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Maria Jackson

Initial reactions: Statewide

I’m going to do a few of these “Initial reaction” posts about Tuesday’s elections as I try to make sense of all that happened. Here we go.

Let me start with a number. Two numbers, actually: 4,017,851 and 48.26%. The former is how many votes Beto O’Rourke has right now, and what his percentage of the vote was. That first number, which may still creep up a bit as there are a tiny number of precincts unreported as I write this, is the largest vote total any Texas Democrat has ever received. It’s more than 500K greater than Barack Obama in 2008, and it’s about 130K greater than Hillary Clinton in 2016. I had thought Clinton’s 3,877,868 votes were the absolute ceiling for any Dem this cycle, but I was wrong. Somehow, Beto O’Rourke built on what Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That is truly amazing.

Oh, and do note that Beto’s losing margin was 2.68 points, which was closer than all but four of the polls taken in this race – the one poll where he was tied, the one poll where he was leading, the one poll where he was trailing by one, and the one poll where he was trailing by two. It couldn’t have been easy for the pollsters to model this year’s electorate, but when they did they were generally more pessimistic about this race – though not necessarily about the state as a whole – than they should have been.

Now here are two other numbers to consider: 4,685,047 and 4,884,441. The former is what Donald Trump got in 2016, and the latter is what Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman got that same year. Those are our targets for 2020, to truly make Texas a competitive electoral battleground. We know a lot of people with no previous electoral history voted this year, and I think it’s safe to say most of them voted for Beto. We need to figure out who the people are that did vote in 2016 but not in 2018, and make sure they vote in 2020. We also need to keep registering voters like crazy, and keep engaging the voters we got to come out this year. I know everyone is sad about Beto falling short – at this writing, he trails by 2.57 percentage points, which among other things means that the polls generally did underestimate him – but we need to stay focused and work to ensuring the level he achieved is a stepping stone and not a peak.

By how much did Beto outperform the Democratic baseline? First we have to decide what the baseline was. For the executive offices, the totals are bifurcated:


Valdez     3,520,868   Collier   3,833,069
Chevalier  3,545,626   Nelson    3,870,345
Suazo      3,540,153   Olson     3,794,683
McAllen    3,586,198

One might argue that Collier and Nelson and Olson might have done better if they’d had more money. Maybe, but there was a ton of money spent in the Senate race, and it’s not clear to me what the marginal effect of another million or two might have been. It’s hard for me to imagine any of them making it over the top if Beto wasn’t at least within automatic-recount distance of Cruz. The point here is that there was significant variation in these contests. That’s one reason why I usually default to the judicial races as my benchmark for partisan strength:


Kirkland   3,820,059
Sandill    3,765,102
Cheng      3,769,290
Jackson    3,707,483
Franklin   3,723,541

Much closer, as you can see. They lost by a range of 6.55 points (Kirkland) to 8.39 points (Franklin). In 2016, the closest any statewide Democratic judicial candidate got was Dori Garza’s 13.22 point loss. Based on the 2018 vote totals, I’d say the Democratic baseline is around 3.7 to 3.8 million. Compare the judicial race vote totals from this year to 2016:


Kirkland   3,820,059   Westergren  3,378,163
Sandill    3,765,102   Garza       3,608,634
Cheng      3,769,290   Robinson    3,445,959
Jackson    3,707,483   Meyers      3,496,205
Franklin   3,723,541   Johnson     3,511,950
                       Burns       3,558,844

That’s a nice step up, though do note that in 2016 all of the statewide judicial races also had a Libertarian candidate, and all but one also had a Green, while this year only Terri Jackson had company from a third party. Still and all, I think this shows that Beto wasn’t the only Dem to build on 2016. It also suggests that Beto got on the order of 300K crossover votes, while Collier and Nelson and Olson got 100K to 150K.

I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw just yet. We built on 2016. We still have room to grow – remember, as high as the turnout was this year, beating all off years as well as 2008 and 2012, turnout as a percentage of registered voters was still less than 53% – and with the right candidates we can attract some Republican voters. We should and we must make our goal be a competitive state for the Presidential race in 2020. I’ll look at the county by county canvass later, then of course do some precinct level reporting when the dust clears a bit. In the meantime, read Chris Hooks’ analysis for more.

