How Fort Bend County got its youngest chief of staff
When KP George was elected as Fort Bend County judge last year, it was a historic election by all accounts. Not only did he manage to flip the judgeship from red to blue after it was held by the same Republican incumbent for 15 years, George also ushered in some much needed diversity in one of the most multicultural, immigrant-rich communities in the nation.
Helping George almost every step of the way in becoming Fort Bend’s top chief was Taral Patel, his 25-year-old, data-focused chief of staff.
Patel, a Katy native who attended Cinco Ranch High School, became George’s chief of staff after working as a strategist during his campaign in the 2018 midterms. When George was sworn in this past January, Patel became the first Hindu and youngest chief for a countywide official in Fort Bend history.
It’s the latest example of how the millennial generation, soon to surpass baby boomers as America’s largest, are making their mark in government.
In Fort Bend County, that means being responsible for aiding 760,000 residents and roughly 3,000 county employees in a county with an annual budget of $370 million.
Patel told The Signal George’s historic election wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the Asian-American community who helped elect him to both the judgeship and his previous elected office as a representative in the Fort Bend ISD school board between 2014 and 2018.
During their original campaign for the Fort Bend school board, Patel said he helped organize phone banking in the native languages of Fort Bend’s Asian American community.
“You usually get a 10 percent rate contact rate normally, or less, when phone banking,” Patel said. “People don’t answer or don’t care. But when you interact with them in their native language, they feel an automatic, immediate connection.”
At one point, Patel said he searched the Fort Bend County phone book for everyone with his last name, as well as other Gujarati surnames to speak to them in Gujarati.
He said the same strategy of microtargeting outreach, using mailers, phone banking and field programs, helped mobilize Asian American community members during the 2018 midterms that were either not involved in politics or voted Republican.
Before serving as chief of staff for George, Patel worked in the Texas legislature with state Rep. Celia Israel of Pflugerville and North Austin while attending the University of Texas. After earning his degree in government and political science, he moved to Colorado to serve as the deputy finance director for then-candidate and now-governor of Colorado Jared Polis.
As he was interviewing for positions in Polis’ new administration, Patel said he returned to Texas to serve as George’s chief of staff because he wanted to be a part of Texas’ growing political transformation and felt Colorado was now enjoying the benefits of a progressive government.
Patel said George’s administration has done its best to be progressive too, like introducing ideas about mass transit in one of Texas’ fastest growing counties, streamlining county services and emergency responses with data-driven solutions, and hiring diverse staff for the new county administration.
He said one of the administration’s proudest achievements has been taking action on the “Sugar Land 95,” or the discovered bodies of 95 African American prisoners who were forced to do harsh labor more than a century ago.
“We used the full force of the county to say ‘these are our citizens, let’s get involved, let’s be a party to this case’,” Patel said.
He said their work, along with Rep. Al Green, Fort Bend District Attorney Brian Middleton, and others, eventually helped lead to a bill signed by the governor this past session that allows smaller sized counties like Fort Bend to operate and maintain cemeteries.
Patel said the new law would allow Fort Bend County to give a proper resting place to the prisoners who had died under the harsh conditions during some of the worst times of the Jim Crow era.
Patel, who has witnessed the political transformation in battleground areas like Colorado and Fort Bend, said it was up to Democrats to overwhelm Republicans who until now, have had it easy in Texas.
“I was very sad when I saw that in Fort Bend, the couple of Republicans that did win last time was because there was no Democratic challenger,” Patel said.
His advice is similar the advice said by other candidates and campaigns whose surprise victories have shocked pundits and upended decades of Republican control.
“Take a look at the seats that are not horribly gerrymandered, and go after them. Period,” Patel said, noting that every elected office, no matter how small, was important to contest too.
“Fort Bend County used to be one of the seven counties in Texas that Karl Rove advised George W. Bush to win in order to win the state,” Patel said. “It used to be a very reliable red county. They can’t say that anymore.”