Elections are all about incumbents when there is one, especially a primary election. When the incumbent, in this case Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), has served for over 30 years in the Senate (a combined 40 years in the State Legislature), the focus is magnified even further. For this board, it is the first election in our lifetimes that Sen. Whitmire has received a Democratic primary opponent in the greatly gerrymandered district. Unlike most other organizations, we think that is a good thing. As we noted so famously (or infamously, we suppose, depending upon your inclinations) last June, we had some serious misgivings about Sen. Whitmire’s recent tenure in office. In a suggestion that was admittedly more incendiary and evocative than literal, we said that “perhaps 32 years is enough.”
Accordingly, it caught our attention when Damian LaCroix, a local attorney, announced he would challenge Sen. Whitmire in the primary. Despite laying low for the first few months of campaigning, Mr LaCroix started his campaign off with a bang, hitting back hard at what he called a lack of accountability and a poor track record in the district. Many of his complaints, such as Sen. Whitmire being directly responsible for exponentially growing the State’s prison population, appeared fallacious. Other comments looked to provide fodder for an high-stakes, high-reward primary election.
But a funny thing happened. Sen. Whitmire proactively and efficiently addressed many of the qualms we had. In this board’s opinion, he even addressed most of Mr LaCroix’s hard-hitting concerns. We believed Sen. Whitmire has had an unacceptably deficient online presence. He acknowledged these concerns and has addressed them. We believed Sen. Whitmire had been lacking in his appearances and outreach at events throughout the community. He addressed this issue as well.
Policy wise, we are hard-pressed to find very many major difference between the candidates. Both are Pro-Choice, both are Pro-Gay Marriage and both believe in reforms to our State’s asinine drug laws. Regrettably, both are supporters of capital punishment, a travesty of the greatest proportions, but appear amenable to reforms designed to lessen wrongful incarceration. Both have quite good platforms, but often (much to our chagrin) choose to focus on ad hominem issues that help nobody. For Mr LaCroix, this is sniping about whether Sen. Whitmire gives his charity tickets for sporting events to first responders or underprivileged children. For Sen. Whitmire, this revolves around the apparent residence of Mr LaCroix, and whether or not this makes him a “fraud.”
The category in which these candidates are not similar, however, is experience. Simply put, Sen. Whitmire blows Mr LaCroix out of the water in both the power he wields and the coalition-forming influence he has in the Capitol. We have no doubt that, if elected, Mr LaCroix would be a capable and competent rank-and-file Democratic Senator. But Sen. Whitmire, the Dean of the Chamber, is far more than that.
As Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, he leads over an important docket of some of the State’s most pressing and important issues. Despite what Mr LaCroix may say, we believe his experience in that field has been positive overall. Especially when juxtaposed with how a Republican –say, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Harris County)– would preside over the committee. Additionally, as the Dean of the Senate, and simply by prospect of being in the chamber longer than anyone else, he commands an attention and respect not seen by any other Democrat. Perhaps Sen. Whitmire is overselling himself when he says this, but he represented to us that it was individuals like him who would be most capable of resisting a hard right-turn in the upper chamber next session.
We do, to be fair, still have some big concerns with Sen. Whitmire. His style of politics is seeking for incremental change, which often means making deals that include bad terms. Perhaps the most high-profile example we have harped on in the past is his dealings last session on the “Guns on Campus” debate. Despite our incessant criticism, Sen. Whitmire stood his ground and defended his actions as preventing an ultimately worse conclusion and deal. We still politely disagree with the end result, but now believe the incident should not viewed so much as an example of dubious integrity, but as an example of Sen. Whitmire’s unwavering zeal for his consistuents and his constituents-at-heart, which is simply all of Texas.
We also believe Mr LaCroix is a talented and smart candidate. He mentioned to us that he had been recruited to run for High Judicial office this cycle. We sincerely hope he decides to continue along that path in the future. Further, assuming his anecdotes about being politically threatened for his presence in this race are true, we believe no one should hold this race against Mr LaCroix. The beauty of democracy is that all officials are accountable to the public, which means frequent and feverish retention contests, such as this one.
At the risk of being too conciliatory to public servants who, by definition, serve exclusively at the whim of the electorate, we appreciate the difficult realities facing our representatives. It is remarkably easy for someone –be it a lawyer behind a podium or a college student behind a computer screen– to snipe, gripe and mumble about every error one commits. Politicians should be judged by their full record, and Sen. Whitmire has one older than all of us; heck, older than his opponent. That record shows a man who deserves another term in Austin.
Accordingly, this board endorses John Whitmire in the Democratic primary for Senate District 15. Ron Hale is running unopposed in the Republican primary.
The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, Sophia Arena of Houston, George Bailey of Boston and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent the majority opinion of the board.