|Photo via US Marines' official Flickr acount|
Judge Keller, the self-styled, "pro-prosecution" judge, has so much baggage coming in it'd be hard to know where to attack first. The findings of facts against her by the Commission on Judicial Conduct were damning and provide ample fodder for campaign attacks. (Her punishment was overturned as illegal but the findings of fact on the merits remained untouched in a circus-like tragicomedy that embarrassed the court and the state.) Keller was also fined by the Ethics Commission $100,000 for failing to disclose a vast web of financial entanglements. (See the ruling [pdf].)
Even more than those dark moments, though, many of her opinions and dissents contain jaw-dropping pro-government assumptions that could be mined for anti-populist material that would make any good Tea-Party type cringe. Just as Governor Perry's greatest political achievement has been to maximize power over state agencies through appointments of political allies, creating a (relatively) strong executive where Texas historically had a weak one, Judge Keller's principal achievement as the CCA's Presiding Judge has been to oversee (and arguably principally author) an expansionist accumulation of government power by law enforcement and prosecutors over nearly two decades. A comprehensive vetting of her opinions by a campaign researcher would yield lots of attack fodder. But these campaigns must undertake that work, then use the information to construct and deliver political attacks: That's the piece that I'm not sure is going to happen, though there's still time.
I'd be happy to see either challenger unseat Judge Keller. To borrow a phrase from Judge Michael McSpadden, speaking recently of Harris County DA Pat Lykos, Keith Hampton and I "are not close, and in fact probably don't like each other," but he'd be a welcome breath of fresh air on the court if he pulled off the longshot upset. Judge Meyers probably faces shorter odds than Hampton at unseating Keller, but so far he hasn't run much of a campaign, that I've seen. He's been on the court forever and in many respects his record as judge isn't much better than Keller's. But he'd surely be a less ideological and polarizing a figure, and if he runs a smart, well-funded campaign he stands a puncher's chance to beat Keller in a primary.
That's just what it is, though: A puncher's chance. And as a political-consultant friend of mine likes to say, "you don't win a fistfight without throwing any punches." Judge Keller is surely the betting favorite to win reelection next year as I write this. If either of these men wants to beat her, they're going to need to attack, hard, and put significant resources behind those attacks. Otherwise the race will garner no attention nor interest amidst the 7-dwarves in the GOP presidential primary and a (theoretically) competitive US Senate race for Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat on the ballot in March. And in the November election, of course, the presidential race will drive turnout and (if history is any guide) drown out discussions of tertiary races like this one.
Judicial races are generally sleepy affairs, but if one or preferably both of these challengers don't bring out the attack dogs, Sharon Keller will skate under the radar to reelection and another six-year term, despite all the embarrassment and divisiveness she's brought to the court.