Lloyd Oliver had run for office at least five times – likely more, he said; he’s lost count – and been beaten each time, falling short of judgeships and congressional seats, getting trounced as both a Republican and a Democrat.
Then he signed up to run as a Democrat for district attorney this year – and won, shocking himself and much of the criminal courthouse crowd.
The 68-year-old defense lawyer isn’t coy about why he has signed up for so many campaigns: Name recognition drives much of his business, and having his name on the ballot every few years is practically free advertising. Likewise, he had a simple explanation for his victory over well-liked primary opponent Zack Fertitta, a 36-year-old former assistant district attorney with a healthy war chest.
“They’ve seen my name on the ballot long enough, maybe they just thought I was the incumbent and voted for me,” Oliver said. “Sometimes you just can’t beat dumb luck.”
In a sense, this isn’t really a problem. Mike Anderson is an experienced prosecutor, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a competent District Attorney. I disagree with him on the matter of prosecuting trace drug cases, and I believe the worst case scenario Grits describes of the jails becoming overcrowded could well result from it, but at least there would be hope for some pushback from Commissioners Court and the Sheriff. The fact that the Democrats managed to nominate a potted plant to oppose him is a grievous tragedy from a political perspective, but not from a criminal justice one. It’s not like the alternative would have been four more years of John Bradley or Chuck Rosenthal.
The lost political opportunity really is a mortal sin, and I have to believe it was avoidable.
University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray said he thought Oliver may be a contender because black voters – who cast a huge share of Democratic primary ballots when there is no presidential race – would mistakenly assume he was African-American.
“If the choices are Zack Fertitta or Lloyd Oliver, that’s a pretty easy call for a lot of folks looking for somebody they think understands the issues in their community: ‘Let’s go with the black guy’ – who ain’t black, of course,” Murray said. “Mostly people are just throwing darts.”
Political consultant Joe Householder, of Purple Strategies, said in such a low-profile race, the odds of an unexpected result rise sharply.
“When (voters) start tracing their finger down the ballot, they say, ‘I don’t know anything about either of these guys, but I have heard of this guy, so I guess I’ll vote for him,’ ” he said.
Maybe some folks thought it was Chris Oliver that was running. Who knows? I tend to think that Householder has the more accurate explanation here, but a look at the precinct data once its available ought to settle the question. Be that as it may, this goes to what I said before about how we are (not) communicating with voters. I have no idea what Zack Fertitta, or for that matter any other non-African American candidate, did or does to tell African American voters about their candidacy. African American voters are a big part of the Democratic base and a big percentage of the primary electorate. Add to that the fact that there were three contested primaries in African American legislative districts, plus the HCDE primary in Precinct One and the Constable primaries in Precincts 1 and 7, and it didn’t take a genius to predict what the turnout pattern would look like. If anyone had adequate resources but didn’t have adequate outreach in these parts of the county, then no one should be too shocked by the result. Never overestimate your own name ID. I’m not saying Fertitta’s campaign did any of these things – I don’t know one way or the other – but I am saying these are things we need to learn from this debacle so that we can at least get something out of it.