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Lina Hidalgo is first Latina and first woman elected to lead Texas' most populous county

“I feel great. I feel ready,” Hidalgo told NBC News, as she spoke of overseeing a $5 billion budget for the third most populous county in the U.S.
A photo of newly elected Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo, talking to campaign volunteers outside of a polling place located at the SPJST Lodge 88 in the Heights, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Houston.Mark Mulligan / AP

AUSTIN, Texas — Lina Hidalgo is one of the other big stories — not the Ted Cruz-Beto O’Rourke race — to come out of Texas when the dust settled.

Hidalgo became the first Latina and the first woman elected as county judge of Harris County, the county that includes Houston. In Texas, the elected official who is the chief executive for county government is called the county judge.

“I feel great. I feel ready,” Hidalgo told NBC News, as she spoke of her new job overseeing a $5 billion budget for the third most populous county in the country and the most populous in Texas. Harris County has 4.7 million residents.

Harris County also is one of the most diverse, with a population that is about 43 percent Latino, 30 percent white and non-Latino, about 20 percent black and 7.3 percent Asian. The county had 19 black women running for judicial positions and they all won their races.

In her campaign, Hidalgo’s readiness for the job was questioned since she has not held elective office or served in government. But she pulled off an upset win over 11-year incumbent Ed Emmett, a Republican who had some popularity in the county.

“People fundamentally want a Harris County that works differently, that works better,” she said. “I worked (to win) for the people for whom the jail is their mental health facility and the public hospital is their health care. I know we can do better."

Houston is in the running for the Democratic National Convention.

Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Hidalgo’s family fled the cartel violence in her native country when she was 5. They lived in Lima, Perú and Mexico City but then immigrated to the United States through her father’s employer in 2005, when she was 14.

Hidalgo went on to Stanford and also studied at NYU and Harvard. She has worked in international human rights and managed a project protecting freedom of expression of artists and bloggers. She worked in Thailand but returned home after the latest coup there. She also has worked in criminal justice reform.

Her win was part of a Democratic sweep of local Harris County races that also saw Adrian Garcia, a former Harris County sheriff, win election to the county commission, the county's governing board.

“Lina ushers in a new era of diverse leadership in one of the most diverse counties in the country,” said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, told NBC News.