In Harris County, incumbent Devon Anderson eked out a victory over Democrat Kim Ogg, who blundered badly in the home stretch. But in Dallas, ticket splitting Democrats handed incumbent Craig Watkins a bitter loss to a party-switching moderate, Judge Susan Hawk, while in Bexar County, Democrat Nico LaHood bought his way to victory with outlandish backing from a Corpus Christi trial lawyer, allowing LaHood to flood the local TV with commercials. LaHood's opponent Susan Reed (and many others I talked to) believed that voters would turn their noses up in disdain at one donor attempting to buy the DA's race, but I never thought that. The money bought TV ads, which work. Who donates money is insider baseball and voters don't really care. LaHood won 52-48.
Looking at these races, the DA's race in Harris County appeared to be more or less driven by general partisan patterns, while the Dallas and Bexar races were more driven by local dynamics - Watkins' ceaseless blunders and tone-deaf pronouncements in Dallas and LaHood getting
Reed's departure, though, does mark the end of an era. There was a time not long ago when she, Bill Hill in Dallas and Chuck Rosenthal in Houston formed a sort of unholy political triumvirate among big-city Texas prosecutors who promoted a highly politicized version of "tuff on crime," with DA John Bradley from Williamson County (like Rosenthal, an acolyte of former Harris DA Johnny Holmes) operating as their attack dog at the Lege along with their own lobbyists to portray tuff-on-crime demagoguery as reflective of the views of every prosecutor.
Craig Watkins began to bust up that cabal when he defeated Bill Hill in 2006, nearly by accident. Then Chuck Rosenthal imploded in a a writhing morass of drug abuse and racist emails that forced his resignation, with his heir apparent losing in the GOP primary and many of the old guard prosecutors leaving the office. John Bradley's defeat in 2012 eliminated a politically influential spokesman and dealt a symbolic blow to hard-line prosecutors, leaving Susan Reed in San Antonio, Abel Reyna in Waco (no Dem opponent yesterday but a write-in candidate got 16%), and Matt Bingham in Tyler as the remaining standard bearers for extremism among elected prosecutors' ranks, though Bingham and Reyna don't really engage at the Legislature. So from a political perspective, Reed's ouster and replacement by a Democrat marks the final element in an important historical transition, a changing of the guard, if you will, among the state's elected prosecutors, whose ranks will look much different in January than today.
Just to mention it, if it weren't for LaHood's upset victory in Bexar, the DAs in Texas' five largest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Tarrant, and Travis) would all be women. The new R Tarrant DA is Sharen Wilson, and disgraced lame duck Rosemary Lehmberg is DA in Travis County. Still, that's four out of five, which is pretty impressive. (Heck, even John Bradley was replaced by a woman.) The landscape among elected prosecutors in Texas has changed dramatically since the turn of the century, really since 2006, in ways nobody could have foreseen.
MORE: From an email I sent to a friend regarding the implications of these three prosecutor races:
Arguably, one of the lessons from Craig Watkins' epic fall from grace is that prosecutors first and foremost should focus on running their own shop as cleanly, honorably, and effectively as possible instead of seeking to use it as a base from which to project political power. That's especially true for new DAs running big offices, which really includes not just Hawk and LaHood but also Anderson and Wilson, who all have four years to show they can actually perform the day-to-day duties of the office without embarrassing themselves or their constituents. Lehmberg's a long-timer (first assistant before she was DA), but she's politically toxic and on her way out. Leaving her aside (and please, let's), that leaves Jaime Esparza of El Paso as the eminence gris among elected DAs from larger counties. That's a big change from a decade or so ago when Rosenthal and Hill were the principle prosecutor shot callers in Texas. Big picture, the hard-liners among big-city Texas prosecutors have been rooted out and it will be a while before the newbies have the same sort of clout as the people they ousted.AND MORE: A commenter rightly adds, "Let's not forget the changing of the guard in Hidalgo County: Rene Guerra lost the primary election after reigning as DA for a staggering 32 years. (Of course, Cameron County got a new DA after the former DA was convicted of federal crimes in the Abel Limas corruption saga.)" Exactly right; there's been more guard changing than just in this general election - really quite remarkable, taken as a whole.