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Craig Watkins

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

We need a Conviction Integrity Unit in Harris County

From the DMN:

Craig Watkins

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has gained a national reputation for spearheading prisoner exonerations.

As he prepares to seek a third term, Watkins said Thursday he wants to expand on that role and add a few others. …

Watkins, a Democrat who was first elected in 2006, gained attention for using DNA tests to overturn convictions, and he said his office has a few more such cases pending.

When prosecutors finish with those next year, Watkins said, he wants his team to take another look at people convicted of arson and those accused of shaking their babies to death. Watkins said he has concerns about the science used in the prosecution of both types of cases.

“The science has changed. We need to revisit it,” Watkins said without elaborating.

That was via Grits for Breakfast, who adds the following:

With the passage of SB 344 by Whitmire/Turner, people convicted based on junk science now have a clear path to pursue habeas corpus writs to challenge their convictions, with old arson and shaken-baby cases high on the list of bad science likely to be challenged. It will be welcome news if Watkins takes leadership and gets out in front of those issues the way he did on DNA testing. The main difference will be that, until the Legislature changed the law in 2011 (SB 122 by Ellis), DAs could prevent DNA testing in old cases if they chose, just as Williamson County DA John Bradley thwarted testing in the Michael Morton case for many years simply by objecting. By contrast, the passage of SB 344 means junk science cases can now get back into court via habeas writs on their own, so Watkins and other District Attorneys will be forced to revisit them whether they want to or not.

Craig Watkins has done groundbreaking work in Dallas reviewing old convictions for which DNA evidence was available to allow for it. This was possible in part because Dallas County obsessively kept all their old case evidence, but it was Watkins who had the vision to look at old cases where the potential existed for a conviction that had been based on potentially shaky evidence and for which a more definitive answer could be established. Dozens of wrongly convicted men were freed as a result. DNA evidence only exists in a small percentage of cases, but there are other kinds of cases that can and should be reviewed, beginning with the “junk science” cases highlighted in SB344. It’s way past time for Harris County to conduct a systematic review of its own of old cases to see which of them deserve a closer look. We will be under the mandate of SB344 for some of these cases, but there’s no reason to limit ourselves, or to wait till the last minute. It’s beyond question that there are people currently in jail after being convicted in Harris County that are provably innocent of the crimes they were convicted for. In some cases, as with the just-released “San Antonio Four”, the crime in question never actually occurred. We already have to take action for some of these. Let’s commit to doing a thorough and exhaustive job of it. I look forward to hearing what Devon Anderson and Kim Ogg have to say about this.

Dallas County to sue state over voter ID

The shoe is on the other foot.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Democratic Dallas County commissioners narrowly agreed [Tuesday] afternoon to join a lawsuit against Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry over state efforts to enforce a controversial voter identification law.

Democratic Commissioner Elba Garcia stepped out of the partisan fray inextricably linked to the national debate on voter ID laws and joined Republican colleague Mike Cantrell in voting against the move. County Judge Clay Jenkins and commissioners Theresa Daniel and John Wiley Price, all Democrats, votes for the measure.

Supporters of suing, including District Attorney Craig Watkins, said the move is an attempt to protect voters’ rights. An estimated 220,000 county voters lack the identification the law would require.

Cantrell, the lone Republican commissioner, accused his colleagues of using county funds to push a partisan agenda. Garcia criticized the lack of detailed information on what joining the suit will cost.

Here’s a fuller story in the DMN that adds a few more details.

Missing from the vote at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting was a clear idea of just how much the county’s direct involvement will cost taxpayers.

That’s largely because commissioners haven’t been told what expenses will need to be covered — or how much of those costs will be paid by the lawsuit’s existing plaintiffs. Before the vote, Cantrell failed to get attorney Chad Dunn to provide ballpark figures of the suit’s total cost or each plaintiff’s likely contribution.

That ambiguity prompted Garcia’s opposition. Garcia said she wanted more time to figure out how much the county could end up paying Dunn’s firm. She said officials were told they had to vote Tuesday so that the state could be served with legal papers in the case before a hearing scheduled for next month.

Garcia said that state leaders still hadn’t been served with the initial complaint from the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in June.

