Dallas County Judge Jenkins Discusses The Future
Clay Jenkins is seeking a 4th term as Dallas County’s top official. A Democrat, many Dallas residents have seen him on TV during the Pandemic, as he has felt responsible to help Dallas citizens navigate safely through the county’s COVID-19 Response.
Later this month he’ll receive an honor for his Public Service from his Alma Mater. He’s been chosen as a Baylor Distinguished Alumna, and he’s to be inducted into the Baylor Hall of Fame – the first Democrat to receive the honor since Governor Ann Richards.
Born in Oak Cliff, Judge Jenkins’ family moved to Waxahachie when he was young. He graduated from Waxahachie High School where he ran track and played some football but didn’t pursue either sport in college. He says, “It was a lot of fun.”
He then went to Baylor for college and law school. He is proud to be raising his daughter in Dallas County. And he’s a happy dog owner to Bon Bon, a Golden Doodle the family adopted during Covid.
Getting into Politics
Our Dallas County Judge since 2011 and now up for re-election, how did Judge Jenkins get into politics?
“That’s a great question!” he responds enthusiastically. “I clerked for the Texas supreme court where I learned a lot about Election law,” he explains. “I volunteered and did a lot of voter protection work for then-candidate for Mayor Ron Kirk, and he talked me into being the Texas Director for the Obama campaign. The energy of that campaign was what got me into politics, but I knew I didn’t want to go to Washington, so it led me to this position.”
Judge Jenkins has been on the Commission for a decade, but he says he’s not tired. “I’m not at all tired – there’s so much on the line – defeating covid, helping with the American Rescue Plan. I want to make sure that we use the money we’ve been given in a way to bless generations to come. I love this job!”
Is the pandemic over? “I’m afraid it’s not over – but we’re tired of it.” He admits.
“We just must keep doing what the doctors locally and nationally tell us will work. The virus only responds to science-based approaches. It doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, it’s just looking for a host: Team Human vs. the Virus.”
He says the biggest challenge in his time as Judge of the Commissioner’s Court has been the pandemic. “As far as an event – the pandemic has presented the most challenges because our team has been deployed for over two years and that can really wear on you. Life happens. While we’ve been responding to this, our people have had losses, deaths, family issues and we have to work through all of those things and still remained focused.”
Navigating Dallas Disasters
Since taking office in 2011, Judge Clay Jenkins has led the responses to public health emergencies like the West Nile Virus epidemic, Ebola crisis, and natural disaster recovery from deadly tornadoes and flooding.
Most recently, on January 2, 2022, Judge Jenkins filed a Disaster Declaration due to impending icy weather in Dallas County, so help could come faster if needed during #WinterStormLandon
As chair of the Enroll North Texas Coalition, he has led efforts to increase health insurance enrollment for the last seven years to improve public health and reduce the burden on taxpayers who bear the cost for uncompensated care.
He worked with DISD and other local districts to reform truancy and school discipline, and to improve school bus service because he wants to help ensure that every student reaches their full potential. The judge is an outspoken champion for the Dallas County Promise – an effort to provide debt free college to all Dallas County graduating seniors.
Since 2014, Judge Jenkins has worked with local faith groups, community leaders, and federal government partners in various efforts to aid immigrant communities, particularly unaccompanied minors, DACA recipients, asylum seekers and refugees.
As the Chief Elected Official of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas, Judge Jenkins is committed to helping more residents get living wage jobs. His 2017 “You’re Hired Job Fest” was the largest employment fair ever in Dallas County, with over 2,300 job seekers connecting with 4,000 living wage jobs.
Elections and Emergencies
Jenkins began his political career in March 2010 when he defeated incumbent Jim Foster in the Democratic Party primary election for Dallas County Judge. In the November general election of the same year, he defeated Republican candidate Wade Emmert to become the county judge.
Two years later Dallas County was hit by an outbreak of West Nile virus in 2012, so Jenkins declared a state of emergency for the county and led efforts to spray for mosquitoes.
In 2014, amid a child migrant crisis, Jenkins offered to house as many as two thousand immigrant children who cross the Mexico–United States border in Dallas County, which prompted a meeting between President Barack Obama and Texas Governor Rick Perry concerning immigration and border security.
When Dallas County became the first county in the United States to have a confirmed Ebola virus case, Judge Jenkins fearlessly entered the home of Thomas Eric Duncan without personal protective equipment and personally helped Duncan’s family move into temporary housing while their house was being decontaminated. Although widely criticized by his political opponents for his personal involvement, he won national praise from health officials for destigmatizing the disease by showing that the disease cannot be transmitted between asymptomatic individuals.
“I’m still in touch with the family,” he says, “and they’re doing well.”
Early Voting started on February 14, and it runs through to February 25th, then Election Day is March 1. Is that too long a time? Jenkins says, “Democracy works best when more people participate. People have died for our right to vote.”
Jenkins looks forward to being re-elected to help the city over the next few years, and what can happen with the funding Dallas will get. “What do we do with this funding, the $110 million extra dollars in Dallas County,” is important. Much will be spent on Mental Health programs. Another $120 million between the City of Dallas and DISD and Dallas County will be spent on expanding broadband to places all over Dallas County, “to help after school for students with homework and provide an opportunity to work from home for more people who don’t have it now.”
He says areas like Fair Park that were built in the 1950’s and 60’s will be updated so the residents “Can enjoy the things some neighborhood takes for granted.”
As for his future, “Right now I’m in my dream job.” He elaborates: “My 89-year-old mom lives with us, my daughter is 16, so it’s not a time for me to leave for 250 days out of the year.”
He adds, “I look at all opportunities out there and tell young people this: focus on the challenge right in front of you. Do the things that help you succeed. There are lots of people who just dream and think ‘if only.’ I say you can do this … do your best with what’s in front of you. God opens doors – just never know what’s it going to be.”
Have a question for Judge Jenkins?