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Making a Difference

Adrian Garcia never forgot where he came from

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Adrian Garcia never forgot where he came from. Despite his meteoric rise in politics, he still lives in Lindale Park, not far from the neighborhood where he grew up in Houston.

That’s where he’s currently running for re-election, as Commissioner of sprawling Precinct 2 in eastern Harris County. Precinct 2 encompasses 560 square miles, from the back streets of Huffman to the bayous of Clear Lake City, divided by the busy Houston Ship Channel. According to the Census, it’s got a population of 1,182,848, of which 63.6% is Latino.

Garcia’s parents were immigrants from Mexico who came to Houston in 1959. Growing up, he first wanted to be a football star and then fly helicopters in the military. But the violence in Moody Park changed everything. In 1978, two days after Cinco de Mayo, over 1,000 people rioted to protest police brutality. Garcia’s older brother Ignacio was a police officer, and Adrian realized that not all policemen were to blame. Instead of enlisting in the army, he joined the Houston Police Department (HPD), where he would serve for 23 years.

Garcia credits that experience with awakening his interest in public service, and in 2003 he was elected to the Houston City Council. “Having been in the front of seat of that patrol car, I've been to the nicest neighborhoods and the toughest neighborhoods, and I've seen where government has failed. I believe that perspective will allow me to do great things," he told the Houston Chronicle.

While on the City Council, he chaired two committees – Public Safety and Homeland Security, and Minority/Women Business Enterprise. He was also confirmed as Mayor Pro-Tem by Mayor Bill White.

Garcia’s father, a former bracero who ran an automotive repair shop, was a role model along with his brother. “My father was always working and treating people as a public servant,” he recalls. “If someone needed money, he would offer them a job. If they were homeless, he would give them a room to sleep in.”

The example of his father’s willingness to help those less fortunate informs Garcia’s philosophy of public service. “Government has to work in a non-political way. You have to show people what government can do to make a difference in their lives. When you do it well, people see what you can do,” he says.

In 2008, he became Harris County’s first Latino sheriff, and easily won re-election in 2012. Running the third-largest sheriff’s department in the U.S. was certainly a challenge, but it taught him to manage a large bureaucracy, he recalls. As sheriff, Garcia worked to eliminate chronic overcrowding in jails, saved more than $200 million in operating costs, and added 200 policemen to protect the community.

In 2015, he unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Houston, but then came back in 2018 to win election as the powerful Commissioner of Precinct 2. The head of Harris County’s governing body, the Commissioners Court, is Judge Lina Hidalgo, but that’s not a judicial position. The independent commissioners of each of the four precincts are similar to city managers, with budget authority. In 2021, Harris County’s general fund budget was $3.3 billion. 

According to Garcia, his majority Latino precinct faces challenges such as lack of educational opportunities, health disparities, and inadequate access to healthcare.  “We need to educate, employ, and empower,” says Garcia. “People need to know we haven’t forgotten about them and recognize government as a partner. They need to be allowed to work hard and see their children succeed.” 

Garcia believes the solution to many of Houston’s ills lies in generating more opportunities – opportunities for the city, and its youth, to succeed. That’s the purpose of “Revive to Thrive,” a $50 million initiative that uses infrastructure investment to secure neighborhoods as an alternative to gentrification. “We’re investing in areas that haven’t seen much investment so they can thrive once again, and people can be proud of their communities,” he says.

To promote job growth among underrepresented communities, Garcia established  the Precinct 2 Office of Economic Opportunity to create “a competitive and diverse environment to promote the growth and success of historically underutilized businesses through meaningful participation in the county procurement process.” In 2019, of the $60 million devoted to projects in Precinct 2, more than $23 million went to minority, women, small, and disadvantaged businesses (MWSDBEs).

And to strengthen education, Garcia is passionate about promoting the benefits of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. “STEM education is critical to providing opportunities to our young people,” Garcia says. “It’s the key to unlock our future.”  

One reason he focuses on STEM is the influence of his friend Dr. Enrique Barrera, professor of Materials Science and Nanoengineering at Rice University, who has been recognized for his achievements in research as well as mentoring and recruitment to engineering.  Another is the fact that with NASA, Ellington Air Force Base, and the petrochemical plants in Baytown in his backyard, Garcia says it’s natural to push youth into STEM careers and to leverage the industry’s knowhow for the city’s benefit. 

Garcia highlights the need to protect the environment, a major focus of his administration, as one way he is working with STEM industries to both provide opportunities to its youth and help solve Houston’s challenges. In particular, Garcia points to the oil and gas industry, which is cooperating with his efforts to leverage technology for the benefit of all. “I am focused on creating a good neighbor attitude with our energy companies,” he says.  “In fact, I envision a green future that benefits the environment, our energy industry and our youth.”

To that point, in May 2021 Garcia spearheaded a resolution from the Harris County Commissioners Court promoting Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and hopes it takes root in his own district. CCS, which aims to capture carbon dioxide produced by industrial facilities and permanently store it underground in places like depleted oil fields – of which the Houston area has many – is considered by experts to be a major part of the solution to climate change. 

That resolution also noted that a company with facilities in his district, ExxonMobil has already committed to developing a $100 billion CCS project to capture emissions along the Houston Ship Channel and commended the company’s “commitment to innovation in Harris County to ultimately prove up this technology for the world to use to meet our climate goals.”

Garcia says his push for CCS is part of his commitment to make Houston not just the Energy Capital of the World but the Clean Energy Capital of the World. According to him, that goal will require working collaboratively with the technology sector to bring innovation to Harris County. 

“We will need a strong public-private partnership to realize the promises of CCS. Together, we will need to design new facilities to capture the Carbon and install new pipelines to transport it to storage deep below the ground. Building those new facilities and pipelines means jobs, and welcoming a new green industry to our city means opportunities for our young people – perhaps even to become the CEOs of those clean energy companies,” he says.

To Garcia, opportunity is the solution.  Garcia admits that it’s because of his own upbringing that he’s so passionate about it. “I have dedicated myself to ensuring that no other young person will have to struggle to reach the places I’ve reached,” he says. “I recognize the blessings I’ve been given and that others should have the same opportunities.”

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