“When I ask for one week and I’m told it’s now or never, you won’t be a part of it, I take that as my questions are not important,” Garcia said.

When asked why attorneys couldn’t request that the September hearing be moved to allow both sides more time to prepare, Jenkins said there is no guarantee such a request would be granted.

As she did on the campaign trail last year, Daniel said managing the county’s budget is the primary job of commissioners. But she added Tuesday that fighting the state is the “right thing to do” because Texas is using taxpayer money to disenfranchise voters.

“That’s wrong, but that’s on somebody else’s plate,” she said.

According to this DMN story from before the vote, the commissioners voted to hire a law firm to join a federal lawsuit. That would be the Veasey lawsuit, which of course is now enmeshed with the Justice Department lawsuit. I’m honestly not sure what the practical effect of this will be, but hey, the more the merrier. The question about how much this will cost is a fair one, and if it turns out to be a bigger number than expected it will be a political issue for County Judge Clay Jenkins and DA Craig Watkins, both of whom are up for re-election next year. As for the complaint about pushing a partisan agenda, well, tell it to Greg Abbott. A statement from the Dallas County Democratic Party is beneath the fold, and BOR, The Trib, and Trail Blazers have more.

(more…)

“Beyond DNA”

The Dallas Observer has a good story about the state of the exoneration business now that most of the cases involving DNA have been handled.

Since Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins took office in 2007, incidents of wrongfully convicted men being released from Texas prisons have become almost commonplace. Dramatic scenes of innocent men finally walking free from county courtrooms are like nectar to reporters, who churn out stories praising Watkins’ creation of his office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, established in 2007 to review potential wrongful convictions. While most of these stories mention DNA testing and the fact that, unlike most counties, Dallas stored DNA evidence indefinitely, Duke’s case was different. Out of 17 exonerations in Dallas since 2007, his was one of only four cases without biological evidence, according to data from the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law.

When Watkins became the county’s top prosecutor, he faced a backlog of about 500 cases involving DNA evidence that had previously been denied testing and that would, in many cases, prove guilt or innocence. In the first couple years of the Conviction Integrity Unit’s existence, DNA-based exonerations rolled out every few months. Most were old sexual assault cases in which semen from a rape kit was still available for modern-day tests. “The classic ‘DNA case’ is a stranger-on-stranger sexual assault. Nothing connects the defendant to the crime except for eyewitness ID obtained through questionable procedures, and the sexual assault kit is preserved years later,” says Mike Ware, who led the Conviction Integrity Unit from its inception until this summer.

After Ware resigned to return to private practice in Fort Worth, Russell Wilson, another long-time criminal defense attorney, took his place. Watkins’ first assistant, Terri Moore, also resigned this summer, and Michelle Moore, the public defender who worked with Watkins’ office on exonerations, left in October to help open a public defender’s office in Burnet County. Duke’s case was the first exoneration under the unit’s new leadership.

With all of the changes, Michelle Moore worries that the unit’s gears are sticking and cases that could be moving forward more quickly are stalled. “I think I see the tendency now to be overly cautious and it’s to the detriment of the innocent man,” she says.

“I get that sometimes it’s not as clear-cut as a simple DNA test, because that’s a gold standard, but there are cases … where there should be some things happening,” she says, though she wouldn’t mention any specifically, fearing they would take even longer. “[Russell Wilson] is a very well respected attorney; he’s the nicest man on the planet. I just want to see more action,” Moore says.

Granted, she concedes the system would naturally slow down as the DNA cases thin out and the question of guilt or innocence becomes thornier and more subjective. “I’ll be honest with you: We took the easiest cases first, the ones we could prove definitely by DNA testing,” Moore says, but she’s still concerned that the Conviction Integrity Unit is simply not visiting prisoners, administering polygraphs and calling victims as expediently as it once did.

In the meantime, the sheer number of DNA exonerations — and the efforts to uncover how the courts failed so miserably — have revealed troubling gaps in the criminal justice system: Eyewitnesses are more fallible than jurors might think; forensic evidence isn’t always reliable or interpreted correctly; the way police run lineups can lead to wrongful convictions. The trouble is, those problems may just as easily plague cases in which no DNA exists. Modern science has shown the justice system the tip of the iceberg, but how many innocent men and women are suffering in prison and likely to stay there because they have no evidence to test? Where do law enforcement and innocence advocates, faced with sorting out the guilty and innocent, go from here?