Endorsement watch: Don’t forget the judges

The Chron got some national buzz for their blanket non-endorsement of judges who support the current bail structure, but overall they’re supported a large number of Republican incumbents on the bench. Not all by any means, but well more than a majority. I want to highlight three races where they endorsed Democratic challengers, as in all three cases the Republicans (two incumbents, one running for an open seat) are truly deserving of defeat.

For Supreme Court, Place 4, the Chron endorsed RK Sandill:

RK Sandill

District Judge R.K. Sandill is running for our state’s highest civil judicial office on a platform of moderation. We don’t usually hear that from judicial candidates, but most don’t run against an incumbent like John Devine.

Devine gained a reputation as an ideologue when he campaigned for district court with the promise to “put Christianity into government.” As a district judge, he cemented his reputation as a hard-right jurist when he fought to keep the Ten Commandments on display in his Houston courtroom. More recently, Devine wrote a bizarre dissent to a decision by his colleagues not to hear a case involving same-sex spousal benefits for city of Houston employees.

Devine wrote that government is justified in treating same-sex couples differently because “opposite-sex marriage is the only marital relationship where children are raised by their biological parents.” He completely ignored that the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the case of marriage.

But you don’t have to rely on our assessment of Divine’s bias. Almost half of the attorneys polled in the Houston Bar Association 2017 judicial evaluation questionnaire gave him the lowest possible rating for impartiality. Sandill received more favorable votes on the Houston Bar Association preference poll than the one-term Devine — a rare occurrence of a challenger beating an incumbent. In the State Bar of Texas poll, Sandill received 2,446 votes to Devine’s 1,957.

Add our endorsement to the list.

Devine has been an embarrassment since he knocked off a perfectly fine district court judge in Harris County in 1994. He doesn’t belong anywhere near a bench. The Chron also endorsed Steven Kirkland for Place 2, but at least the incumbent he opposes isn’t a complete travesty.

For Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Chron endorsed Maria T. (Terri) Jackson:

Terri Jackson

The editorial board has faced so many tough decisions in our judicial endorsements that it’s a relief to have an easy choice. Voters should confidently pull the lever for Maria T. Jackson, 54, in this race for presiding judge on Texas’ highest criminal court. Jackson has been the criminal district court judge in Houston for more than a decade, handling thousands of cases ranging from low-level drug offenses to capital murder. She told us she’s only been reversed twice by the court she’s seeking to join.

The former municipal judge is proud of the many people she has helped to rehabilitate, but she first experienced transforming lives in the 1980s as director of a school that helped juvenile offenders and gang members.

Overall, Jackson’s approach reflects a blend of toughness and compassion. After she adopted more stringent probation policies for DWI defendants, the entire county soon followed her example.

The graduate of Texas A&M School of Law, formerly Texas Wesleyan School of Law, noted that people don’t tend to care about judges until they need them. But voters should care about ethics questions concerning the current presiding judge of Texas’ highest criminal court, Sharon Keller.

I trust you are familiar with Sharon Keller and her disgraceful body of work. If we want real criminal justice reform, we need some change at the top of the judicial heap as well as in the district courts and DA offices.

Finally, for First Court of Appeals, Place 7, the Chron endorsed Julie Countiss. They begin with the story of how outgoing Justice Terry Jennings switched to the Democratic Party just before the 2016 election, saying the GOP had left him behind:

Julie Countiss

Candidate Terry Yates, on the other hand, seems to fit in with the party Jennings abandoned.

Yates filed an amicus brief asking the 14th Court of Appeals not to construe the right to same-sex marriage to apply to equal partner benefits for city of Houston employees.

Counsel should have the right to advocate for the positions of their clients, but when we asked him about the legality of same-sex marriage during an editorial board meeting, Yates said he didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the overarching Supreme Court case to weigh in.

