Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010 criminal justice elections to watch

Looking forward to the 2010 elections, most Texas media and politicos' focus has been on the Governor's race and a handful of open seats and competitive races at the Lege. But as the January 4 filing deadline approaches, what criminal-justice related races out there merit watching?

At the Court of Criminal Appeals, Keith Hampton has announced he will seek Judge Michael Keasler's spot. I'm hoping at least one other Democrat steps up to run against Judge Meyers on the CCA before the filing deadline, just in case the Governor's race turns out to be close and some Democrat gets lucky. In Texas' last mid-term election in 2006, an unknown Democratic CCA candidate who ran no campaign received about 300,000 more votes than then-Senate candidate Barbara Radnofsky. I predict this time, too, judicial races will be Democrats' top statewide vote getters.

Speaking of Barbara Radnofsky, she'll face off against incumbent Attorney General Greg Abbott in a race that for me hinges mostly on the candidates' open records stances.

Ex-Travis County DA Ronnie Earle will run against incumbent David Dewhurst for Lt. Governor, doing his best Don Quixote impersonation.

Among sitting District Attorneys, Dallas' Craig Watkins has a big bullseye on his back. He's definitely the favorite going into the race, but Watkins has taken a lot of hits recently and if the GOP can't knock off the rookie DA in 2010, they're likely stuck with him or some other Democrat for quite a long time. That tells me the Dallas GOP will likely throw the kitchen sink at him hoping to stem the recent tide of Democratic victories in that county. It's what I'd do in their shoes.

Also in Dallas, three of the constables who've been accused of misconduct by the commissioners court are facing primary opponents, reports Kevin Krause at the Dallas News. (It'd be nice to see those problems resolved at the ballot box, for once, instead of in the courts.)

In McLennan County, long-time incumbent DA John Segrest will see his first contested race in a generation. The local police unions are gunning for him and it promises to be a spirited fight.

Meanwhile, Sandra Day O'Connor may think judges shouldn't be elected, but for the time being her opinion doesn't matter much. There are lots of local judicial races heating up in both next year's primary and general elections. The big questions: Will Dallas and Harris judicial races continue to trend Democratic in next year's general election, and will countywide seats all follow suit? (That's partly why the Dallas DA's race is so critical for Republicans who hope to stem their electoral bleeding there.)

Democrats in Bexar should be primed for similar gains in judicial seats, but corruption and disarray in their county party could prevent them from capitalizing on the opportunity.

There are also quite a few judicial primary races to watch: Austin has several open seats up this go-round in district and county courts, but it's unclear how many will end up being competitive races. There are also competitive judicial primaries in both Dallas and Houston. (Kuff is helpfully running a series of Q&As for judges running in Harris County's Democratic primary.)

At the court of appeals level, too few candidates have filed so far to tell what will be the key matchups. I did notice Chief Justice Josh Morris of the 6th Court of Appeals out of Texarkana drew a GOP primary opponent named H.D. Bailey. Dems have a few challengers lined up to run against incumbents or to fill unexpired terms, while most of the Republicans who've filed so far are returning incumbents. An open seat on the 3rd Court of Appeals should be a competitive fight between Democrat Kurt Kuhn and Republican Scott Field. (See which appeals court seats are up next year on this Secretary of State's site.)

I'll sort through competitive local and appellate judicial races more thoroughly after the filing deadline, but in the meantime let me know which races you're watching in your own neck of the woods.

Beyond candidates, there will probably be a vote on a quarter-billion dollars in bonds to expand the Harris County jail. Voters already said "no" to the plan once, but like a bad penny the idea keeps coming back. We'll likely see one or two other county jail plebiscites next year, if I had to guess, though none have been formally set yet.

What other state or local criminal-justice related elections are you watching next year? Let me know in the comments.


Matthew Venhaus said...

Under the O'Connor proposal, how are the state commissions selected?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Solely by salutary saints and scholars, I'm certain.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's Smith County . . . Judge Joel Baker and his everlonging quest for a new jail. I'm not sure he has any competition, but I'm sure the rest of the judges in the county would support anyone other than him short of Howdy Duty.

Atticus said...

"Merit" - such a good sounding word! But who selects the selectors? Aye, there's the rub, and is the key question and problem in any "merit" system. It really doesn't remove "politics", does it? Want "nonpartisan" judicial elections? You really don't want the 3-5% who now vote in school board and city council elections to select the entire judiciary, do you? Remove "straight ticket" voting and the large law firms gain control. When looked at in that light, it's hard to beat our current electoral system, imperfect though it may be.

Anonymous said...

Scott, look for Nicholas LaHood to unseat Bexar DA Susan "Free to Move about the country via Southwest Airlines free voucher scandal" Reed. DA Reed had her flunkies take the hit so she could come out smelling like a rose. It will likely cost her this next election. Nico LaHood will be good fir Bexar County and bring back a better and more cordial environment at the DA's office.
Also watch for incumbent Judge Monica "Free to fly about the country via Southwest Airlines ticket scandal" Guerrero to be sent packing by the voters whom are tired of the "Do as I say not as I do" attitude she exhibits in and out of her courtroom. Several other Judges (Kazen, Angelini, Alonzo, Garraghan-Moulder) may be in trouble due to their failure to fix "their mess" with regards to Chief Fitzgerald at the Bexar County adult probation department.
It's time to clean up the courthouse voters!!!

Anonymous said...

Democrats in Bexar should be primed for similar gains in judicial seats, but corruption and disarray in their county party could prevent them from capitalizing on the opportunity.

Are you upset by the corruption or by the fact that since corruption was uncovered a democrat might not be elected?

Matthew Venhaus said...

Jo Anne Bernal and Teresa Caballero will face off in the Democratic Primary for the El Paso County Attorney spot vacated by Jose Rodriguez. I suspect Bernal will win handily, but TC's presence should shed more light on El Paso's fraudulent medical examiner, Paul Shrode.