage.
Despite the GOP Commissioners successfully forcing the county to adopt a no-new revenue tax rate, Briones said she’s ready to address issues facing residents within last year’s budget.
Briones also said she’s ready to use her background as a judge to assess all sides. For context, Briones graduated from Yale and Harvard Law School and served as a county court of law judge before running for office. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center.
The Signal spoke to County Commissioner-Elect Lesley Briones on her historic win for Harris County, the county budget, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So what was the strategy to flip this seat?
“Main thing was we were heavy on the field. We knocked on over 100,000 doors. Made tens of thousands of phone calls and texts. We partnered with organizations that had endorsed me—groups in action. I’m very much ‘we’re in this together, all hands on deck.’”
What do you think Precinct 4 was missing from Cagle that you wanted to highlight?
“First of all, making sure we’re serving everybody in all parts of our community. I’m proud that we live in the most diverse city and one of the most diverse counties, but it’s not enough to be diverse without being inclusive. My aim every day, and that will start with the team that I assemble, is how to create the most diverse and inclusive team that represents the community we serve. Another point was when we knocked on these 100,000-plus doors, so many people didn’t know who their commissioner was or what a commissioner did. We will kickstart our administration with town halls across Precinct 4 because it’s not me telling the community what I want to do but me listening to what priorities and needs they think are most important. I agree that the basics are important and non-negotiable, like we will get the roads, bridges, potholes, parks, and public safety done, but I’m a both-and person. We need to ensure we’re improving in terms of healthcare, economic opportunity, mobility, education, homelessness, etc. I see it as a much more comprehensive frame of what county government can do.”
While researching you, I saw you had a law background and were a county judge. How do you think those skills will translate to the commissioner’s court?
“I plan on taking my judicial temperament to court. I believe that our community wants a government that works and works together. I look at all sides of an issue. When I was a judge, I wore a black robe, not a blue robe, not a red robe. Not any other color, and I had to listen to very different sides. Look at all of the evidence and make hard decisions. That is what I’m going to take to the court. I will serve everybody, both those who voted and didn’t vote for me.”
A 4-1 Democratic majority court is historical and can be helpful for Democrats in terms of getting things done. What are some specific policies you want to pass for Precinct 4?
“This is the first time in the history of Harris County Commissioners Court, over 145 years [old], that there will be two women simultaneously in a five-person body. As a mother of 3 little girls and a proud feminist, I’m so happy that that will never be the first again. I will also be the first mother ever elected in her own right. I believe deeply that everyone deserves a fair shot. And that’s what we’re going to do: maximize opportunity and minimize injustice. The issues that we heard time and time on the trail were public safety, flooding in West Harris County, still rebounding from the pandemic coupled with inflation, healthcare, and working with small businesses—working with Commissioner Ellis and others on the minority-women-owned business program. As a teacher and mother of 3, how can we more effectively leverage the Harris County Department of Education to work on education initiatives, especially in the underserved parts of Harris County?”
I have to ask you about public safety because, throughout the campaign, Republicans and even some Democrats tried to fearmonger around crime in the county. Even though funding has increased for a lot of these agencies, so when it comes to public safety, do you think more money for cops or constable departments is the way to go?
“Because we live in the no new rate reality, Democrats wanted to add another $100 million, and that budget was not passed. But to me, it’s not about throwing money at an issue. And more money may be needed; I don’t disagree with that. But the point is we need to be smart about our data-driven approach. I’ve been the victim of crime numerous times, and I believe everyone deserves to be safe. And everybody’s rights absolutely must be protected. We need a regional plan to address this and ensure every dollar is spent on the highest and best use. So to me, it’s not just more money it’s, are we being smart, are we being strategic, are we being coordinated? And I do want to listen to law enforcement. I’m so tired of this us vs. them rhetoric and these lies. I live in a world of facts and credible evidence.”
Additionally, Briones said in terms of crime, it would be remiss not to address gun safety and how the lack of reform in state legislation impacts communities. Moreover, she said expanding Medicaid, accessibility to mental health resources, and increasing economic opportunities could also improve safety.
With a couple of meetings left, Cagle will finish 2022 as Precinct 4 Commissioner. Briones starts her term as Precinct 4 County Commissioner in January 2023.
Kennedy is a recent graduate of the University of St.Thomas in Houston where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Celt Independent. Kennedy brings her experience of writing about social justice issues to the Texas Signal where she serves as our Political Reporter. She does everything from covering crime beats, Texas politics, and community activism. Kennedy is a passionate reporter, avid reader, coffee enthusiast, and loves to travel.