“There’s been a strong shift,” Wilson says. DNA-based cases are still filtering through his office, but for the most part, he says, “the newer cases are non-DNA. … It’s a lot more fact-intensive.”

The good news about DNA exonerations is that they have freed a bunch of innocent men from prison, and that they have forced people to recognize the fact that there are unjustly convicted people in prison. The bad news is that DNA is a factor in only a small number of cases, and it was preserved as evidence in a small share of those cases, so if DNA evidence has become the de facto standard for triggering the exoneration process, a whole lot of other innocent people will be left behind. As Grits points out, there are still many arson cases that need review, and an untold number of people whose convictions were due in part to the no-discredited “scent lineups” of former Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pikett. On top of that, as the Michael Morton case has so clearly shown us, prosecutorial misconduct is another potentially large and under-explored factor in unjust convictions. Local defense attorney Robert Fickman wrote an op-ed on that topic, but did not include any actual policy prescriptions for how to deal with it. Clearly, depending on the State Bar won’t do much, so it’s up to the Lege, and they will need good guidance. There’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure justice for those who have been wrongly convicted and those who could be in the future if nothing is done, and that work gets harder from here.

Claude Jones

Claude Jones was a Texas inmate who was executed ten years ago. He protested his innocence of the crime for which he was put to death till the end. Now we may get to see if he was telling the truth about that.

Visiting Judge Paul C. Murphy this week ordered testing of a strand of hair from Claude Jones’ case that death penalty opponents believe might provide the first DNA proof that an innocent man was executed.

Murphy issued a summary judgment in favor of the New York-based Innocence Project and The Texas Observer, an Austin newsmagazine, which three years ago petitioned to do mitochondrial DNA testing on a hair fragment recovered from the counter of Zell’s liquor store in Point Blank, about 65 miles north of Houston.

San Jacinto District Attorney Bill Burnett, who had assisted in the prosecution and died this month from pancreatic cancer, blocked the hair’s release. He argued state law provided no legal avenue for him to relinquish the 1-inch strand after Claude Jones’ death.

Neither Burnett’s attorney, David Walker, nor the first assistant, Jonathan Petix, who has temporarily replaced Burnett, could be reached for comment on whether they will appeal.

[…]

A key witness during the trial, Timothy Jordan, has recently recanted his testimony that Claude Jones had confessed being the triggerman to him. Jordan now says [co-defendant Kerry] Dixon told him that Claude Jones did it. Dixon, who has made no police statements, is currently serving a life sentence for his part.

But Walker has contended DNA testing cannot provide conclusive proof of Claude Jones’ innocence, only propaganda for those opposing the death penalty. He notes two other witnesses described seeing a pot-bellied, middle-aged man wearing clothing like Claude Jones’ enter the store, although neither could positively identify him.

Petix has also said releasing the hair could open a “floodgate” of requests for things such as O.J. Simpson’s gloves. They contended state law only allows a defendant to request DNA testing.

That’s kind of a tough standard for Jones to meet, what with him being dead and all. You can get some more details on the case, and the case for Jones’ innocence, from the Observer. I have two points to make:

1. To this day, I do not understand the fierce resistance that DAs like Bill Burnett put up to post-facto DNA testing. I get that at some point you have to declare a case over, but the Burnetts of the world always come across as fearful to me. If you’re so damn sure you’ve convicted the right guy and that this whole exercise is nothing but a propaganda ploy by death penalty opponents, why not call their bluff? If I knew I was right I’d welcome the opportunity to prove it to God and everyone. What better way to give the middle finger to all those annoying activists who’ve been pestering you all these years? Unless of course you’re really not at all sure you’re right and you’ll do anything in your power to find out. Which is why these guys all look like a bunch of fraidy cats to me.

2. The oft-made “it would open the floodgates” claim is specious on its face. Only a small percentage of crimes involve DNA evidence, and in many cases where it existed it wasn’t preserved after the conviction. Dallas, the hotbed of DNA exonerations, is that way because its longtime DA, Henry Wade, was bizarrely obsessed with preserving evidence, and they’ve basically run out of cases to review in less than four years. There would be an initial spike, sure, but it wouldn’t take more than a couple of years to work through it all. Just eliminating the drawn-out court battles over whether or not to do the testing in the first place would make it all go a lot faster.

