Before November 2018, no one thought 27-year-old Lina Hidalgo would be running the largest district in one of the largest states in our country. But you can add her to the list of WOC who made history during the last midterm elections. Harris County Texas includes Houston, and encompasses a population of 5 million and a budget of about 5 billion, more than most states in the union—and it’s all under Hidalgo’s control now.
The Colombian immigrant started her career at the Texas Civil Rights project after graduating from Standford University the very same year she became a U.S. citizen. Born in Colombia when it was a narcostate and “everyone knew someone who had been kidnapped,” her family had two goals when they left: To get their daughter to safety and to make sure she had access to a good education. Moving first to Peru, then to Mexico and finally to the United States in 2005, Hidalgo has empathy for the very vulnerable community of almost half a million undocumented immigrants in her county. She’s taken a strong stance against Texas’ SB4 “show-me-your-papers” legislation and has advocated against “baby jails” and detention centers for children proposed in Harris County.
Her opponent Ed Emmet held the office since 2007 in what was traditionally a very low-profile seat but the Beto O’Rourke/ Ted Cruz race opened up the entire election down-ballot for Democrats in a traditionally red state. Hidalgo realized this early on and took advantage of it, even allocating a part of her (very tight) budget to target Democrats likely to split their ballots. Hidalgo wasn’t voted in for her qualifications and she knows it. She’s held only a few short-term positions while working towards a joint degree in Law & Public Policy through a special program offered by NYU and Harvard. Still, her resume may be short, but her vision is not.
“Any issue you choose, it’s easy to say, ‘We can’t do anything — that’s not the county’s deal,’” she told the New York Magazine. “But fundamentally, it’s about priorities. Budgets are about priorities and they’re about values.”
She cites huge spending (to the tune of $6 billion) by the county fighting a recent ruling by a judge ordering them to reform their bail system and a recent report stating that better coordination between hospitals, clinics, schools, and public health department could drastically improve their health outcomes. Harris country also happens to be the site of more deportations than almost any other county in the country. Hidalgo wants to fund legal defense for immigrants, much like New York state does.
“I’d worked with people for whom the jail was their mental health facility, for whom the emergency room at the hospital was their healthcare facility,” she said. “The county is a collection of institutions that helps those with the greatest needs.”
She may be young, but Lina Hidalgo is smarter, more passionate and has more vision than most politicians out there and Texas is lucky to have her. She also happens to be the first woman and the first immigrant elected to the executive of the largest county in Texas. We can’t wait to see what she is able to accomplish.