Monday, October 18, 2010

Criminal-justice related elections to watch

As early voting begins today, I thought it'd be a good time to review criminal-justice related races around the state worth watching. Here are a few which are on my radar screen; what am I missing?

Statewide Judges
Charles Kuffner and I have a bet: I think Texas' top vote-getting judicial candidates will outpoll gubernatorial candidate Bill White, while he insists White will outpoll them. While I wouldn't speculate that Texas Democrats will win any statewide seats this year, if history is any guide their biggest vote getters will be statewide judicial candidates, including Keith Hampton running against Michael Keasler for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Hampton's racked up a few newspaper endorsements, but even more critical may be the extent to which voters are aware of the CCA's recent dysfunction and aim their anti-incumbent ire at Keasler and other Republican judges. Libertarian candidates will likely siphon off enough anti-incumbent votes to keep these seats in Republican hands, but statewide judicial races have been getting closer every election cycle and I wouldn't be surprised to see incumbents' vote totals dip below 50% of the electorate.

Courts of Appeal
Among the most interesting races in this category are Morris Overstreet vs. Chief Justice Sherry Radack on the First Court of Appeals in Houston and Kurt Kuhn vs. Melissa Goodwin on the Third Court of Appeals in Austin. Also, the Democratic incumbent Chief Justice from the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texarkana faces a challenger in a district where recent elections have been decided by just a few percentage points. In addition, there are two other seats up on the First Court of Appeals which are likely to be competitive, plus three seats in play in the Fourteenth Court of Appeals south of Houston and two in the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas, both of which have run close in recent election cycles. (See this compendium of judicial matchups from Judgepedia and the Secretary of State for recent electoral histories.)

Dallas District Attorney
It'll be particularly interesting to see the outcome of the Dallas DA's race, which I've suggested will be closer than the 60-40 blowout the incumbent is predicting. The Dallas News rightly points out that "At times, the race seems more a referendum on the current DA than a face-off between two experienced attorneys." Dallas is an expensive media market and it's virtually impossible for campaigns to develop a complex message or define a relatively unknown candidate like Danny Clancy. As a consequence, the only thing voters know about the DA's office is whatever they think they know about the incumbent: They'll vote for or against him, for the most part ignoring his opponent's credentials and record. Ironically, that dynamic is exactly how Watkins himself, then a political unknown, was able to defeat a long-time incumbent to earn his own first term; now the same situation confronts him.

Will Dallas and Houston judicial races stay blue?
Judicial races in Dallas and Houston will foretell in large part whether recent Democratic gains in those counties will translate into a permanent (for now) majority or if those jurisdictions will remain competitive. In addition, changes to the makeup of those counties' commissioners courts, both of which are presently split from a partisan perspective, may have as great an impact on their respective justice systems as anything the judges do.

Other races
The Bexar County DA's race on paper should be close, but challenger Nico Lahood drew opposition from local police unions and has spent too much time so far explaining a petty drug conviction from his 20s. In Victoria County, by contrast, police union support has gone to a Democrat after the incumbent Republican began actively prosecuting police misconduct, potentially putting the race in play although Republicans typically carry countywide races handily. In Galveston, the local paper endorsed Republican challenger Jack Roady over Democratic incumbent Kurt Sistrunk in what could be a tight race. In Collin County, Republican Greg Willis faces off for DA against Democrat Rafael De La Garza to replace incumbent John Roach (who's been on quite a tear recently), though a D victory there would be a stunner. Ditto for the Taylor County Sheriff's slot (Abilene), which has drawn two strong candidates but where the R has a major structural advantage. In Nueces County, the Republican DA appointed by Gov. Perry appears likely to fall to a Democratic challenger, while the Democratic Sheriff in Hays County may have trouble retaining his seat.

What do folks think of these various races and what other criminal-justice related contests are folks watching out there? Let me know in the comments


Anonymous said...

I pray that Keith Hampton will win his race.

Anonymous said...

I think you may have blinders on as to the state wide revulsion to the Democrat party at this particular time. It is going to be a Republican butt-kicking extrodinaire. Not that I'm advocating for that--it's just a realist perspective.

Hook Em Horns said...

The coming GOP landslide will show just how weak of a Governor Rick Perry really is. I am going to project a Perry win but it will be much, much closer than anyone thinks.

Prison Doc said...

7"58, the main problem with Perry is that he has been around too long, but with the predicted coming "wave" I can't see that White has any chance regardless of his debatable qualities. Hopefully the judgeships will remain nonpartisan but somehow I doubt it...too easy to vote a straight ticket. Will be interesting.

Considering taking vacation to stay up late with returns.

Josh said...

"Also, the Democratic incumbent Chief Justice from the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texarkana faces a challenger in a district where recent elections have been decided by just a few percentage points." - A couple of points: I am Josh Morriss, the incumbent Chief Justice of the Sixth Court of Appeals in Texarkana. I'm a Republican and, unless the sample ballot I have seen is woefully incorrect, am unopposed in the 11/2010 general election.

DEWEY said...

Vote early, and vote often !!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks Josh, I corrected it. I misread the Judgepedia page and mistook your primary opponent for a general election challenge. My bad. :)

Josh said...

Thanks, Grits, for your prompt fix ... and good humor. :)