In stark contrast to the practice of most unelected law enforcement officials, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has been making far more political statements than normal lately, leading to speculation that he might be taking a shot at the governor’s office in the 2022 election.
Multiple attempts to contact the chief through the HPD media office went unreturned, but it’s not hard to see a political trajectory for Acevedo. Since taking the office in 2016, he has launched a national profile far above and beyond what is typical for a police chief even of a city the size of Houston.
Though a lifelong Republican and Cuban American, Acevedo is generally regarded as far more left-leaning than most of his party to the point he actually holds the term RINO (“Republican in name only”) as a point of pride rather than an insult. Being the top cop in a very blue city has earned him praise from the Democratic Party leadership. He appeared in a segment on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, and has become a semi-regular guest on various MSNBC shows.
Is Acevedo left-leaning enough to take on Gov. Greg Abbot as a Democrat? Honestly, it’s quite unclear. The summer’s George Floyd protests against police brutality certainly increased the chief’s profile, but his actual stances are murky. Videos of him kneeling with protesters clash with reports of his officers pepper spraying people who participated in those same protests. There are also the lingering questions about his leadership in relation to the no-knock warrant killings of two Houston residents in 2019.
There is something of a pattern with Acevedo. Texas Monthly’s Michael Hardy has chronicled the myth of Acevedo as a reform-minded hero by listing the many contradictions in his role as chief. He will take to Twitter to rail against the predatory cash bail system after previously defending that same system only a few years before when a Harris County lawsuit would have eliminated it. He also opposed Sheriff Ed Gonzales when the sheriff tried to eliminate bail to empty jails during the coronavirus pandemic.
Police reform is clearly on his mind in recent days, but his primary target seems to be Democrats rather than Republicans. Since the election, Acevedo has retweeted multiple accounts that blame Austin’s call for defunding police as the reason the Democrats failed to make gains in the state this year. His shares include an article from the Austin American-Statesman analyzing the political fallout of Austin’s actions (with commentary from lawyer Adam Lowey saying “obviously yes”) and another blaming defund the police efforts and socialism for the disappointing night.
Acevedo is all over the place when it comes to the hot topic of police reform, often supporting change publicly and then adhering much more to the status quo approach when using his office. His behavior as chief would surely be the main focus of any opponent in a political campaign.
One thing that is clear is Acevedo’s antipathy for Abbott.
He would not be the first police chief to try to unseat Abbott. Dallas police chief Lupe Valdez unsuccessfully gave it a shot in 2018. The pandemic has given Acevedo plenty of chances to attack the state’s top Republican. In May, he blasted Abbott as a hypocrite for issuing an executive order that threatened 180 days of jail time for people violating health directives, then he turned around and criticized cities like Houston for actually enforcing it.
If Acevedo runs as a Democrat, he might be up against some very stiff competition. Beto O’Rourke and both Castro brothers are seen as potential nominees to try to unseat the governor in 2022, and all three have far higher national profiles than Acevedo does. On the other hand, if he tries to run against Abbott in a primary challenge, his path forward might be more manageable. Abbott’s polling numbers have declined significantly based on his handling of the pandemic, though there is still plenty of time for him to recover before voters have a chance to weigh in on his performance.
The field of potential Republican opponents so far is quite underwhelming. Currently, it includes only former Rusk City Councilman Martin Holsome and BlazeTV “comedian” Chad Prather, though bigger names may enter if they smell blood in the water. We likely won’t know until December 2021 (when candidates must file for the primary) if Acevedo is looking to move up or merely continuing to be an oddly politically outspoken police chief. Until then, keep an eye on his Twitter account as he comments on the shifting political landscape.