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Keith Hampton

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

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There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

Reciprocal discovery

There’s a bit of controversy brewing over one of the criminal justice reforms that have been proposed. The bill at issue was filed on deadline day.

Senate Bill 1611 would enact uniform discovery requirements in criminal cases across Texas. It would require prosecutors to give defense lawyers evidence in their files and to include essentially everything except their own notes about strategy. It would require defense lawyers to share evidence as long as it doesn’t include their strategy plans or violate the defendant’s right against self-incrimination. The measure also spells out that lawyers on both sides would have an ongoing duty as the case continues to reveal information, and it would provide sanctions in cases where the discovery requirements are violated.

[Sen. Rodney] Ellis, D-Houston, said the bill would make the justice system fairer and save taxpayers money that is often spent in long, expensive court battles and on compensation to those who have been wrongfully convicted.

“Ensuring all evidence comes to light and that all the relevant facts are weighed will improve the reliability of the justice system,” he said. “Texans deserve a system they know will protect the innocent, convict the guilty, and is instilled with the fairness and integrity justice demands.”

Nearly every other state has discovery requirements similar to those outlined in SB 1161, and requiring reciprocal open discovery was a recommendation in the August 2010 report from the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. Then-state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, filed a similar bill in 2011, which did not pass. Under current law, prosecutors are required only to divulge basic information about the crime to a defendant’s lawyer, and they’re only forced to do so if a judge orders it.

Ellis and Sen. Robert Duncan are the authors of this bill. I was curious to see how the defense bar would react, since they had raised concerns about the direction of this legislation before it was filed. It seems their concerns have not been assuaged.

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association this weekend approved a resolution opposing the legislation.

“The only ones who ought to open their files is the prosecution; they have the burden of proof,” said Bobby Mims, president-elect of the association.

Momentum to pass legislation that requires both district attorneys and defense lawyers to share their files has grown in the wake of wrongful convictions in which prosecutors allegedly withheld critical evidence. Such laws, proponents argue, would prevent convictions like that of Michael Morton, who was exonerated in 2011 after spending nearly 25 years in prison for his wife’s murder. His lawyers allege that the district attorney in Morton’s case deliberately kept information from defense lawyers that could have prevented his conviction and led to the real killer. Morton himself has supported legislation to require open discovery.

Some criminal defense lawyers over the last decade have led the fight against reciprocal discovery proposals in Texas. The association says the measure is unnecessary, would result in a flood of expensive, unneeded paperwork and would give prosecutors too much access to their clients’ information. It is the prosecution — not the defense — that bears the burden of proof in criminal cases, and defense lawyers argue they should not have to reveal their clients’ hands. What’s more, they say the legislation would do nothing to prevent tragedies like Morton’s.

“We have numerous problems in the criminal justice system,” said Keith Hampton, a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Austin. “Discovery is no longer it.”

[…]

Though they are not required to do so, Mims said, most prosecutors in Texas already have some type of open file policy that allows defense lawyers access to evidence against their clients.

Ellis’s legislation, he said, would require expensive and lengthy document production that would drive up the cost to taxpayers who foot the bill for indigent defendants. And he worried that the requirements would inundate lawyers with unnecessary files.

But the biggest worry for defense lawyers, Mims said, is that providing witness lists to prosecutors could lead to witness intimidation.

“The fact that a prosecutor is ethical doesn’t mean his investigators or other police officers are, too,” Mims said.

For all the heartburn it is likely to cause, Mims said, the law would not prevent what happened to Morton from happening to others. No legislation can ever stop a police officer or prosecutor who wants to hide evidence, he said.

Instead, he said, the TCDLA strongly favors Senate Bill 825, a measure by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, which [was] heard Tuesday in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which the senator leads. The measure would extend the statute of limitations for offenses involving evidence suppression by district attorneys. Under current law, the four-year statute of limitations begins ticking on such offenses when they occur. Whitmire’s proposal, which Morton also supports, would begin the clock on the statute of limitations at the time a wrongfully convicted defendant is released from prison.

The association also supports House Bill 166 by State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, which would create an innocence commission to examine wrongful conviction cases and recommend improvements to the criminal justice system to prevent them in the future.

The Texas Defender Service supports SB1611, but as you saw in that earlier link that didn’t cut any ice with the TCDLA. I’m not an attorney, let alone a criminal defense attorney, so I do not presume that I understand this issue better than they do, but I am curious about something. If it really is the case that most other states do things the way the Ellis/Duncan bill would have Texas do, is it truly that Texas’ way is better, at least from a criminal defense perspective, or is it just that Texas’ way is good enough and it’s not worth mucking with? Like I said, I’m just curious. In any event, Sen. Whitmire’s SB 825 has passed out of committee, and that would unquestionably be a step forward. Grits has an excellent writeup about it. We’ll see how it goes with SB 1611.

2012 election results

As I type this there are still a number of unsettled races in Texas, so things may change between now and tomorrow morning after we’ve all had an insufficient night’s sleep. But here’s how they stand at this time, and I will use my what I’ll be looking for post as a jumping off point.

Sen. Wendy Davis

First and foremost, State Sen. Wendy Davis was re-elected in SD10. I can’t begin to tell you how big that is. She was by far the Republicans’ biggest target this year, and she was again running in a district draw to favor a Republican candidate, this time without a Libertarian in the race to potentially draw votes away from her opponent. Yet she prevailed, riding an Election Day majority to a come-from-behind win, and thrusting herself squarely into the conversation for a statewide run at some point. Now the Democrats are assured of at least 11 Senate seats no matter how long it takes Rick Perry to call the special election to succeed the late Sen. Mario Gallegos, who also won, albeit much more easily. Again, this is huge.

