Why the 2022 Harris County Judge Race will Be Critical for Education Programs in Harris County
To protect public education, advocates must keep a close eye on local races such as the one for Harris County Judge. In Texas and across the country, education is under attack. Far-right misinformation propagandists are stirring up nonexistent issues to enrage unwitting parents to push bans on books and attacks on teachers. Schools are under constant threat of gun violence thanks to inaction by the governor and outlandish conspiracy policy pushed by Ted Cruz and the NRA. Even a cursory glance at the falsehoods and extremist positions peddled in the wake of Uvalde display the dangers of Greg Abbott’s perspective on schools.
Rightwing demagogues in league with outwardly white supremacist groups are aggresively protesting public LGBTQ events, a few short months after Indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton decided to leverage the power of his office to attack trans kids through a questionable legal manuever.
As one doctor put it:
“The very notion that trans kids and their families are at risk of facing legal ramifications and charges of child abuse for supporting their trans family members is barbaric and goes against the evidence-based, gender-affirming medical guidance from numerous national medical organizations. These parents are not being abusive; the law is abusive. Directives like this, and the anti-trans rhetoric around them, send the false and damaging message to trans people and their families that their very existence is invalid. With trans youth already experiencing stigma and discrimination and higher rates of depression, self-harm, and homelessness, among other things, directives like this have the very real potential to hurt trans kids in myriad ways and increase these rates.”
Texas Child Protective Services have taken aim at trans kids on Paxton’s directive. Based on our Indicted AG’s claim that gender-affirming care is “child abuse,” a trans case worker with CPS was recently assigned to investigate two cases, placing the families in danger of being ripped apart by the state all because the parents decided to love their kids exactly as they are.
All of these actions are further funded and amplified by shadowy far right billionaire donors in oil and gas, hellbent on complete and total control of the levers of power. In other words, our schools are already in the grip of the far right, and can slide into an even tighter grip if we are not proactive about pushing back what is now a nationwide assault from anti-ed forces.
So when we look at a local office such as those at the county level, we should take those candidates seriously about what they have to say about education, and who their friends are. When we let extremists at the local level attack public education, or allow the rightwing extremists in Austin to dictate how we educate our kids, Harris County leaves itself open to defunded schools, the expansion of unqualified and harmful corporate-controlled school experiments, and the degradation of teachers and students alike.
And as a career educator and mother who works to make sure our kids always have what they need, I find Alexandra Mealer’s stance on education and ties to extremists troubling for the students of Harris County.
Alexandra Mealer’s View Means Defunding Schools
The Republican position on education at the county level has generally been to oppose any involvement in education by the county. In response to a $48 million investment in early childhood education by Harris County Judge Hidalgo and Democratic commissioners, Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle has stated that he does not see education as the “proper function of county government, and Mealer called the funding “irresponsible.”
That example alone is a clear sign of the significant division on education policy between Mealer and Hidalgo. With the Judge in charge of the county, local education will receive local support in pursuit of bigger visions such as universal pre-k. With Mealer, the county would move away from involvement in education, no matter what impact that has on students. The Republican majority would have the votes to not only shut down education initiatives directly but also welcome the wolves from Austin to shut them down from on-high.
Interestingly, as evidenced by bipartisan cooperation at the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE), the county has lots of success to show for its education initiatives. Led by trustees such as Andrea Duhon, HCDE has opened two new Head Start locations, approved budgets for new schools to be built for special needs students, and started a County Connections program to fund after school programs throughout Harris County. HCDE has made progress in adult education as well, connecting with labor unions and other key stakeholders to develop a pathway for GED and Fortis graduates to go into workforce apprenticeships more quickly and easily. HCDE has stood up for teachers and other education professionals, too, approving and implementing programs to fray the cost of school supplies, and establishing a $15/hour minimum wage for employees of the department.
All of these programs unfortunately exist under constant impending threat from the Texas Legislature. On more than one occasion, Austin has sought to shut the department down, effectively killing its programs. A short while ago, rightwing department trustees wanted to do the governor’s bidding by abolishing their own board. While pro-education advocates were able to wrest control back and stave off any major changes while they were in the board minority, career politicians are still circling the waters around education in Harris County.
Harris County education programs positively impact thousands of people per year, and are worth the budgetary investment, too.
Alexandra Mealer’s Connection to MAGA Extremists
Recently I published a piece at Texas Signal about just a few of the extremist supporters of Alexandra Mealer and the Harris County GOP, such as Doc Greene, who was arrested for bringing a weapon to a children’s reading event at a library he was previously banned from; Mary Bowden, a doctor most known for spreading COVID-19 misinformation; and Beverly Uhlmer Roberts, a South Texas operative for one of the most extreme demagogue organizations in the country.
All of these extremists indicate an opening for Harris County conservatives to attack education, health services, public safety, free and fair voting, and other key issues in the 2022 election. But the Mealer supporter who should ring alarm bells on education issues is Angela Box.
Box is a rightwing internet talking head who accidentally launched her career by saying she hoped Obama would get Ebola, and called Muslims “goat f**kers” and “bacon haters” on a podcast, thereby getting fired from her job as a teacher. She now dedicates her time toward similar kinds of racist and anti-gay edgelording, using terms like “LGBTQ mafia” and calling Pride Month a “demonic scam.”
That she was ever a teacher in the first place is, frankly, heartbreaking. Her statements are examples of the values we should never teach our kids. Alexandra Mealer was happy to go on Box’s show and accept her endorsement, which means that bigots determined to impose the same kind of ideology she pushes would have an open door at 1001 Preston.
Protect Sound Education Policies in the Harris County 2022 Elections
Voters in Harris County have a choice this November to either embolden MAGA extremists who oppose public education programs that have had a significant positive impact in our community, or support the people who made those programs come to life. Parents, students, and teachers relying on critical services such as literacy programs, special needs education, and early childhood education from the Harris County Department of Education need our support to keep those services going. In particular, we need a County Judge like Lina Hidalgo, who will stand up for our local community against the whims of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and their super donors. By backing pro-ed candidates like Hidalgo and Duhon, we can give every kid the chance to thrive.