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Mark Tice apologizes after saying Lina Hidalgo should speak English

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – A Chambers County commissioner is officially apologizing Tuesday for what he said about Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Mark Tice originally told Hidalgo that she should not speak Spanish during her news conferences.

Alternating between English and Spanish during press conferences is an easy decision for Hidalgo.

"I have this blessing that I can speak Spanish. At least a third of the county speaks Spanish and I must use that skill that I have," Hidalgo said. "Especially when there’s a disaster situation, we have to make sure that those key messages get out to the communities."

While hundreds of people thanked Hidalgo on social media, hundreds of others, including Tice, took issue with the language difference.

“She is a joke," he wrote. "English this is not Mexico.”

Hidalgo insisted she’s not concerned about the criticism, instead calling her bilingual skills a blessing.

"I’m focused on the response. I’m focused on getting information to our communities. If I could speak more languages, I’d mention it in those," she said.

Tice has been on the job since January.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, he doubled down on his social media comments.

“It’s real simple. This is the United States. Speak English,” he said.

Tice said his understanding was that the judge was answering some questions from Spanish media in Spanish, without translating the answer into English.

But, “I immediately regretted my choice of words,” he wrote in his apology. “I’m not proud of my behavior, that is noy the example I wish to lead by. I can only hope, in time, that my actions can be forgiven.”

Tice’s neighbors told KPRC he was “the farthest thing from a racist,” and a “good man.” Joe Briscoe said he has known Tice for 40 years.

Solid as they come,” Briscoe said. “He’s important to this community. He’s a huge asset out here to this part of the world. You know, so we love him.”

“There are differences of opinion,” Hidalgo said. “But I can’t sacrifice the safety of the community and not use this ability to communicate directly with a very significant portion of our county.”

After KPRC2 contacted Tice, the commissioner sent this apology:

"In regards to the comments I issued on Judge Hidalgo’s press conference: From my understanding, there were reporters asking questions in Spanish and Judge Hildalgo responded to those questions in Spanish, with no translation given. If that is not the case, then I sincerely apologize. Like many citizens concerned about the ITC fires, I was very emotional about the effect it was having on everyone. I apologize to Judge Hidalgo, the citizens of my County, and most importantly the entire Hispanic community for hastily acting out 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. Having grown up in Galena Park, Texas— a place that is and has always been a very diverse community—I was raised with the ideology that you do not judge anyone by their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Those values mean everything to me. It breaks my heart that I may have said anything that would lead anyone to believe otherwise. Those who know me well, know how deeply rooted I am within the Hispanic community. My sentiments on this issue were grounded in the passion and love that I have for the City of Houston and the surrounding areas. Again, I am truly sorry for for creating this unnecessary situation."

When asked about his comments to the Chronicle, Tice wrote:

"My comments towards Judge Hidalgo today in the Chronicle were inappropriate. I apologize for that. I was very emotional, and said things that I regret. Again, I am truly sorry.”