As of this writing, Nick Lampson is trailing in CD14 by about 19,000 votes, with most of Galveston County still to report. I don’t know if he can win based on that. He fell short of the 60% he needed in Jefferson County that he supposedly needed, pulling 58.3% there. However, the Texas Tribune has called CD23 for Pete Gallego, who is leading by 6000 votes with only a handful of what are likely to be mostly friendly precincts still outstanding. Congrats to Rep.-Elect Pete Gallego!

It looks like Dems will exactly hit the target of +7 seats in the House for a total of 55. In addition to the three they won by default, they are leading in or have won HDs 34 (Abel Herrero), 78 (Joe Moody), 117 (Phillip Cortez), and 144 (Mary Ann Perez), while Rep. Craig Eiland has 53% with most of Galveston still out. Basically, Dems won four of the five districts in which they were the majority votegetters in most races in 2008, the exception being HD43, where turncoat Rep. JM Lozano appears to have held on. Sadly, Ann Johnson lost, but Gene Wu and Hubert Vo won easily.

Dems have picked up a seat on the SBOE as well, as Martha Dominguez has ousted Charlie Garza in SBOE1, while Marisa Perez won easily in SBOE3 and Ruben Cortez has held Mary Helen Berlanga’s seat in SBOE2. Considering what a massive clusterfsck this looked like after the Democratic primary, it’s a damn miracle.

With all but nine precincts reporting in Harris County, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. First, here’s the Presidential vote for Harris County as of this time:

Romney – 579,068
Obama – 579,070

Yes, Obama is leading Romney in Harris County by TWO VOTES. Good thing no one will call for a recount of that. The good news is that downballot Vince Ryan, Adrian Garcia, and Diane Trautman are all winning, while Mike Anderson has bested Lloyd Oliver. Sadly, Ann Harris Bennett appears to have fallen short by about 2400 votes. Fourteen of 20 Democratic judges won, while all five sitting Republican judges won, making the score 14-11 Dems overall.

Fort Bend County remained Republican. Obama will lose by a larger margin this time than in 2008 – he’s below 41% as I write this, but there are still 2000 precincts statewide to report. Given that, Keith Hampton never had a chance against Sharon Keller, but what is really disappointing is that he didn’t finish any closer to her than Obama did to Romney. However much newspaper endorsements meant in 2006, they meant squat to Keith Hampton. All of the Harris County-based appeals court candidates lost by about 10 points each. Incumbent Dem Diane Hanson lost on the Third Court, thanks in part to a peculiarly miniscule turnout in Travis County, but Dems knocked off three incumbent judges on the Fourth Court of Appeals.

Finally, all of the bond measures passed easily, as did the two Houston charter amendments and the Metro referendum. Dave Martin was elected to replace Mike Sullivan in Council District E with no runoff needed. Julian Castro’s pre-k referendum won. Marriage equality was victorious in Maine and Maryland, with Washington still out, and an anti-marriage equality referendum was narrowly losing in Minnesota. And Colorado legalized pot. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll have more later, including a bonanza of precinct analyses once I get the data. Thank you and good night.

UPDATE: Rep. Eiland did win, as did the other Democratic legislative candidates I mentioned, so it’s +7 in the House. Nick Lampson did lose, so it’s +1 for the Dems in Congress.

What I’ll be looking for tonight

Just a reminder that I’ll be on KPFT tonight starting at 7 PM to talk about the elections. Here’s a preview of the things I’ll be looking for:

1. SD10 – Sen. Wendy Davis vs Mark Shelton: Easily the most important race on the ballot in Texas. Davis has been a progressive champion and a pain in Dan Patrick’s rear end, and will make for a strong statewide candidate when she’s ready. She also ensures that the Dems maintain enough votes in the Senate to invoke the two-thirds rule until whenever Rick Perry calls the special election to succeed the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. I am heartened that Robert Miller thinks Davis is leading, though he subsequently amended that, but I won’t rest easy until I see that lead on the Secretary of State’s election results webpage.

2. Legislative races – While Dems start out with only 48 seats in the Lege, they will automatically pick up three today – HDs 35, 40, and 101 – because there are no Republicans running in them. Beyond that, the over/under line for Dems is 55 seats total. Three in particular to watch: HD23, in which Rep. Craig Eiland is one of the only, if not the only, threatened Democratic incumbents; HD134, in which Ann Johnson’s challenge to freshman Rep. Sarah Davis will be a good test of how well a message attacking the Rs for cutting $5.4 billion from public education will work; and HD136, the open seat in Williamson County, which will be a test of whether 2008 was a fluke or a trend for Democrats in places like that.

3. Adrian Garcia and Mike Anderson – Everyone expects both candidates to win, as both have become poster children for not voting a straight ticket this year. As such, they will both likely represent the high-water mark for each party this year, as Garcia and Ed Emmett were in 2008. I’ll be paying particular attention to how they did in various legislative and other districts once the precinct data is out, because that may provide an early roadmap for future electoral targets.

4. Fort Bend County – Fort Bend came very close to going Democratic in 2008. President Obama received 48.49% of the vote there, and no Republican won the county by as much as 10,000 votes out of 200,000 cast. Is this the year Democrats break through? Also worth keeping an eye on is freshman County Commissioner Richard Morrison in his race against double voter Bruce Fleming.

