Sunday, February 21, 2016

Primary races to watch

Criminal-justice related political races are odd birds because the issues do not fall along obviously partisan lines, even if candidates are elected on those terms. Thus, Grits doesn't follow these elections through a partisan lens, particularly, but rather based on which candidate is best for promoting criminal-justice reform. Every cycle there seem to be a few local races which have statewide implications, so it's worth mentioning a few of them ahead of the March 1 primary.

The Sheriff's race in Fort Bend County features a reformer incumbent, Troy Nells, vs. a revanchist candidate backed by disgruntled ex-deputies complaining they lack free speech on the job. (Think: How much free speech do you get to exercise at your job when you disagree with your boss?) One of the challenger's big issues is to repeal an officer-safety based policy that reduced deputies' opportunities to initiate high-speed chases. Fort Bend County is growing fast and in many ways this is less a Tea Party vs. the Establishment race than a generational dispute between a young suburban professional class and old-school sheriff's deputies who liked the autonomy they enjoyed back when Fort Bend was more of a rural outpost. A Nells victory would signal that county voters have matured enough to accept the responsibilities of what increasingly has become a large suburban county.

In Nueces County, Democratic DA Mark Skurka is running for reelection against Mark Gonzalez, a defense attorney who quite literally has the words "Not Guilty" tattooed across his chest, reported the Caller Times. Regardless of party, Skurka's part of what from the outside appears to be a longstanding office culture of concealing exculpatory evidence from defense counsel. Grits also isn't a fan of how he reacted to false assault charges being filed vs. jail inmates by Sheriff's deputies last year. (No deputies prosecuted, failed to review old cases for false convictions.) He's the hometown DA for the Democratic Chairman of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and the Republican Chairman of the House Calendars Committee, giving him out-sized political influence for a Democratic office holder. The winner faces a Republican opponent in November.

It's been pretty remarkable to see the Daniel Villegas false-confession case blow up on incumbent Jaime Esparza in the Democratic primary for El Paso County DA, with Villegas' chief public backer, a local businessman named John Mimbela, actively seeking to depose the incumbent.

The Travis and Williamson County DA races are interesting spectacles but Grits sees few implications for justice reform based on the outcome. Similarly, several folks have tried to insist I should care whether Morris Overstreet or Kim Ogg represents Democrats against Devon Anderson in November.  (For the record: I have tried, but I cannot.) I'll be watching the Travis County Sheriff's race to learn whether and how voters considered immigration-ICE issues, but I'm not convinced there are implications beyond that.

Statewide, I'll be watching the Sid Harle/Sid Smith race on the Court of Criminal Appeals to see if Texas GOP voters have flat-out lost their minds, and the Keel-Oldner-Wheless race to see if Judge Wheless' strategy of ignoring the establishment and seeking Tea Party, pro-life and generally conservative movement support is enough to win a primary in a low spending, low-profile race.

This is a non-comprehensive list. Let me know in the comments what other elections with criminal-justice reform implications folks should be watching.


Joorie Doodie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joorie Doodie said...

Sheriff's race in Smith County. The lone Democrat running has about a snowball's chance in hell, so it will be decided in the Republican primary. The incumbent, Sheriff Larry Smith, has stood up to the local RepublicaNAZI Establishment on more than one occasion. (I'm a died in the wool Republican, by the way.) Smith embarrassed the commissioners court into providing adequate funding for their new $34 million jail addition. Had he not done so, either: A. The facility would still be sitting empty today, or, B. It would have been understaffed, making it a dangerous place for inmates and staff alike. He also intervened in a situation that led to the bogus arrest of a candidate who ran against the sitting county judge in the last election.

The other Republican challenger is Chris Green, a former game warden who hasn't worked a day in law enforcement since he ran against Larry Smith in the last election. Green spent 17 years as a game warden but was never promoted. Much of that time was apparently spent motoring around Lake Tyler, wagging his finger at boaters who had too much to drink and measuring fish. Green babbles about letting deputies "use discretion" when it comes to enforcing petty offenses. But in my opinion that mentality is a set up for discriminatory policing practices: Cop shows up at a house party involving a bunch of rich, white kids, smells a little pot, gives them a good tongue-lashing and moves on. Cop pulls over a couple of kids from the wrong side of the railroad tracks, smells a little pot, tears the vehicle apart to find part of a joint, and the kids go to jail.

Anonymous said...

Please expand on the Oldner/Keel/Wheless race.

MaxM said...

There is a contest in the Dem primary for Sheriff in Uvalde Co. Probably not much to see here but I was surprised to read in their local paper yesterday, the claim that the average daily cost to house an inmate there from Oct. 2014 to Sept. 2015 was $18.50. That is lower than I would expect. I've gotten the impression from passed articles and stories from Grit and other sources that most jails put that cost closer to $35 per inmate, per day. Perhaps that larger number was a statewide average and not representative of less populated counties/jails.

Anonymous said...

Barns running fir Andy's job with - "I have years of experience". I still can't believe how stupid Texas voters are, they'll (most) vote first then wait to learn what they voted for. Idgits, Hayseeds and toothless inbreeds representing the public at large is a prime example of low voter turn out. Voters should be required to take IQ tests and be forced to where Rs or Ds on their foreheads for at least one year voting. Those that don't vote get a complimentary - I failed to vote yard sign. As it is, voters that vote for the hell of it (or for those that the preacher endorses) get a pass and non-voters complain about not being represented. Doh!