Throughout the meeting he dodged and weaved when we asked about his political activities and relationship with Steve Hotze — a political activist who once proclaimed that all the gays needed to be driven out of Houston and whose organization has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The close ties to Hotze is more than enough to disqualify Yates. Countiss only got one paragraph in the Chron endorsement, but it’s enough. Her Q&A with me is here. If you have Republican friends who are willing to split their ticket here and there, these are three races you can pitch to them for that.

Five out of six ain’t bad

Five Democratic candidates for six statewide judicial positions, all from Harris County.

Four state district and county-level judges from Harris County and a Houston civil-litigation lawyer filed for seats on the Texas Supreme Court and the state Court of Criminal Appeals at state Democratic headquarters.

“The only time they open the courts is when it suits their cronies,” said state District Judge Steven Kirkland of Houston, referring to the nine Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court.

[…]

Harris County Civil Court Judge Ravi K. Sandill, who seeks Republican Justice John Devine’s Place 4 seat on the state Supreme Court, said voters would reject the leadership styles of Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We’ve got a bully in the White House. We’ve got a governor who’s a bully,” he said. “Texans stand up to bullies.”

[…]

Kathy Cheng, a native of Taiwan, said she’s been “the voice for people who don’t have a voice” in nearly 20 years of private law practice. She filed for the Place 6 seat of Republican Justice Jeff Brown.

Signing paperwork to run for Court of Criminal Appeals were Maria T. Jackson, presiding judge of the 339th state District Court in Harris County, and Ramona Franklin, who’s judge there in the 338th.

Jackson filed for the presiding judge seat now held by Republican Sharon Keller of Dallas. Franklin is seeking the Place 7 seat of Republican Barbara Hervey of San Antonio.
“No matter where you live or what you look like or who you love, in my courtroom, you’re going to receive justice,” she said.

Kirkland and Sandill you knew about. Jackson was elected in 2008 and has been re-elected twice. Franklin was elected in 2016. Cheng ran for the 1st Court of Appeals in 2012. The Chron story says that a sixth candidate is not expected to come forward, which is too bad. It’s great that Harris County is representing like this, but surely there’s someone somewhere else in the state who can throw a hat in the ring. Be that as it may, best of luck to these five.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Maria T. Jackson

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Judge Maria Jackson

Judge Maria Jackson

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Maria Terez Jackson and I preside over the 339th State District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I preside over serious felony offenses. My cases run the gamut of less than a gram case all the way to Capital Murder cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

One of my most significant changes that I implemented was in 2009 when I changed the way Driving While Intoxicated probationers are monitored. I made them be more accountable by having them breathe in a breathalyzer with a camera daily to monitor if they are consuming alcohol, I also require them to attend inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facilities to protect the public, including requiring them to report every month instead of the every 3 months.

These are just a few sweeping changes that have now been adopted by my colleagues as well as the Harris County Probation Department.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I would like to continue to serve as the presiding judge to continue making positive changes going forward. I serve on the MacArthur Technical Assistance Committee and we are working very hard to come up with creative ideas to reduce the jail overcrowdedness. I also serve on the Mental Health Task Force for Harris County. I have included my bio to help highlight a few other accomplishments I have achieved.

5. Why is this race important?

We are living in perilous times these days so it is very important that you have Judges serving on the bench that stand for what is right and administer fair justice no matter what the consequences are.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the best choice because I have changed thousands of lives through rehabilitation by giving individuals chances when the state would have sent that person to prison. I have letters from probationers that have been successfully been reintegrated into society by becoming productive citizens in the community. I am also a judge who is not afraid to protect the community by sending the bad guys to prison. And lastly, I was voted Houston Press Best Criminal Court Judge and Top 30 Influential Women of Houston.

Endorsement watch: Continuing a trend

The Chron makes their criminal district court endorsements, and in doing so they stick to a pattern.

HarrisCounty

174th Criminal District Court: Hazel B. Jones

In this race to replace Judge Ruben Guerrero, voters should go with Democratic candidate Hazel B. Jones. The former criminal court judge has the necessary background to step onto the bench and administer justice without a learning curve. A Howard University School of Law graduate, Jones was elected to office in 2008 but lost her seat in 2012. She has also served as a federal and Harris County prosecutor, and now practices criminal defense law. Jones, 50, vows if reelected to be aggressive with respect to the use of personal recognizance bonds.