5. CCA – Hampton vs Keller – I think we’re all familiar with this one by now. Whether Hampton has a chance to win depends largely, though not entirely, on how well Obama does in Texas. The presence of a Libertarian candidate in this race means that Hampton can win with less than 50% of the vote. Most of the statewide judicial races in 2008 had Libertarians in them, and they got about 3% of the vote on average. I suspect the ceiling for that may be higher in this case, as some Republicans may prefer to not vote for Keller but not vote for a Dem, either. I will not be surprised if 48% is enough to win. If Obama can improve on 2008, even a little, it makes it that much easier for Hampton to get over the hump. If not, we may be stuck with Keller for another six years or until she finally has the grace to resign.

6. 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals – Jim Sharp broke through for Democrats in 2008, and there’s a nearly full slate of them running for seats on these courts, whose jurisdictions cover multiple counties, this year. As was the case in 2008, a sufficiently strong showing in Harris County may be enough to make it across the finish line, though if Fort Bend is blue as well, that would be a big help. This is where future Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals candidates can emerge.

7. Bonds, Metro, and SA Pre-K – I expect the Houston bonds to pass. Keep an eye on the charter amendments, since if they pass as well there can be no further charter amendments on the ballot till May of 2015. I think the Metro referendum will pass, but I would not bet my own money on it. The San Antonio Pre-K initiative is expected to be close. Given the recent love affair in the national media and from the national party for Mayor Julian Castro, a loss here will undoubtedly be portrayed as a setback for him.

I think that’s plenty to think about. What races are you watching?

Endorsement watch: The Statesman gets in the game

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.

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:

Matt Stillwell

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.

[…]

Michele Petty

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.

Overview of the Keller-Hampton race

This story covers a lot of familiar ground, but it’s worth going over again.

Three judges on Texas’ highest criminal court are seeking re-election in November, including Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, who’s been a lightning rod for controversy since her last test of voters in 2006.

Elected to Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994, she is the only incumbent on the court with major-party opposition, facing a Democrat and Libertarian.

In 2007, Keller, 59, of Austin, gained national attention for refusing to keep the court open past 5 p.m. to accept a last-minute appeal of a death row inmate who was executed hours later. Charges were filed by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, but it ruled that she did not violate any laws or warrant punishment “beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered,” according to court records.

In 2010, Keller received the largest fine ever levied by the Texas Ethics Commission — $100,000 — for breaking finance disclosure law by failing to report $2.4 million in personal assets. Keller did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

[…]

Keller’s opponents are Democrat Keith Hampton and Libertarian Lance Stott.

Hampton, a defense attorney in Austin, ran unsuccessfully for the court’s Place 6 in 2010. He said he hopes Keller’s missteps will boost him to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office since 1994.

“We have a judge on the court who has been found to be unethical by every agency in government that can make that determination,” Hampton said. “Her actions have given (the Texas judicial system) a black eye.”

Hampton, 51, Austin, drafted the original proposal of Senate Bill 112 in 2009, which established veterans courts in Texas, and he advocated for a law passed in 2007 that established state prisoners’ right to petition a court to have DNA evidence tested. He counseled against former state Solicitor General and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz and then won in 2007 in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Panetti vs. Quarterman, which spared from execution a schizophrenic murderer from Fredericksburg.

Hampton said GOP straight-ticket voters should “spend an extra few seconds” to vote for him instead of Keller.

“It’s not a matter of Republican or Democrat, or left and right,” Hampton said. “It’s a matter of right and wrong.”

Like I said, this is familiar ground if you’ve read any of the endorsement editorials for Hampton. But these things can’t be said enough, because we only get one chance every six years to do something about it. Sharon Keller has demonstrated over and over again that she is not fit to be on the bench. It’s time to send her back to private practice.

Endorsement watch: For Ann Johnson

I noted on Monday that the Chron listed Ann Johnson as one of its endorsed candidates. Yesterday they wrote the endorsement editorial to go along with that.

Ann Johnson

The tea party turnout of 2010 gave Republican candidate Sarah Davis the narrow victory she needed to win in District 134, a prosperous swing district that covers areas from River Oaks to Meyerland and the Medical Center, as well.

Davis speaks about politics with a fiery passion, but her passion often seems aimed more at Washington than Austin.

She successfully navigated the minefield of wedge-issue votes that defined the previous legislative session – voting no on the sonogram bill, for example. But voters deserve a representative who doesn’t just avoid bad votes, but leads on good ones. We believe Democratic challenger Ann Johnson can be that sort of leader.

[…]

Issues like education and health care aren’t just matters of compassion, they’re necessary to ensure that Texas has the healthy, educated workforce we need to power our economy.

In this race, Ann Johnson is the better bet for Texas’ future.

It’s interesting to see the Chron buy into the “independent” image that Rep. Davis is peddling. As I did before, I would challenge them to come up with two bills of significance besides the sonogram bill on which David voted against her party. On Monday I saw for the first time a broadcast of Davis’ TV commercial, for which Texans for Lawsuit Reform bought her $100K worth of airtime. Not surprisingly, Davis pushes this idea hard, claiming to support public education despite voting to cut $10 billion from it and to oppose restrictions on women’s health care despite voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood and to kill the Women’s Health Program if Planned Parenthood is successful in its lawsuit against the state. It’s very simple: Sarah Davis was a reliable Republican vote in the 2011 legislature. Her record bears this out. You would think that a reliable Republican, running in a district drawn by Republicans to elect a Republican, would be willing to tout her Republican-ness for her re-election rather than try to obfuscate it. In the case of Rep. Sarah Davis, you would be wrong about that.

