Houstonians may not be familiar with Ben Chou, a Democratic candidate running for Harris County Commissioners Court, but plenty are familiar with his work.
Gov. Greg Abbott and many of Texas’ top Republicans are familiar with it too; they made it illegal this past legislative session.
As the former director of innovation for the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Department, Chou was responsible for delivering Houstonians the option to vote in their car during the 2020 elections.
With the pandemic raging and the release of a COVID-19 vaccine still more than a month away, more than 100,000 Harris County voters took Chou up on the offer.
Less than a year later, the Republican-led Texas Legislature would ban drive-thru voting as part of Senate Bill 1, the sweeping voter suppression bill that officially went into effect in December and which is the source of an ongoing federal lawsuit against Texas.
“When I saw the Republican legislature make it illegal, despite how successful it was and how safe we made the elections in 2020, I was pissed,” Chou said.
No longer with the elections department, Chou is now running to unseat Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle, one of the last two Republicans in Harris County Commissioners Court.
Under the new county district lines, Cagle’s chances of being elected are more in jeopardy than at any point since entering office in 2011.
Chou faces former Harris County Civil Court Judge Lesley Briones in the Democratic primary.
Briones has received the endorsements of County Commissioners Adrian García and Rodney Ellis, as well as several Houston area Texas House lawmakers. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has yet to weigh in on the race.
If elected, Chou promises to push progressive items in commissioners court, as well as address practical concerns like property taxes, potholes, building sidewalks, and increasing language accessibility for county services.
“I want to run because we’re not gonna have the state legislature anytime soon because of gerrymandering, but what we can do is expand our majority in commissioners court to bring the fight to the legislature,” Chou said. “The county level is where we have the real opportunity to push progressive policy agenda items, whether it’s on voting rights or other issues like abortion rights, LGBTQ equality.”
On climate change, Chou wishes to make the county’s vehicles and buildings carbon neutral, and said he will prioritize the full funding of ongoing flood control projects. He hopes to push the county to becoming carbon neutral by 2040, a decade earlier than the current goal by commissioners court.
Additionally, Chou said he is already thinking of how federal money from the Build Back Better Act, slated for universal pre-k and broadband expansion, could be best implemented in the county.
When it comes to divvying up federal and county resources, Chou said he won’t make the same mistake as Cagle and prevent residents in his prescient living in incorporated areas of Houston from accessing COVID relief rental assistance.
A former staffer for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Governor Martin O’Malley and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Chou said he has both the executive and policy experience to execute on new and creative ideas (or old ones, like the Ike Dike).
That includes bringing on a full-time organizing staff that would register voters and help residents during disasters, either with wellness checks or by delivering water and groceries.
Chou also plans to help circumnavigate Texas’ six-week abortion ban by replicating and expanding an abortion access fund by the City of Austin.
“Even though in Texas, while we cant have taxpayer funded abortions, what we can do is have taxpayer-funded abortion access,” Chou said of the creation of the program that would help women access travel and childcare while seeking an abortion.
“They might try to ban it in the next session, but you know, let them do it,” Chou said, explaining that such a hamfisted reaction by the Republican-led legislature would only galvanize local voters.
“Let them come. Let them tell us what we can and cannot do,” Chou said.