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John Healey

Another straight-ticket truther

Hello, outgoing Fort Bend DA John Healey!

John Healey

When John Healey began his career as a young prosecutor in Fort Bend County in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan was president, MTV had just gone on the air and the then-rural county had fewer than 175,000 residents.

As Healey prepares to leave the office where he’s spent his entire career, including 26 years as the county’s top prosecutor, the sprawling suburb has roughly 764,000 residents with a growing number of diverse communities.

A Republican, Healey announced his retirement more than a year before the blue wave that swept many Democrats into county offices, including his own. Democrat Brian Middleton, a Houston defense attorney who once worked for Healey, will succeed him at the start of 2019.

[…]

The county is also tilting more toward the Democrats, from Hillary Clinton winning the county in 2016 to ousting longtime County Judge Bob Hebert, a Republican, this past fall. Hebert will be succeeded by Democrat KP George.

“I think you have a well-organized Democratic Party that mobilized a lot of people on fear across the board in the ballot of Donald Trump,” said Healey. “Those that voted straight-ticket voted good Republicans out of office, didn’t care that they were doing it, and maybe didn’t even know that they were doing it.”

I do so love the implication that people who voted straight ticket were too stupid to know who and what they were voting for. There’s nothing more appealing in a public official than insulting voters. The possibility that people may have been deliberately and consciously voting for a change of direction, to rebuke a corrupt and incompetent president, for the candidates who better reflected their values and experiences, or some combination of all three, just doesn’t occur to him. Which strongly suggests to me that he picked the right time to get off the stage.

And just for the record:


Straight R    81,228
Straight D    89,491
Margin         8,263

240th District Court

Bridges      117,587
Fraley       132,199
Margin        14,612

268th District Court

Hawkins      116,476
Williams     133,419
Margin        16,943

458th District Court

Cannata      117,370
Rolnick      132,206
Margin        14,836

District Attorney

Vacek        115,370
Middleton    134,915
Margin        19,545

County Judge

Hebert       118,001
George       132,783
Margin        14,782

District Clerk

Elliott      117,534
Walker       132,630
Margin        15,096

I skipped a few county court races, all of which were in the same range. Point being, even if you accept the ridiculous and ridicule-worthy claim that straight ticket votes are somehow less than other votes, every countywide Democrat in Fort Bend still won their race. Nowhere was that margin greater than in the race for DA, to succeed John Healey. You can believe what you want to believe, John. The voters knew what they wanted.

The Fort Bend DA race

There’s been a lot of focus on how Harris County will vote this year after Hillary Clinton’s wide margin of victory in 2016 – I’ve certainly contributed to that – but it’s important to remember that Clinton carried Fort Bend County as well, and there are some big elections happening there, too.

Brian Middleton

Cliff Vacek knows Fort Bend County like the back of his hand. The former state district judge, now 71, has lived his whole life in the fast-growing, diverse suburb southwest of Houston, where he’s also served as a teacher and had his own law practice.

“The criminal justice system ought to be fair,” said Vacek, a Republican. “I hope people feel like I do, that they want the prosecution to be swift, they want it to be vigorous, but they want it to be fair. That’s what I offer.”

Brian Middleton once worked as a prosecutor for longtime District Attorney John Healey, but the Houston native now wears many hats — running his own law firm in southwest Houston in addition to working as a municipal prosecutor for the cities of Meadows Place, Jersey Village and Wallis and as a judge for the city of Jacinto.

If elected, Middleton would become the first African-American district attorney for the county of more than 765,000 residents, which is 35 percent white, 21 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic, and 21 percent Asian and other.

“I think it would send a signal to the rest of the world that we in Fort Bend County have very strong values and value diversity,” said Middleton, 46, a Democrat. “People of color can succeed.”

Whoever wins, it will represent a major change in Fort Bend County, where Healey, a Republican, has presided over the district attorney’s office since 1992, the year Bill Clinton was elected president. The race is being closely watched as the county backed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 but has continued to elect Republicans to top county offices.

Other key races include county judge, where Republican incumbent Robert Hebert is trying to stave off a challenge from Fort Bend ISD board member KP George. At the federal level, meanwhile, Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Republican who has represented the 22nd Congressional District since 2009.

I think psychologically, the state GOP is prepared for the possibility that they’ll lose Harris County. They don’t want to, of course, and they’ll do what they can to win as many races as they can, but they saw the numbers, and not just the ones from 2016. Losing Fort Bend, even one countywide race, would be a much bigger blow. The Republican takeover of the state began in earnest in the suburbs, which grew rapidly in population and voting strength, and spread from there. Democrats have mostly taken over the big urban counties, but an incursion into this kind of turf is as whole ‘nother thing. It changes the narrative of where Republicans and Democrats are, if nothing else, and it would definitely be a major consideration in 2021 when maps need to be redrawn. I don’t know how Middleton or George are going to do – in some ways, winning these county offices is harder than winning legislative races – but they have the potential to really shake things up if they win. Keep an eye on this.

Wilvin Carter

As we know, there are interesting races for District Attorney in Harris, Dallas, and Bexar Counties. Turns out there’s one in Fort Bend County, too.

Wilvin Carter

As Fort Bend County District Attorney, John Healey has faced competitive elections before.

Since a Democrat hasn’t won a countywide election in decades, those races were generally against fellow Republicans in primaries. For the first time since 1994, Healey will square off against a Democratic challenger – his former employee, Wilvin Carter – in a general election race that may be his tightest yet.

The campaign has included allegations that Healey violated responsibilities of his office when he waited months longer than other colleagues to inform defense attorneys and defendants that their cases may have been affected by a state chemist found to have fabricated results.

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Carter grew up in Birmingham, Ala., in a neighborhood where police and prosecutors were treated with suspicion. Through a circuitous route that included doing legal research at CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta and eventually graduating law school at Texas Southern University, Carter was drawn to the work, interning in the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the state Attorney General’s office and his school’s Earl Carl Institute.

Carter, who lives in Missouri City but has practiced law in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, decided to run because of one particular case where a child was charged with assault for pushing his teacher at school.

“It was just one of those cases that had fallen into my lap one too many times,” explained Carter. The district attorney has a great deal of discretion when it comes to accepting and pursuing charges in a case, and Carter felt that Healey’s decision to accept charges in this case was wrong. “The school didn’t want to deal with him, his teachers didn’t want to deal with it and when they put him in the system, their solution was to punish him for his behavior,” said Carter.

Instead, he wants to expand the number and scope of pretrial diversion programs in the county, particularly for first-time, non-violent offenders. “As the district attorney, I would be able to build relationships with these schools and school board members, the superintendent and say, ‘What can we do?’ ” said Carter. More options will help clear case loads and allow the office to focus on more serious crimes, according to Carter.

I like the sound of that. DA seems like an office where even strong partisans might be willing to cross over given the right circumstances. I don’t know anything about the allegations against Healey, but that is the sort of thing that could sway people. There’s also been a strong effort to turn out Democrats in Fort Bend this year, which of course wouldn’t hurt Carter’s prospects. I haven’t followed this race so I won’t venture a guess as to what the odds are of a Wilvin Carter victory, but I’ll be keeping an eye on this one on Election Day.