Anyway. The Chron made the right call with Ann Johnson, whose interview with me is here if you haven’t had the chance to listen to it. You can also watch this TV ad that Texas Parent PAC did on Johnson’s behalf:

And here’s that ad by the Johnson campaign that I’ve seen on Headline News:

In case you’re wondering, Bill White beat Rick Perry by a 51.0-47.7 margin in 2010. Maybe that’s why Davis is pressing her “independent” credentials. I guess I would too if I were her. Neil has more.

Finally, on a tangential note, the San Angelo Standard Times joins the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in endorsing Keith Hampton over Sharon Keller. Has anyone seen a newspaper endorse Keller yet? Again, this probably doesn’t matter much, but it could matter just enough.

Endorsement watch: Four for four

The Express-News gets on the Keith Hampton bus.

When one of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s Republican colleagues said she had made the court a “national laughingstock,” he was being generous.

Keller’s controversial judicial actions are no laughing matter.

And that’s why we urge Texans to cast ballots in the general election for her opponent, Democrat KeithHampton.

[…]

Hampton, who has been practicing law since 1989, is board certified in criminal law. The Austin-based lawyer is a member of the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas.

Hampton has handled all phases of death penalty cases and has ample experience in trial and appellate work.

Hampton would a bring a refreshing and much-needed change to the state’s highest criminal court.

Of the five major dailies, the only one that has not endorsed Keith Hampton is the Austin American-Statesman, and that’s because as far as I can tell they have not done any endorsements yet. As I said yesterday, I don’t know how much all this will ultimately help Hampton, but as they say, it can’t hurt.

Endorsement watch: The Chron for Hampton

The Chron joins the DMN and the Star-Telegram in endorsing Keith Hampton for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

We highly recommend that voters cast their ballots instead for Democratic challenger Keith Hampton. This endorsement is not merely a rejection of the incumbent judge’s poor track record, but enthusiastic support for Hampton’s impressive history of working to improve the Texas judiciary, whether trying cases in courtrooms or shaping policy in Austin.

With experience ranging from criminal district courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hampton has an extensive criminal defense track record that’s not common enough on the state’s highest criminal court. Endorsed by seven former state bar presidents, Hampton is respected across the political spectrum for his work and expertise. As governor, George W. Bush appointed Hampton to the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to revise the Code of Criminal Procedure. And when he was on the Texas Supreme Court, John Cornyn appointed Hampton to the Supreme Court Jury Task Force.

Hampton also worked with state legislators to improve our judicial system, notably spearheading the creation of Veterans’ Courts in Texas – specialty courts that handle veterans suffering from service-related injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, who are prone to violence or drug use.

One would be hard pressed to find a better candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

As you might expect, the Chron began their piece with the usual airing of grievances against Sharon Keller, before noting that their recommendation of Hampton was based on more than just her long list of sins. It must be noted that Keller does have some positive accomplishments in her tenure as judge, mostly having to do with the state’s Indigent Defense Task Force. But whatever positive qualities she must have had to bring to that work, they have been consipcuously absent in her judicial record, and it is by that record that we judge her. By any accounting of that record, she fails as a judge, and it is only right to vote her off the bench. As I said before, it should be the case that editorial boards across the state reach that conclusion.

And if they do, will it make any difference? I asked that question back in 2006, when Democratic Supreme Court candidate Bill Moody swept the newspaper endorsements against underqualified Perry appointee Don Willett. My conclusion at the time was that all things being equal it was worth a few percentage points in the final tally. That was six years ago, in an election that had relatively low turnout and low levels of partisan fervor, neither of which are or will be true this year. Still, given that each endorsement is also an opportunity to remind people of Keller’s awful record, I do figure it will make some difference, and in an election where 48% of the vote may well be enough to win, every little bit helps. We’ll see how it turns out.

Hampton going after Keller

I wish him the best of luck.

The ethics behind Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s decision to shut the doors on a death penalty appeal are resurfacing as her opponent launches a contentious campaign against her.

Democratic defense lawyer Keith Hampton is striking out at Keller, a Dallas resident who’s held the presiding judge post since 2001.

Experts say Hampton has a long road ahead of him, made rockier by the fact that no Democrat has won a statewide race in nearly 20 years. Though he has more money in his arsenal and is running a broad campaign against Keller’s job performance, her party affiliation and incumbent status are huge advantages.

Nine judges sit on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court in the state for criminal charges, which hears capital punishment cases and has been criticized for reversing convictions for technical matters unrelated to a defendant’s innocence. If Hampton wins, he would be the only non-Republican on the court — and probably the only Democrat elected statewide.

“It’s difficult, but I don’t think impossible, given that Keller has some baggage and isn’t running the kind of campaign he is now,” said Sherri Greenberg, a former House member who is director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas at Austin. “On the other hand, she may just be banking on that it’s a Republican gig.”

The Trib wrote about Hampton’s efforts to woo Republican voters last month. A victory for Hampton is one part how high the Democratic baseline is this year, and one part how successful he is at that persuasion effort. There is a Libertarian candidate on the ballot as well, which allows for the possibility of Hampton winning with a plurality vote. If he can get to 48%, he has a decent shot. Over the weekend he got the endorsements of the DMN and the Star-Telegram, which will help a little, and when all is said and done he should have most if not all of the remaining newspaper nods. It would be nice if more people were aware of Sharon Keller’s record and voted accordingly – visit VoteNoSharonKeller.com if you need a refresher – but this is how it is. If she wins again she gets six more years on the Court of Criminal Appeals bench. She doesn’t deserve that, and neither do we.

