In addition to their Sunday endorsement of Paul Sadler, the Statesman made up for lost time last week by finally getting around to making endorsements in various races. Among their first was a nice recommendation of John Courage.
Texas Senate, District 25
District 25, which stretches from South Austin to northern San Antonio and Bexar County, is a Republican district, and Donna Campbell, a tea party favorite who crushed incumbent state Sen. Jeff Wentworth in the runoff, is heavily favored to win Nov. 6. Nonetheless, voters in District 25 should put aside their partisan inclinations and consider the alternative: Democrat John Courage.
Courage, an Air Force veteran and San Antonio schoolteacher, might be a longshot, but he knows the district better than Campbell, a recent transplant. His experience in education would make him a strong advocate for public schools, but education is not the only issue where he has the advantage over Campbell. From reforming the margins tax to transportation, from water to the electrical grid, Courage is the more informed, better-qualified candidate.
The Senate really will be a less functional place next year if Campbell wins as she is heavily favored to do. In the same editorial as this endorsement of Courage is one for the new HD136 as well:
Texas House, District 136
District 136 is a new state House district that includes Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek and a substantial part of Northwest Austin. Anchored in Williamson County, District 136 appears to be safe for the Republican in this race, Tony Dale, an Army veteran and member of the Cedar Park City Council. He’s a strong candidate who has a deep affection for his community and no doubt would serve his district’s residents well. But in a close call, we’re supporting Democrat Matt Stillwell.
An insurance agent who lives in Northwest Austin, Stillwell’s deep concern about the future of public education motivated his run for the Legislature. He says he’ll fight for public schools if elected and will do what he can to roll back punitive, high-stakes testing. He also understands how seriously underfunded the state’s roads are and how cuts to roads and highways, along with cuts in other areas, have not reduced spending or tax burdens but merely shifted costs and debt to towns and cities. He focuses on fiscally sound, gimmick-free remedies that would benefit District 136 in the long term.
As I said before, I think this race has the potential to be closer than people think. The shift in voter behavior from 2004 to 2008 was huge, and the district is likely to have evolved further since then. How much I don’t know, and of course it could have changed back. Stillwell is low on cash, but he’s been competitive in fundraising and hasn’t been greatly outspent, at least so far. I just think there may be more to this one than what the numbers might suggest.
After that, the Statesman opined on the statewide judicial races.
You may recall that Sharon Keller, chief justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals – the state’s highest criminal appellate court – was reprimanded after 300 lawyers filed complaints alleging dereliction of duty. The complaints stem from an incident involving attempts by lawyers representing a death row inmate to file motions after business hours. Keller told the lawyers that the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. and the inmate was executed later that night.
The incident garnered national attention and ended with Keller being reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. She appealed the reprimand and it was ultimately lifted. It was a victory but not a vindication because the specially selected court of review said a reprimand was not included in the options available to the Commission on Judicial Conduct in disciplining a judge.
Some might call that a technicality, but that’s ultimately what the law is — a collection of technicalities.
Then there was the case of Nathan Hecht, who is considered the intellectual leader of the Texas Supreme Court’s most conservative wing. Hecht was reprimanded for lobbying to confirm the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. That reprimand was also lifted, but the drama didn’t end there. Hecht raised eyebrows when he not only solicited contributions to pay the legal fees incurred in battling the complaint but asked a couple of friendly legislators to file bills that would have allowed him to use state funds to pay those bills. When state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and former state Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, learned that Hecht was soliciting contributions, they pulled their bills down
That was not the end of it. Hecht was fined $29,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission in 2008, declaring the discount extended to him on those legal fees was an improper campaign contribution. The matter has yet to be resolved.
Keller also tried unsuccessfully to have the state pick up the tab for legal fees and said she paid them out of savings and took out a loan.
Democrat Keith Hampton opposes Keller in the general election. Michele Petty, a San Antonio lawyer, challenges Hecht. As Democrats, both face an uphill battle.
Hampton brings an impressive legal resume to the race as well as experience as a statewide candidate. He is known and respected for his criminal defense work and has notched a long bibliography of scholarly legal works.
Hampton is amply qualified both academically and ethically to serve on the court, but more importantly to carry a message that Texans demand a judiciary free of taint or bias.
The same standards should apply in the Supreme Court as well. There is no denying Hecht’s ability, talent and background.
Petty, on the other hand, is an unknown but is eager and is motivated. Her demeanor and approach is a marked and clear contrast to the more polished, patrician Hecht.
But Petty’s academic training is impressive. She was Baylor Law’s top graduate in 1984 and a member of the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame.
She understands well that she is running uphill. Win or lose, the state owes Petty its thanks for the effort. An airing of unpleasant history may save us a repetition of it.
It’s not quite an endorsement of Hampton and Petty, in the sense that the Statesman never actually uses words like “we endorse” or “we recommend a vote”, but they do say that “we all lose” if Hampton and Petty lose, so it’s pretty clear what they intend. Hampton, of course, has been sweeping up endorsements left and right, but as far as I an tell this is a first for Petty, about whom you can learn more here. Keller is a much easier target than Hecht, whose sins are more garden-variety, but some new blood would do both courts a lot of good.