Anyway. We don’t know what that DNA evidence will tell us, but we’ll be better off when we do know. Grits and Matt Kelly have more.

The Trib talks with Craig Watkins

Good stuff.

For the 11th event in our TribLive series, I interviewed the district attorney of Dallas County about why and how he’s worked to exonerate the wrongfully imprisoned and whether he’s dragging his feet on a controversial corruption case involving county constables. We’ve provided the conversation with the in three forms: video, full audio and a transcript.

They’re all at that link, and they’re worth your time. Check it out.

Beyond DNA exonerations

We’re all familiar with the way the Dallas DA’s office has handled using DNA to review cases in which a defendant’s guilt may have been in question. Now that most of the cases in which DNA evidence still exists have been reviewed, they are moving on to other kinds.

The emphasis of the conviction integrity unit established by District Attorney Craig Watkins in 2007 is shifting toward challenging cases where there is no DNA to test, but where questions remain about an inmate’s guilt or innocence.

Without DNA evidence, these cases require more time and can mean investigating a crime that occurred years ago as though it just happened: tracking down witnesses, comparing fingerprints to see if there is a match when one didn’t exist before, seeking new evidence.

Watkins says he hopes his office can use lessons learned during years of DNA testing to improve police work. Bad witness identification, for example, has been a factor in most of Dallas’ DNA exonerations. There are also several cases where prosecutors or police withheld evidence that could have prevented a conviction.

Watkins said his perspective has changed since the unit began. He’s realized that it can do much more than free the innocent.

“At the time, I started out looking at legitimate claims of innocence, and obviously we still do,” said Watkins. “But now, it’s how can we improve prosecutor and police techniques. It’s about the ability to argue for changes in the law.”

This is the future of overturning wrongful convictions in Dallas County.

Grits has more about this. The key point is that DNA evidence only exists in a small number of cases, and it’s relevant in an even smaller number, but the same kind of evidence and procedures that made the DNA-available cases worthy of review – eyewitness identifications, bad arson science, “scent lineups”, etc – exist universally, and should be looked at as earnestly. It may be harder to show anything definitive, but if they do nothing but codify their best practices to avoid arresting and convicting people in the future based on this stuff, it’s well worth it. Now if only other DAs would follow Dallas’ lead on this.

The Trib talks to Craig Watkins

The Trib has a fascinating article about Dallas DA Craig Watkins, who is running for re-election for the first time this year, in which he defends himself against charges that he has not been sufficiently vigorous in prosecuting political malfeasance.

He’s been skewered in The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Observer for taking no public steps to prosecute two Democratic Dallas County constables facing accusations of bribery and kickbacks from their colleagues, and for seeking a restraining order when Republican county commissioners hired their own investigator to look into the charges. (His Republican opponents say he’s protecting the constables, who are fellow Democrats.) His latest power play? Watkins shunned two separate offers from the Texas Attorney General to help investigate the constables.

“If the Dallas DA is vulnerable in November, it’s mainly because he’s mishandled this fiasco surrounding the constables so badly,” says Scott Henson, the former policy director of the Innocence Project of Texas who writes the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast. “Everyone investigating this case knows it’s not credible to believe he’s performing a diligent investigation.”

Watkins has also made headlines over his campaign finance spending habits — paying tens of thousands of dollars to family members or the businesses they operate. And he’s caught heat for an alleged conflict of interest: His wife’s political consulting firm represents judges who preside over the same county courts where his office prosecutes cases. Watkins counters that ethics rules don’t prohibit hiring family members or using family businesses to run campaigns (in fact, it’s a common occurrence). And his wife’s political consulting business has checked out all the way up to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. He staunchly refutes the toughest allegation against him — that he was using campaign funds to pay the utility bills for the family businesses that share his campaign office space. “I have only ever paid my share,” he says.