Re-Filing deadline roundup

Let the races begin!

The re-filing deadline was Friday, and as expected there was a flurry of activity on the final day. I’m going to do a news roundup to highlight what went on and who’s now running for what. You can find a list of filings that the Texas Democratic Party is aware of here, but bear in mind that this is not a complete list because any candidates who are running for an office which is wholly contained within one county will have filed with their County Democratic Party, so the TDP may not be aware of it. Also, it’s not clear to me if they have removed all of the candidates who filed for an office in December and then subsequently withdrew or switched. A spreadsheet of HCDP filings is here, and the Harris County GOP’s list of candidates is here. A few highlights before I go to the papers:

– US Senate candidate Daniel Boone withdrew from that race and filed for CD21 instead. Candace Duval has also filed for that race. Grady Yarbrough filed for the Senate, so there are still four Democratic candidates there.

– A San Antonio attorney named Michelle Petty filed to run for State Supreme Court, position 6, against Justice Nathan Hecht. She is the only Democrat running for the Supreme Court.

– There is also only one Democrat running for the Court of Criminal Appeals – Keith Hampton, who was on the ballot in 2010. Hampton is running against the notorious Sharon Keller, who is challenging his place on the ballot.

Keller’s challenge, filed with the state Democratic Party on Thursday, claims Keith Hampton did not submit enough valid signatures to qualify for a place on the ballot.

Candidates for statewide judicial office must collect signatures from 50 registered voters in each of the state’s 14 appellate court districts. Keller’s challenge, filed by lawyer Edward Shack, claims irregularities on several petition pages should invalidate numerous signatures, leaving Hampton short of voters in three districts.

Hampton, a 22-year Austin lawyer, dismissed Keller’s challenge in two appellate districts as quibbling and was working Thursday to correct petition forms in the third district before the evening candidate filing deadline.

Keller claimed several petition pages in two districts were invalid because signatures were collected while Hampton was running for Place 8. When Hampton changed his mind last fall and targeted Keller, it appears “Place 8” was scratched out and replaced with Keller’s position on the court, the challenge said.

The change should not invalidate the forms, Hampton said Friday. “That’s not even a clerical error,” he said. “I think her challenges there are completely meritless.”

Questions about dates associated with petitions from a third district were being addressed Thursday by collecting new signatures, “so everything there should be moot,” Hampton said.

As this is for a primary election, TDP Chair Boyd Ritchie gets to rule on the validity of the challenge, which can then be appealed to state district court. We’ll see what happens.

– Nick Lampson picked up a primary opponent for CD14, a woman from Galveston named Linda Dailey.

– Two people filed for the Democratic nomination in CD10 after Dan Grant dropped out, William E. Miller, Jr, of Austin, and Tawana Cadien of Cypress in Harris County.

– Jim Dougherty, who was the Democratic nominee for District Attorney in 2000 and for HD134 in 2004, filed to run against Rep. Ted Poe in CD02. Here’s a press release he sent out on Saturday.

– I don’t see a Democratic challenger listed for Republican Judge Tad Halbach, who presides over the 333rd Criminal District Court.

– Republicans Gilbert Pena and David Pineda filed to replace State Rep. Ken Legler on the ballot in HD144.

Here’s the Chron story about the re-filing deadline, which didn’t have any of that in it. Looking elsewhere, here’s the Statesman.

The once-a-decade redistricting process has created an unusually high number of contested races for the U.S. House. For example, former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald, a Democrat, said Friday that he will challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold for a GOP-leaning district that cuts through Bastrop but is based in Corpus Christi, which is Farenthold’s hometown. At least three other Democrats, all from the southern end of the district, also hope to take on Farenthold.

Travis County voters will see highly contested primaries for two other congressional seats. Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin will face three candidates from San Antonio in District 35, which extends from eastern Travis County to Bexar County. Doggett’s toughest fight is likely to come from Sylvia Romo, the Bexar County tax assessor-collector. More residents of that district live on the San Antonio end than the Austin end. Three Republicans filed for the seat, but it is heavily Democratic.

Meanwhile, 11 Republicans filed to run in Congressional District 25, which includes much of western Travis County and runs up to Fort Worth. Those filing include former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams and former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams.

Republican U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul of Austin, Lamar Smith of San Antonio and John Carter of Round Rock each drew GOP primary opposition.

I personally think McDonald would have had a better shot at HD17, but I wish him well in his efforts. A fellow named Colin Guerra filed in HD17.

Express News:

In 2011, it appeared Doggett, D-Austin, would face Castro, D-San Antonio, in the 35th, but after Rep. Charlie Gonzalez announced his retirement, Castro switched to the 20th, where he faced local attorney Ezra Johnson.

Johnson, a former Congressional page appointed by the late Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, dropped out Friday. The new maps, he said, “cut the heart out of the 20th District.”

That left Tax Assessor-Collector Sylvia Romo, real estate broker Patrick Shearer, and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez to duke it out for the 35th in the Democratic primary.

The latest maps, however, put Rodriguez back into the 23rd Congressional District, and chopped up Doggett’s old district.

Rodriguez filed for the 23rd this week, and will face state Rep. Pete Gallego and attorney John Bustamante for the chance to challenge Republican incumbent Francisco “Quico” Canseco.
Shearer announced Friday he would withdraw from the 35th and endorse Doggett.

Maria Luisa Alvarado, a veteran who ran as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006, is now the third Democrat on the ballot.

On the Republican ticket, John Yoggerst also filed for the 35th this week. He’ll square off against Susan Narvaiz and Rob Roark, both of San Marcos.

