Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Rodriguez must navigate attack over botched #SandraBland vote

Regular readers will recall the ignominious fate last year of Rep. James White's legislation, inspired by the Sandra Bland case, limiting police officers' authority to arrest people for Class C misdemeanors.

Confused and unmotivated Democrats killed the bill, twice! Despite widespread, bipartisan support. This left a terrible taste in my mouth, so Grits was not disappointed to see the issue arise in my own local state-senate race, where former County Judge Sarah Eckhardt criticized Rep. Eddie Gonzalez in a mailer for skipping out on the Friday evening vote.

To be clear, Grits had nothing to do with this mailer and has never even spoken about the issue with Eckhardt or her campaign. I learned of it when the postcard arrived in my mailbox. But I do think Democrats in gerrymandered safe districts should be held accountable when they screw up. And this was a big Democratic screw up: Killing the Sandra-Bland legislation first by ignorance, then by apathy.

Do I think Eddie's entire legislative career should be judged on that one bad decision? Of course not. At the same time, it's a valid criticism, and one that Grits made as soon as the smoke had cleared:
One absent Dem that we know of had legitimate reason not to be there: Donna Howard's husband had a medical emergency. But why would Austin's Eddie Rodriguez not show up? Members from Houston, San Antonio, and other drive-able locales went home early for the weekend instead of staying to vote.

If just two of them had cared more about preventing what happened to Sandra Bland than leaving work early to start their weekend, this bill would be on its way to becoming law.

Honestly, why bother seeking election to the Legislature if you're not going to show up on big votes to do your job?
I'm sure Rodriguez has made other contributions at the Legislature on other topics, and I'm sure his campaign plans to spend money emphasizing those. But he's never particularly been a leader or even much of a sympathizer on criminal-justice reform. That's a fair criticism, if an unfortunately timed one given the undeniably reformist tenor of the current historical moment. 

Eckhardt perhaps gets more credit for interest in justice reform, though it's also the case that the county inherently has a lot more criminal-justice business before it than an average legislator. 

Grits would submit Travis County wouldn't have a new Public Defender without Eckhardt and, eventually, she supported postponement of a proposed women's jail expansion. However, during those fights she rubbed some people the wrong way, and not all reformers in town are happy with her performance. (I tend to cut a little slack when the disputes were as nasty and bitter as that public-defender battle turned into, but you can't tell someone else when to take offense.)

Honestly, I could still be convinced either way in this race. What I want to hear is the same for both candidates: How has your attitude toward criminal-justice reform changed in the last month? I know your records. What I don't know is whether each of them recognizes the magnitude of the historical moment and intends to step up on justice reform going forward.

Eckhardt's mailer at a minimum signals she recognizes which way the political winds are blowing and wants to be seen as pursuing a reformist agenda. For Eddie, his response to this attack will in many ways define the strategic outline of the rest of the campaign. Because his record is not strong on criminal justice, to me, reacting defensively, as have some of his Twitter surrogates, risks falling into a trap where the rest of the campaign debate plays out on terrain that disfavors him.

If I were Eddie's consultant, I'd tell him to own the mistake on James White's bill, express regret for not prioritizing the issue, then tell us how recent events have affected his thinking and what he intends to do with regards to justice reform going forward.

Right now, lots of people who're suddenly sympathetic on justice issues are having to justify their apathy in the past. That's okay. Own it. Appreciate it. Take it for what it is: An opportunity for a fresh start, purchased in blood.


Anonymous said...

I would suggest you check on how much money the law enforcement agencies and unions donate to these candidates. The answer might be a clue as to why a legislator did not show up for an important piece of legislation.

Anonymous said...

Why would he show up? Why would others not leave early? They pretend to make just $7k/yr plus expenses and per diem, this vote was hardly worth their time.
Of course they retire at the pension of a district judge but we won't speak of that.
Cheers, Grits...the beat (down) goes on.

Oil Lease said...

There is a site that rates US senators and representatives based on how closely they hold to the Constitution. Here it is:

We need one for state legislators, one easily found and easy to rate those who seek office simply for the graft and perks. Not that I'd accuse anyone of taking money from special interest groups but it does seem funny that so many get into office poor as a church mouse and magically get rich after several terms.

The site that's needed should show their vote on every bill and the lack of votes as well.

Deb said...

Both candidates signed the pledge not to accept money from police unions.

And Grits, I wouldn't count on Eddie admitting fault. He'd have had to have learned A LOT in the last month to make me think there's a shred of hope to him really standing up when it counts on criminal justice reform.