When Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo addressed constituents and reporters in both English and Spanish about a massive chemical fire, it’s likely that some appreciated the gesture. But for Mark Tice, commissioner of Chambers County, it provoked anger.
Hidalgo – a Colombia-born top elected official in Texas’ largest county – spoke about the fire that engulfed a Houston-area storage facility. The video was streamed on KHOU’s Facebook page, where Mark Tice left snarky comments. First, he said, “she is a joke,” according to The Washington Post. He added, “English, this is not Mexico.”
When the Houston Chronicle asked if he made those comments, he confirmed he did and added, “It’s real simple. This is the United States. Speak English.”
Later (and after some backlash), Tice apologized, saying he spoke out because he believed that the conference was only in Spanish.
“Like many citizens concerned about the ITC fires, I was very emotional about the effect it was having on everyone,” Tice said on Facebook. “I apologize to Judge Hidalgo, the citizens of my County, and most importantly the entire Hispanic community for hastily acting our with transgression on social media. I recognize how my response could have been interpreted in a derogatory manner and for that I am sorry. I immediately regretted my choice of words. I’m not proud of my behavior, that is not the example I wish to lead by. I can only hope, in time, that my actions can be forgiven.”
Hildago’s office issued its own statement, reiterating her commitment to the community she serves, including those who only speak Spanish.
“As the Head of Emergency Management, Judge Hidalgo is directly responsible for the safety of all 4.5 million residents of Harris County, a third of whom are Spanish speakers,” said Kiran Khalid, the judge’s director of communications. “The vast majority of the public relies on local news for information in a time of crisis. Judge Hidalgo represents all of Harris County and given the county’s composition and her bilingual skills, she will continue to communicate as broadly as possible especially when public safety is at stake.”