[…]

In South Texas, Brownsville lawyer Filemón Vela Jr. is seeking the Democratic nomination in the newly drawn 34th Congressional District, changing the dynamics in that crowded race.

More than a half dozen Democrats are running in that primary, including former Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Denise Saenz Blanchard of Brownsville and Ramiro Garza Jr. of South Padre Island.

Harlingen lawyer Salomon Torres, a former staffer to Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, is running for the new seat, as is Iraq war veteran Elmo Aycock , lawyer Anthony Troiani and District Attorney Armando Villalobos, all of Brownsville.

In the 27th Congressional District, Ronnie McDonald, a former Bastrop County judge, announced he will run for the Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by Republican freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi.

Also seeking the Democratic nomination in that race is Rose Meza Harrison, the Nueces County Democratic Party chairwoman and Murphy Alade Junaid of Corpus Christi.

Farenthold has GOP opposition in Don Al Middlebrook of Louise and Trey Roberts of Rockport.

Clearly, I have a lot of work to do on my Texas primary page.

DMN:

In the 33rd District, 11 Democrats have filed for the primary. Three Republicans are also running.

The race is a rare matchup between Dallas and Fort Worth politicos. It also will pit blacks and Hispanics against each other in a battle that could test minority voting strength in the district.

According to the Texas Legislative Council, the district’s Hispanic voting age population is 39 percent. The black voting population is 25 percent. But black voters cast ballots at a higher percentage than Hispanic voters, so the contest is expected to be close, and all of the candidates hope to cross ethnic boundaries.

Front-runners have already emerged.

In Dallas County, former state Rep. Domingo Garcia kicked off his campaign Thursday. His supporters are already registering and mobilizing Hispanic voters on both sides of the county line. Former Dallas City Council member Steve Salazar is also a candidate. And David Alameel, a deep-pocketed dentist who controls a political action committee, entered the race just before the filing deadline.

“It will be interesting to see where all the money lands,” Minchillo said.

In Tarrant County, state Rep. Marc Veasey is running, along with Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks and others.

Veasey has the most money and is counting on the support of former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Dallas.

[…]

State House races in Dallas County are less competitive than four years ago. No Republican or Democrat incumbent received a major challenge.

The most competitive races were in the districts represented by retiring Republicans Will Hartnett and Jim Jackson.

In Hartnett’s District 114, business consultant David Boone, former state Rep. Bill Keffer and Dallas lawyer Jason Villalba are in the GOP primary.

In District 115, the crowded Republican field includes optometrist Steve Nguyen, lawyer Andy Olivo, businessman Bennett Ratliff, attorney Matt Rinaldi and Lib Grimmett.

“We’ve got some good races for the open seats,” Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Wade Emmert said. “In many cases our incumbents were able to fend off primary challengers.”

The hottest Democratic Party statehouse race is the primary to replace Caraway, who is running for Congress.

That field includes former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis, mental health professional Toni Rose and prosecutor Larry Taylor.

A pair of former state representatives are trying to make comebacks. Carol Kent is running in the District 114 Democratic primary. Robert Miklos is unchallenged in the District 107 Democratic primary.

Alameel had previously filed for CD06, against Smokey Joe Barton. He loaned himself some money for that race, and I daresay he’ll spend a few bucks on this one.

Star-Telegram:

District 33, the state’s newest district. Democrats: David Alameel, Domingo Garcia, Kathleen Hicks, J.R. Molina, Jason Roberts, Steve Salazar, Kyev Tatum, Manuel Valdez and Marc Veasey. Republicans: Chuck Bradley, Charles King and Bill Lawrence.

District 25, a revamped congressional district. Republicans: Ernie Beltz Jr., Bill Burch, Dianne Costa, James Dillon, Dave Garrison, Justin Hewlett, Brian Matthews, Wes Riddle, Chad Wilbanks, Michael Williams and Roger Williams.

District 6. Republicans: Rep. Joe Barton (i), Joe Chow, Itamar Gelbman and Frank Kuchar. Democrats: Brianna Hinojosa-Flores, Donald Jaquess and Kenneth Sanders.

District 12. Republican: Kay Granger (i). Democrat: Dave Robinson.

District 24. Republicans: Kenny Marchant (i), Grant Stinchfield. Democrat: Patrick McGehearty.

District 26. Republican: Michael Burgess (i). Democrat: David Sanchez.

State Senate District 9. Republican: Kelly Hancock and Todd Smith. No Democrat filed.

State Senate District 10. Wendy Davis (i). Republicans: Derek Cooper and Mark Shelton.

State Senate District 12. Republican: Jane Nelson (i). No Democrat filed.

State House District 90. Democrats: Lon Burnam (i) and Carlos Vasquez.

State House District 91. Republicans: Stephanie Klick, Kenneth M. “Ken” Sapp, Charles Scoma and Lady Theresa Thombs.

State House District 92. Republicans: Jonathan Stickland and Roger Fisher.

State House District 93. Republicans: Matt Krause, Patricia “Pat” Carlson and Barbara Nash (i).

State House District 94. Republicans: Diane Patrick (i) and Trina Lanza.

State House District 95. Republican: Monte Mitchell. Democrats: Duliani “Jamal” Masimini, Nicole Collier and Jesse Gaines.

State House District 96. Republicans: Mike Leyman and Bill Zedler (i).

State House District 97. Republicans: Craig Goldman, Susan Todd and Chris Hatch. Democrat: Gary Grassia.

State House District 98. Republicans: Giovanni Capriglione and Vicki Truitt (i). Democrat: Shane Hardin.

