Robert Eckels

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Robert Allen Eckels

Texas State Representative
for District 133 (Houston)
In office
January 11, 1983 – January 10, 1995
Preceded by New district following redistricting
Succeeded by Joe Nixon

County Judge of Harris County, Texas
In office
1995 – March 6, 2007
Preceded by Jon Lindsay
Succeeded by Ed Emmett

Born March 14, 1957
Houston, Texas
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jet Winkley Eckels
Children Daughter Kirby Eckels
Residence Houston, Texas
Alma mater Houston Christian High School

University of Houston
South Texas College of Law

Occupation Attorney and businessman

Robert Allen Eckels (born March 14, 1957)[1] is an attorney and businessman from his native Houston, Texas, who was from 1983 to 1995 a Republican state representative and from 1995 to 2007 the administrative judge for Harris County.[2]


Eckels' father, Robert Young "Bob" Eckels, Jr., was a trustee of the Houston Independent School District who in 1972 was elected the Precinct 3 county commissioner, a position that he filled until shortly before his death on Christmas eve in 1989.[3] As commissioner, the senior Eckels was accused of having tapped his office telephones and engaged in mail fraud and theft of timber used on county bridge construction. In 1987, he pleaded no contest to charges that he had accepted from a county contractor the construction of a road on his farm in Austin County (not to be confused with the capital of Austin) within the Houston metropolitan district. Eckels told The Houston Chronicle that his father "played the [political] game by their rules. The world has [since] moved."[4]

The senior Eckels had close political ties with Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush. In 1984, while his son was a first-term legislator, Commissioner Eckels is said to have turned the Harris County government into a virtual arm of the Reagan-Bush re-election campaign. He used county telephones, computers, and employees to establish an organization called the National Conference of Republican County Officials. An official in Roanoke County, Virginia, said that the conference was "a working arm for the White House and the national [Republican] Party." Eckels later said that he had used at least $20,000 of his own funds for Reagan-Bush mailings and did not report the expenditure to the Federal Election Commission. Eckels died less than a year after Bush became the U.S. President.[5] The seventeen-year commissioner was convicted of theft and forced to resign. For a number of years his name was synonymous with political corruption in the Houston area.[6]

Eckels' uncle, Paul Glenn "Buck" Eckels, Sr. (1931-2011), for many years owned the Lawyers Title Insurance Company of Houston.[7]

Eckels graduated from Houston Christian High School, the University of Houston, and the South Texas College of Law in Houston. He practices with Looper Reed & McGraw, P.C. He is also the president of Texas Central High-Speed Railway, also known as the Lone Star High Speed Rail.[8] He was formerly affiliated with Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston.[9]

His wife, the former Jet Winkley (born c. 1957), was a lobbyist for the Metropolitan Transit Authority while she and Eckels were engaged and he was a state legislator. Eckels said that because of their relationship he avoided sponsoring transit authority bills. The couple has a daughter, Kirby Eckels.[4]

Political life

In 1982 at the age of twenty-five, Eckels was elected to the first of his six terms in the House. At the time Bill Clements, the first Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction, was simultaneously unseated by the Democrat Mark White, then the state attorney general. Eckels did not seek a seventh term in 1994, when George W. Bush was elected governor. He represented the newly-numbered House District 133 in Harris County.[10]

In his last general election for the legislature in 1992, Eckels had no Democratic opponent but defeated Clyde Garland, nominee of the Libertarian Party, 39,518 votes (88 percent) to 5,413 (12 percent).[11]Eckels was succeeded in the House in 1995 by the Houston lawyer Joe Nixon, a Republican who also served District 133 for six terms.

Upon leaving the house, Eckels began a twelve-year stint as the county judge of the most populous county in Texas. He succeeded the 20-year incumbent, Moderate Republican Jon Lindsay who was caught up in scandal did not run again for county judge. Lindsay and the senior Eckles had been colleagues and occasional rivals on the commissioners court. However, Lindsay supported the younger Eckels for county judge in 1994,[4] when Eckels defeated the Democrat Vince Ryan (born c. 1947).[6]

Lindsay himself rebounded politically to win election in 1996 to the District 7 seat in the state Senate.

As county judge, Eckels also chaired the Harris County Toll Road Authority, the only county-owned toll road system in the United States.[2]Judge Eckles received international recognition for the response by Harris County to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Astrodome and Reliant Park became the largest shelter operation in American history, with more than 250,000 residents given refuge during the storm. In 2005, Esquire magazine' named Eckels the "Best and Brightest - Citizen of the Year" for his leadership during the storms: "When the City of New Orleans evacuated to Houston, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels was an island of competence in the face of catastrophe." The American City and County Magazine named Eckels "County Leader of the Year 2006."[2]

In 2006, Eckels was actually elected to a fourth term as county judge but left some four months later to enter the private sector. Commissioners named transportation consultant and former state Representative Ed Emmett of Kingwood in northeast Houston to succeed Eckels as county judge.[12]

Upon his death, Eckels will be interred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Robert Allen Eckels. Texas State Cemetery. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "America's Bullet Train: Texas Central Railway: Robert Eckels,", accessed March 31, 2014.
  3. Each Texas county regardless of population has four county commissioners from single-member districts. The county judge, who is elected countywide, can break a 2-2 deadlock on the commission.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Craig Malisow (May 5, 2005). Eckels: The Son Also Rises: The county judge comes into his own on Commissioners Court. The Houston Press. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.
  5. Webster Griffin Tarpley et al, George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, Chapter 22 – "Bush Takes The Presidency."
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tim Fleck (September 29, 1994). Son of Lindsay ... Son of Driscoll: Robert Eckels and Vince Ryan fight the battles of the past as they fight each other for county judge. The Houston Press. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.
  7. Paul Glenn Eckels obituary. The Houston Chronicle. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.
  8. Robert Eckles. Facebook. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.
  9. Robert A. Eckels. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.
  10. Robert Eckels. Texas Legislative Reference Library. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.
  11. Texas Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 3, 1992.
  12. Edward Martin Emmett. Texas State Cemetery. Retrieved on January 16, 2021.