Bruce Davidson at the SA Express-News called this a return to the "bad old days." He declared that:
Before legislators passed the law requiring the signatures in 2003, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals races were crowded free-for-alls featuring candidates hoping to get elected with an easy-to-pronounce or familiar name and nothing more.I don't agree with that. For starters, the races were hardly free for alls. In the GOP primary in 2002, the year before the law changed, there were two candidates in each of the three CCA races. Dems had four candidates running for three seats that year. In 2000, the GOP field was more crowded, with 14 people pursuing three seats. Barbara Hervey and Sharon Keller pulled off come-from-behind wins in the runoff after trailing the day of the primary. But even then, Dems fielded only three primary candidates - one in each race.
“This court used to be a $3,000 lottery,” Justice Cheryl Johnson said in 2004. All that was required was paying a filing fee. Qualifications didn’t matter.
The signature requirement trimmed the horde of candidates to a handful who were reasonably qualified and willing to work hard enough to gather signatures. The laziest and least qualified candidates were culled from the ballot.
Still, the campaigns have remained the least visible political races in Texas. Few Texans can name a member of the state’s highest criminal appellate court, and the candidates can’t raise enough money to make a blip on the political radar.
To be fair, Judge Johnson's campaign in 1998 competing to run against and defeat Charlie Baird was one of the most hotly contested CCA races in memory, with Johnson facing seven primary opponents. And she's right that some of those weren't seriously campaigning but merely hoped to use the ballot to get their name out there, essentially seeking free advertising. But those folks don't win, and they didn't in her race. Meanwhile, to my mind, the additional candidates force everyone to do a better job of communicating with the voters and distinguishing themselves.
I'm not worried that Sid Harle won't stand out from the crowd in a CCA race, as Mr. Davidson feared. He's a super-qualified candidate and would make a fine CCA judge. But that doesn't mean he should get to stroll into the position without campaigning. We have elections in America, not coronations. And the changed rules make it less onerous for qualified candidates to sign up for the job.
While reserving the right to change my mind (I didn't know about it when it happened during session so haven't considered it before), for now I think I'm fine with this. I'm not at all sure those signatures did anything but empower a few party insiders and keep good people off the ballot.