State House District 99: Republican: Charlie Geren (i). Democrat: Michael McClure.

State House District 101. Democrats: Vickie Barnett, Paula Pierson and Chris Turner.

The TDP page lists a Pete Martinez for SD09, and a Gilbert Zamora for HD93.

El Paso Times:

Democratic candidate Art Fierro announced he will not run for representative of District 75, the post now held by Inocente “Chente” Quintanilla.

Quintanilla is running for El Paso County Commissioners Court Precinct 3, the seat representing most of the Lower Valley recently vacated by Willie Gandara Jr., who resigned after being indicted on federal drug-trafficking charges.

In a news release, Fierro said he no longer lives within the district’s new boundaries, which were announced last week, and no waivers or extensions of residency requirements have been provided.

“My family has prepared to move twice since December during the time of uncertainty caused by the redistricting litigation,” Fierro stated in the release. “At this point it has become difficult for my family to sacrifice the expense and time to move back into the district. I am greatly disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to represent District 75, which has been our home for over a decade.”

Fierro, whose wife is County Commissioner Anna Perez, is chairman of the El Paso Community College Board of Trustees.

Fierro is the second candidate to drop out of the race for House District 75. Gandara was running for the seat but quit after his arrest by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

On Friday, businessman Antonio “Tony” San Roman jumped into the race for House District 75, party officials said. The race also includes Hector Enriquez and Mary Gonzalez.

The Lion Star Blog has been my go-to source for El Paso political information.

I think that’s all I’ve got. If there’s anything you think I’ve missed, let me know. Robert Miller has been summarizing the legislative races in the big counties, and his information differs a bit from what I’ve seen elsewhere, but I expect these discrepancies will sort themselves out in the next day or two. It’s always a little confusing right after the deadline, especially on a weekend.

UPDATE: I have been informed that there was a typo in that Harris County spreadsheet and that Tracy Good has filed for the 33rd Civil District Court and not the 339th Criminal District Court. So there are no unchallenged judicial seats after all.

Can someone beat Sharon Keller this time?

Grits notes that CCA Presiding Judge Sharon Keller has opponents in March and in November – her colleague Larry Meyers for the former, and 2010 Dem CCA candidate Keith Hampton for the latter – and wonders if either of them can defeat Texas’ worst judge.

Judge Meyers probably faces shorter odds than Hampton at unseating Keller, but so far he hasn’t run much of a campaign, that I’ve seen. He’s been on the court forever and in many respects his record as judge isn’t much better than Keller’s. But he’d surely be a less ideological and polarizing a figure, and if he runs a smart, well-funded campaign he stands a puncher’s chance to beat Keller in a primary.

That’s just what it is, though: A puncher’s chance. And as a political-consultant friend of mine likes to say, “you don’t win a fistfight without throwing any punches.” Judge Keller is surely the betting favorite to win reelection next year as I write this. If either of these men wants to beat her, they’re going to need to attack, hard, and put significant resources behind those attacks. Otherwise the race will garner no attention nor interest amidst the 7-dwarves in the GOP presidential primary and a (theoretically) competitive US Senate race for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat on the ballot in March. And in the November election, of course, the presidential race will drive turnout and (if history is any guide) drown out discussions of tertiary races like this one.

Judicial races are generally sleepy affairs, but if one or preferably both of these challengers don’t bring out the attack dogs, Sharon Keller will skate under the radar to reelection and another six-year term, despite all the embarrassment and divisiveness she’s brought to the court.

I’d argue that rather than worry too much about fundraising, because in Texas unless you’re talking eight figures you really don’t have enough to power a statewide campaign, the candidates should try to earn as much media as they can. There’s no lack of material here, it’s just a matter of coming up with something that will get attention. Think unconventionally, take some chances, and if you hear some high-minded concerns being expressed about the nature of your campaign, it means you’re doing it right. Good luck.

Gallego to run for CD23 and other updates

State Rep. Pete Gallego has decided to run for Congress in CD23.

Gallego first won election to the Texas House in 1990 and has chaired various committees and also been part of the Democratic leadership, doing time as head of the House Democratic and the Mexican American Legislative Caucuses. That’s made him known to state and national Democrats who might be willing to help him in a congressional contest.

The district runs from San Antonio west to El Paso and includes all but five of the Texas counties that border Mexico.

San Antonio lawyer Manuel Peleaz, a Democrat, decided this week not to run for that congressional seat. He says he got lots of encouragement at home from others in San Antonio but that Gallego has locked down most of the important supporters west of Bexar County. That sets up as a “cage match,” as he put it, between Gallego and [former Rep. Ciro] Rodriguez, and with others, including John Bustamante, son of a former congressman, who announced as a Democratic candidate last month.

I’ve said I want to see new blood, and this counts as new blood. Nothing against Rep. Rodriguez, but Rep. Gallego has been an outstanding member of the Lege and will no doubt make an excellent Congressman. I’m a little concerned because Gallego’s legislative district is less solid than others, but Dems should still be favored to hold it. And hey, if you never risk anything you’ll never gain anything, either. I wish Rep. Gallego the best of luck.

There’s another primary battle to the west of CD23 as well.

Former El Paso City Councilman Beto O’Rourke said today that he will challenge longtime El Paso U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary election next year.

“He’s never had a real challenger,” said O’Rourke, who launched a website last night but hasn’t yet made an official announcement. “I think competition always produces better results than a monopoly.”

