Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Texas Criminal Justice Election Highlights

Want an indication of how unpopular Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have become? Judge Keller pulled only 56.73% of the statewide vote yesterday, even though her Democratic opponent essentially ran no campaign. Said the Austin Statesman: "her opponent, a seldom-seen or heard-from lawyer named J.R. Molina, 61, a Democrat from Fort Worth, offers no serious alternative."

But Molina was Texas' second largest Democratic vote getter (after Supreme Court candidate Bill Moody)! He won nearly 1.8 million votes against the ignominious Judge Keller, while US Senate candidate Barbara Radnofsky got around 1.5 million, and Chris Bell got just 1.3 million, give or take in his gubernatorial loss. All told, Molina probably spent less than $20,000 for his entire statewide campaign.

Meet J.R. Molina: Texas' Democratic Party standardbearer! (Correction: I failed to notice Moody's totals before posting this -- still!)

Seriously, I strongly believe from these results that a coordinated, well-funded Democratic campaign aimed at electing Texas judges could be successful at all levels, and potentially an important vehicle for the party's long march back to statewide power. Dems should not start at the Supreme Court, where arguments inevitably revolve around tort reform, but with the weak and discredited Court of Criminal Appeals, and at the circuit and district courts. Hell, two Libertarian candidates garnered nearly a quarter of the vote in the CCA races where no Democrat ran. There's clearly a large, latent, anti-incumbent vote against the CCA waiting to be tapped if the Ds can ever get their act together.

That said, the Democratic sweep of Dallas County - inlcuding the District Attorney and most judicial races - was the biggest news on the criminal justice front for Texas from Tuesday night's elections. The only Republican judges who won ran unopposed. The new county judge is a Democrat, too. Dallas just turned blue.

In other judicial race news, Rs held on to their Harris County district judge seats, but all of them were REALLY close. Incumbent judge Annette Galik beat Democrat Mary Kay Green by just 50.6% to 49.4%. Judge Susan Brown won by the largest margin of any inumbent district judge in Harris County, and she got just 53.1% of the vote. Those are tight races in what's historically been considered a very Repubican town. Given shifting demographic trends, these results indicate it might not be too long before Democrats start winning judicial races in Houston, just as Dallas' shift toward the blue spectrum began with judicial victories.

Many Texas appellate court races also were very close, though with the exception of Diane Henson (no relation, to my knowledge) on the 3rd Court of Appeals. Republicans pulled them all out by often quite narrow margins.

In addition, to update past Grits coverage,voters in Howard County rejected new jail bonds, while in Bandera they approved them.

MORE: Less money needed for Dems to target CCA, judicial races.


AlanBean said...

Promising developments; but where are we going to get the money to fund Democrats in Texas?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I addressed that question, Alan, in its own blog post. Best,