A Houston-area elected official is apologizing after getting extremely mad on Facebook that Harris County judge Lina Hidalgo had updated the community on a massive chemical fire in Spanish. The official, Chambers County commissioner Mark Tice, also later told the Houston Chronicle in an interview that he didn’t think she was qualified for her position, despite clearly not knowing anything about her background.
Tice’s comments came during a press conference in which Hidalgo was delivering updates on the Houston-area chemical fire in Deer Park, TX, which raged for more than 60 hours at an Intercontinental Terminals Co. petrochemical storage site last week. Harris County has sued ITC over the fire, alleging that it failed to prevent the fire by violating rules such as the Texas Clean Air Act and the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act.
According to the Chronicle, Hidalgo—the first woman and Latinx person to be elected Harris County judge—spoke in both English and Spanish during the Monday press conference, drawing ire from Tice, who commented, “She is a joke,” and “English this is not Mexico” on the conference’s live feed. (Hidalgo was born in Colombia.)
Despite Tice’s racist and sexist comments, he doubled down in a phone interview with the Chronicle on Tuesday. “It’s real simple. This is the United States,” Tice told the Chronicle. “Speak English.”
“If you come to this country, learn the language or get an interpreter,” Tice added, going on to say, “You got 300,000 Muslims [in the Houston area], so lets go ahead and speak some Arabic.” (If this were true, somewhere around 10 percent of the entire population of Muslims in the U.S. would be living in the Houston area. Even so, Arabic isn’t even the most-spoken language of Muslims in Texas—Urdu is.)
Tice also told the Chronicle that he didn’t think Hidalgo was qualified to be a county judge, an assumption for which he clearly had no basis other than his clear dissatisfaction with a Latina wanting to make sure that nearly 40 percent of her constituents understood her comments on the chemical fire. From the Chronicle:
Tice said he wasn’t referring to Hidalgo’s willingness to speak Spanish when he called her a “joke.” He said he simply doesn’t think she’s qualified for the job of county judge.
“It’s nothing personal,” he said. “It’s nothing against her. She’s probably a great lady. The bottom line is, I don’t think she’s prepared to do the county’s work.”
He couldn’t elaborate on what, specifically, makes her unqualified.
“I don’t have [her resume] in front of me,” he said.
Hours after his interview, however, Tice wrote a non-apology in which he blamed his frustration on thinking Hidalgo’s comments weren’t being repeated in English, writing, “If that is not the case, then I sincerely apologize.”
“I recognize how my response could have been interpreted in a derogatory manner and for that I am sorry,” he continued, adding that he grew up in the Houston suburb of Galena Park, TX, which he called a “very diverse community, and that he “was raised with the ideology that you do not judge anyone by their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.” Looks like he didn’t carry those lessons into adulthood!