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Betsy Johnson

Endorsement watch: CCA

The Chron makes its recommendations for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2: Lawrence “Larry” Meyers

Accusing someone of having “the feels” seems more at home in a teenager’s Facebook argument than in a dissenting opinion from the Court of Criminal Appeals, but that’s what Judge Lawrence “Larry” Meyers wrote in State v. Furr, alleging that his colleagues cared more about their feelings on the case than the objective standards of law. After 24 years on this bench, the long-serving member of Texas’ highest criminal court has certainly given up on the usual collegiality.

“We’re not there to get along,” Meyers, 68, said during a meeting with the Chronicle editorial board. “We’re there to do the right thing under the law.”

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 5: Scott Walker

Consider this race as evidence against electing judges.

Democrats are offering a candidate who was removed from the Bexar County appointed attorney list after she refused to represent defendants who wouldn’t plead guilty – Betsy Johnson.

Republicans are running a Dallas-area defense attorney with a politically famous name and no record of public service – Scott Walker.

We were ready to toss this one up or take a look at third-party candidates, but in his meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, Walker demonstrated a workman’s experience in the criminal court trenches that earned our endorsement.

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 6: Robert Burns

It doesn’t take a deep look at the Texas judiciary to see that the prosecutor’s office is often the first step towards earning a bench. The relationship between district attorneys, police and judges is a tight one, and years of wearing the black robes can give even the most dedicated neutral arbiter an unconscious tunnel vision that undermines fairness in our criminal justice system.

Robert Burns, who was first elected to a Dallas County criminal district court in 2006, understands that problem well.

“Too many judges want to side with the state or the police and not be fair and impartial,” Burns, 52, told the Houston Chronicle editorial board. “Just call it right down the middle. Be fair, and when you do make procedural decisions, make sure they’re decisions that result in guilty people getting convicted and innocent people being set free.”

Meyers is the only statewide Democrat in office, having switched parties in 2013 to mount an unsuccessful campaign for Supreme Court. I still don’t know what to make of the guy – he’s good on some things and not on others, and while he’s given a standard “the party left me” rationale for switching from R to D, I can’t say I’ve seen any clear evolution in his judicial opinions. Burns is a Democratic challenger to another longtime incumbent, Mike Keasler, who will have to resign his position in four years if he is re-elected because he will hit the mandatory retirement age of 75. He’s the clearest choice of the three.

What can we do to increase the odds of a downballot Democratic victory?

Yesterday, I raised the possibility of downballot Democrats winning statewide races if 1) polling in the Trump/Clinton matchup remained at or below the six point spread in the recent PPP poll and 2) Democrats did a better job voting all the way down the ballot than Republicans, as has been the case in recent Presidential elections. What can Democrats do to increase the odds of this happening?

Let’s start by recognizing what we can’t do. Trump’s gonna Trump, Clinton is going to do what she does, and the numbers will be what they are. If you’re reading this and you know how you’re voting, you’re not part of this equation – you’re already factored in. We also can’t affect what Republicans, whether NeverTrumpers or not, do downballot. It’s my supposition that conditions are favorable for Republicans to see fewer votes in downballot races this year than they might normally expect, but that’s all that it is. Even if I’m right about that, it may not be enough to make a difference. All Democrats can reasonably do is try to position themselves as best they can to take advantage of this if there is something to take advantage of.

So what can we do? The good new is, this isn’t complicated.

1. Vote all the way down the ballot – I presume you already do that, but nothing is too obvious that it need not be stated. Vote all the way down the ballot, and vote for Democrats. I’ve been addressing the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals in these two posts, and before that I’ve been harping on the lower appeals courts. Don’t forget the district and county courts, too.

2. Spend your money and volunteer energy here in Texas – How much more incentive do you need than the prospect of winning a statewide race for the first time since 1994? Give a few bucks to your local party/coordinated campaign, volunteer to phonebank, you know the drill. Do something to spread the message. It doesn’t matter if there aren’t any local races of interest, either. If there can be a grassroots GOTV effort in Lubbock, there can be one anywhere. Find one and be a part of it.

3. Support the candidates in question – Here are the Democratic candidates running for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals:

Mike Westergren – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 3
Dori Contreras Garza – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 5
Savannah Robinson – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 9

Lawrence “Larry” Meyers – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2
Betsy Johnson – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5
Robert Burns – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6

Meyers is an incumbent, having switched parties prior to the 2014 election; the rest are challengers. You could send them a few bucks to help them get their names out – even a little bit of extra name recognition may translate to a few extra people not skipping their race – or talk about them in your social circle. The name of the game is name recognition.

4. Reach out to left-leaning friends and family who won’t support Hillary Clinton – We all have people like this in our lives. A gentle suggestion that they vote for some downballot Democrats probably can’t hurt.

Like I said, not exactly rocket science. Everything I’ve said here is intuitive, and would have an effect on the margins, since that’s where an effect can be had. I think the key here is just thinking that it really may be possible. Again, I stress the “may be” part – I don’t want to over-promise, but I do want people thinking about this.