176th Criminal District Court: Stacey W. Bond

This first-term Republican judge was one of the most impressive judicial candidates that the Houston Chronicle editorial board met during this election cycle. Stacey W. Bond, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, had a crystal clear vision of the problems facing the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, which often does more to punish the poor than the dangerous.

177th Criminal District Court: Ryan Patrick

At age 37, Judge Ryan Patrick says that he’s the youngest district court judge in Texas, and after four years on the bench he’s developed a reputation as a fair and well-respected judge. A graduate of the Houston College of Law (formerly the South Texas College of Law), Patrick, a Republican, told the editorial board that the county needs to give more funding to pre-trial services so that fewer people have to wait behind bars. He’s also a self-described “tech geek” and serves as chairman of the executive committee that oversees the Harris County Criminal Justice Center’s management system.

178th Criminal District Court: Kelli Johnson

As Judge David Mendoza steps down from this bench, voters should back Democratic candidate Kelli Johnson.

Johnson, 44, has been a Harris County assistant district attorney for 17 years, and over the past eight years she has served as felony chief prosecutor in the trial bureau. If elected, the Houston College of Law graduate promises to increase the use of personal recognizance bonds and speed up the appointment process for court-appointed lawyers.

179th Criminal District Court: Kristin M. Guiney

Republican incumbent Kristin M. Guiney, 41, is an able jurist who deserves a second term. The University of Houston Law Center graduate is board certified in criminal law and enjoys overseeing her probation docket because it grants her an opportunity to witness lives transform. Guiney reports a gradual shift in the criminal courts toward rehabilitation, which she believes is appropriate.

337th Criminal District Court: Renee Magee

When she met with the editorial board, first-term Judge Renee Magee, 57, made an argument for herself with two statistics: She said that she has the second-most cases in the courthouse but the lowest number of people in jail. The 21-year prosecutor accomplished this by focusing on drug rehabilitation, getting people off probation who don’t need supervision and refusing to let prosecutors delay their cases. Magee, a Republican, is also one of the four mental health judges.

338th Criminal District Court: Brock Thomas

It sometimes feels like the Houston Bar Association judicial qualification questionnaire tells you more about prosecutors’ opinions than judicial performance.

Nevertheless, it’s worth mentioning that Brock Thomas received more “well qualified” votes than any other candidate for criminal district court. The University of Houston Law Center graduate, who was first elected in 2002, lost in 2008 and reelected in 2012, has a passion for criminal justice that is evident in his volunteer work.

339th Criminal District Court: Maria T. (Terri) Jackson

In this hotly contested race, we endorse the Democratic sitting judge, Maria T. Jackson, over her court’s former chief prosecutor, Mary McFaden, a Republican.

Both have had an inside seat as to the other’s performance and neither candidate thinks highly of the other’s abilities. After listening to both sides, we believe Jackson, 52, who has been on the bench since 2008, deserves another term.

351st Criminal District Court: Mark Kent Ellis

Although he has served on this bench for 20 years, Mark Kent Ellis has demonstrated a willingness to learn and evolve on the job that should earn him another term. During our screening, the Republican judge heralded the Michael Morton Act for improving the criminal justice system and ensuring that the defendants get needed material from discovery. The Houston College of Law graduate has used his institutional knowledge to compel change by instituting and continuing to improve the Harris County Mental Health Court, which works with people diagnosed with mental illness to assist them in completing probation.

The pattern is that as with all but one of the civil district court races, they either endorsed the incumbent, or the candidate from the same party as the departing judge. Elaine Palmer and the appointed judge on the new County Criminal Court at Law #16 bench are the only exceptions. One way to look at this is that for all of the sometimes justified bitching people do about our system of electing judges, we must be doing a pretty good job of it here in Harris County, since nearly every single one of them was found to be worthy of the Chron’s endorsement for re-election. It seems likely that some of these judges will get booted from the bench anyway, for reasons beyond their control, but the Chron likes the challengers in most of these races, too. So maybe our system doesn’t suck quite as much as some people would have you think. Just saying.