O’Rourke, who served on the City Council for six years before leaving the post this year, has long considered a congressional run, so his decision is not a big surprise. But it does set up another big political brawl in this city known for bruising Democratic melees.

“This is going to liven things up here,” said El Paso County Democratic Party Chairman Danny Anchondo.

Reyes and O’Rourke come from two long feuding camps in the local Democratic Party. Reyes, a former U.S. Border Patrol sector chief who was elected to Congress in 1996, is leader of the more conservative, establishment Democrats. O’Rourke, who runs a technology consulting and web design firm and is the son of a former El Paso County judge, is aligned with former state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh and more liberal, progressive Democrats.

CD16 is solid Dem in the new map, with Obama getting over 65% and Sam Houston 68%, so there’s certainly something to be said for this kind of challenge. Even if you lose, you can help shift things in a positive direction. Beyond that, I don’t know enough about either of these gentlemen to say anything more. I just hope the campaign energizes the Democratic electorate out there.

A bit closer to home, there will be a high profile primary fight in Travis County.

Former Judge Charlie Baird, who had previously formed a committee to explore running for Travis County District Attorney, announced on his website [Wednesday] that he will indeed run for the position.

Baird will face incumbent Rosemary Lehmberg in the March Democratic primary.

[…]

Baird served four years as a district judge and did not seek re-election last year. He was a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for eight years during the 1990s.

Lehmberg has been district attorney since January 2009 and has worked as a prosecutor in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office since 1976.

As I said when I noted Baird’s initial interest, I don’t have any preference in this race. I have no complaints about Lehmberg, and as far as I know Baird was a good judge. As with CD16, I hope this is the kind of campaign that gets people fired up in the good way.

On the Republican side, Robert Miller has a number of updates. The main thing you need to know is that Dennis Bonnen’s brother may be in the Lege as well in 2013. Urk.

Finally, a candidate announcement that isn’t a contested primary.

If the name Keith Hampton sounds familiar it’s because he appeared on your ballot in 2010 as the Democratic nominee for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (Place 6). [Thursday], he announced that he’s running for the statewide, all-Republican court in Place 8, currently held by Rick Perry appointee Elsa Alcala.

“I am excited to continue the work of reforming the Texas criminal judicial system that we began last cycle,” Hampton said. “I believe Texans want their justice system to enforce the law according to principle instead of ideology, so that each person may be treated equally, individually, and fairly before the law. I hope to use my campaign to advance this fundamental ideal.”

Like pretty much all of the downballot candidates last year, Hampton’s race got buried by the Governor’s race. Hopefully he’ll be running in a much less hostile environment next year.

Endorsement watch: High courts

Four more endorsements from the Chron, one of which goes to a Democrat:

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 5:The best choice to bring differing judicial philosophies and a wealth of trial experience to the all-Republican court is El Paso jurist and Democrat Bill Moody. Moody has occupied the 34th District Court bench for 25 years, and during that time has tried more than 500 felony and civil cases. Appreciating the essential role of the jury system, he successfully championed increasing juror pay to $40 first in El Paso and later statewide. Judge Moody says he would bring his experience as a trial judge to a court that too often has sided with big business defendants against plaintiffs. “This court is out of balance,” says the candidate. “We have got to go back and move more to the center and balance things.”

Moody was the high scorer among Democratic statewide candidates in 2006. Sweeping the newspaper endorsements that year probably helped him a little. He won’t get that this year, as the DMN went with the Republican incumbent, but I would still expect him to do well overall. For the one contested Court of Criminal Appeals race, the Chron stuck with incumbent Mike Keasler even if he is part of the problem with that court. I don’t think I can add anything to that.

Meet The Statewides and The Other 49%

The TDP is running a ten-week campaign between now and June 14 to promote the statewide slate. It includes a bio with 60-second video for each candidate, a discussion of the candidate’s race and the issues in it, and an op-ed from the candidate. It’s a good introduction, especially for the candidates who were unopposed in March and thus haven’t had much exposure. So far, they’ve covered two candidates. First up was Keith Hampton, running for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Here’s the TDP’s video spot for him:

You can see the rest of the stuff the TDP put together for him here. This week’s featured candidate is Blake Bailey, who is running for the State Supreme Court, Place 9. Here’s his video:

His TDP page is here. Check ’em out.

And when you’re done with them, take a look at The Other 49%:

ON MARCH 2, 2010, 49% OF REPUBLICANS VOTED AGAINST INCUMBENT GOVERNOR RICK PERRY IN THE REPUBLICAN PRIMARY.

Nearly half of Republicans across Texas believed that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison or Debra Medina would be a better governor than their own incumbent, the divisive Rick Perry. This site will serve to remind all Texans why.

I know Perry beat KBH by 20 points, but it still amazes me that a two-term incumbent who won with 51% in the GOP primary is considered to have won in a landslide. He wasn’t far away from having to go into overtime. Go review what The Other 49% has to say and you’ll remember why.

Recommendations for the Forensic Sciences Commission

Keith Hampton, who is a Democratic candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals, has some recommendations for what to do with the Texas Forensic Science Commission. I don’t expect Rick Perry or John Bradley to pay any attention to what he has to say, but you ought to take a moment and check it out.

Hampton for CCA

Some good news from Grits.

Keith Hampton, a veteran appellate lawyer and chair of the legislative committee for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, has announced his candidacy for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, lining up to run against Michael Keasler. Here’s Hampton’s campaign website.

The CCA is a cesspool, and any decent Democrat that commits to running against one of its awful incumbents deserves to be vigorously supported. Remember the name Keith Hampton next year. We need more like him on the bench.