Watkins won’t confirm or deny whether he’s investigating the constables; it wouldn’t be appropriate, he says. But he notes that he has just two prosecutors in his public integrity unit, both of whom have other cases on their plate. If they happened to be working on the constable case, hypothetically speaking, he says he wouldn’t expect them to be done yet. “Look at the Dallas City Hall corruption investigation. That took years,” he says. “There’s no timetable — we don’t rush an investigation.”

On the one hand, I can’t really blame Watkins for not trusting Greg Abbott to investigate the constables. It’s not like Abbott’s office has a track record of even-handedness and impartiality when it comes to political matters. On the other hand, it’s hard to understand why Watkins hasn’t moved more quickly to take action against the constables, especially given his unwillingness to let the AG get involved. The decision to own that is understandable and defensible, but only if you’re seen as following through. All I can say is I hope he’s got something going under the surface.

The thing I found curious in reading this article is the implication that other Dallas Democratic candidates’ fortunes this fall are tied to Watkins’ re-election. Watkins himself pushes this line of thinking. It’s clear from looking at the county returns in Dallas for this decade that the biggest reason why Democrats have been so successful there of late is because the number of Republican voters in the county has fallen off a cliff. In both 2006 and 2008, there were about 30,000 fewer Republican votes cast in Dallas than there were in 2002 and 2004. Dallas Democrats swept the countywide races in 2006 even though Democratic turnout was down from 2002, thanks to the much steeper dropoff in Republican voting. I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that this trend has reversed itself. It’s possible that things could blow up enough around Watkins to depress Democratic turnout sufficiently to imperil folks, but given the numbers that would have to be a significant event, and it would also have to be enough to counter other factors. (It’s also possible that these issues will jeopardize Watkins’ own re-election, but not affect anyone else.) With all due respect to Watkins, who ought to make an exciting statewide candidate in the near future, he won’t be the only candidate working to get Democrats out to the polls. I’m a little concerned about his prospects, but not about Dallas Democrats in general.

Election tidbits for 9/29

Meet Dallas DA Craig Watkins’ Republican opponent. I thought he came across better than the commenters did, but I feel pretty good about Watkins’ chances nonetheless. Via Grits.

Some love for Bill White, including the Bill Whites for Bill White ActBlue page.

Hank Gilbert speaks to WFAA in Dallas.

Get ready for Teabagging II: Electric Boogaloo.

Martha, John, and Stace comment on the Gene Locke robocalls, in particular the one from County Clerk Beverly Kaufmann.

Rick Perry claims his website was hacked. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Don Large, the now-former campaign manager for Council candidate Carlos Obando, informed me today that he is filing paperwork to run for Harris County Republican Party Chair. He’ll be the third challenger to current Chair Jared Woodfill.

(Don’t) Run Everywhere, Dallas-style

Remember when Dallas was a stronghold for the state GOP? Those days are long gone.

After two straight losing cycles that forced them out of power, Dallas County Republicans will feature a scaled-down ticket for the 2010 elections.

Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman says it doesn’t make sense to recruit candidates for well over 50 countywide races.

Instead, the party is focusing on a handful of judicial races and the contest for county judge.

And unless Ronald Reagan rises from the grave, Republicans won’t recruit a candidate to run against District Attorney Craig Watkins .

“We’re going to target selectively,” Neerman said. “We want to be thoughtful in our approach so we can be consistent with our philosophy that we’re looking for quality judges at the courthouse.”

Neerman, who says he will personally handle the recruitment of judicial candidates, is hosting a candidate slating meeting Thursday.

He says Republicans have no more than 20 candidates ready to run for various judicial posts in 2010. That’s less than half of the countywide ballot.

Boy, how the mighty have fallen. As you know, the Harris County Democratic Party was very recently been on that side of the fence, so I know where Neerman is coming from. I don’t think that strategy works, but I know it’s really hard to get good candidates to run when they have little prospect of getting adequately funded and little chance of winning. Even after the two consecutive drubbings the Dallas County GOP has received, you’d think that in a state where various Republican candidates are touting multi-million dollar fundraising hauls there’d be a few bucks to spare to keep the second-largest county in the state from becoming completely unreachable, but I guess not. Gonna be hard to hold onto some of those State Rep seats, even if they get a friendly map in 2011, that’s all I can say. Anyone think this might be a preview of things to come for their colleagues here in Harris County?