Texas will never turn blue

At least not in this political reality. I know, it’s a rather evocative headline, but the charts and stats I show below will hopefully convince you that the only thing that would guide Texas toward the left is huge national trends. As I have said before, I strongly believe that the Republican Party will go the way of the dodo in about 20 years or so, leaving behind a Democratic Party that gets so all-encompassing that it splits in two. Short of that, the GOP could realign in just as much of a substantial way. The great step to the right of the 1980s would be superseded by a step to the left in the 2030s, like the previous leftward step a century previous. The horrendous midterm results for Democrats have not shaken my belief that the Republicans are on a destruction course; in fact, it has only strengthened my resolve. However, the results specifically in Texas have lead me to believe that all the work of groups such as Battleground Texas has been in vain. There is little left to do now, for progressives, than to work together with moderate Republicans to elect pragmatic conservative candidates and to wait for the rising tides to guide Texas away from the rocks. I only wish it will not be too late by then.

State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, lost her race by twenty points, 39-59. Governor-elect Greg Abbott performed better than Governor Rick Perry in all three of his elections. For the downballot elections, all the other Republicans won by comparably margins. The Lieutenant Governor’s race was the closest, with the Democrat losing by just more than 19 points, and the US Senate race being the biggest blowout, with Senator John Cornyn being re-elected by more than 27 points. The Republicans re-took the US Senate, meaning that — all other things being equal — Cornyn will now be the Majority Whip of the Senate.

Locally, Harris County went straight Republican, whereas Bexar County was a reddish shade of purple. Neither showed any improvement from 2010 (I didn’t realize how many judgeships the Democrats won in Bexar in 2010), though, with the big exception being that Nico LaHood (D) defeated Susan Reed (R) and was elected District Attorney in Bexar County. In Harris County, the GOP slate generally beat the Democratic one by about 10 points, though certain races were closer. DA Devon Anderson defeated her Democratic challenger, Kim Ogg, by only about six points. Though it is important to note this was just a special election for the post, and it will be right back on the ballot in just two years.

Davis’ State Senate also fell to the Republicans, specifically a woman named Konni Burton. This puts the party in control of 20/31 seats, just shy of the coveted 2/3rds needed to ramrod legislation through. However, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick will likely disassemble that rule anyways. In the State House, the Republicans picked up three seats. State Representative-elect Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston County) prevailed in the district currently held by retiring Democrat Craig Eiland. Meanwhile, State Representative Philip Cortez (D-Bexar County) was defeated by Rick Galinda and State Representative Mary Ann Perez (D-Harris County) was defeated by Gilbert Pena.

Also around the state, voters in Denton approved a measure to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the city limits. This has prompted the Oil & Gas Associated, as well as the General Land Office, to file suit against the city. Watch out for the Legislature passing a law disallowing these types of referendums next session.

Now, I’ve put together a few charts. First up, I compared the counties won by the gubernatorial candidates in 2010 (top) to those won in 2014 (bottom). Obviously, blue for the Democrat and red for the Republican.

Governor10

Governor14

Obviously, Davis won fewer counties than Bill White, the 2010 Democratic candidate. Most notably, she didn’t win Harris County, although it is important to note that White was a former Mayor of Houston and that Abbott is also a Houstonian. But Abbott also won three southern counties that White triumphed in. I don’t know if you could call locales like Kleberg County (fourth from the bottom on the coast) part of the Valley, but it is more than 70% Hispanic.

Davis did worse than White, worse than Chris Bell (2006 Dem nominee) and worse than Tony Sanchez (2002 Dem nominee). In fact, if you look at the margins of victory in recent gubernatorial elections, it appears as though the trend is for Democrats to do worse as time goes on –quite different than what common knowledge would have you believe.

Next, the same comparison for Lieutenant Governor:

Lt Gov10

Lt Gov14

Now, in 2010, the Democrats had a rather unremarkable candidate for Lieutenant Governor: Linda Chavez-Thompson. With only slightly more resources than Jim Hogan, she ran a truly awful campaign. And when she went up against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, she did even worse than the Democratic nominee this year. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate, did win a net 2 more counties in the south, including Kleberg.

Moving onto Attorney General:

Attorney General10

Attorney General14

Sam Houston, the Democratic candidate for Attorney Genera, won a few more southern counties. He carried Jefferson County, the home of Beaumont (that blue speck in the right corner), the only Democrat by my calculations to do so.

Last, and probably least, the US Senate election:

Senate12

Senate14

Granted, this map compares David Alameel’s, the Democratic Senate candidate, performance to the 2012 election, but it is still striking. Alameel was the worst contender of all the Democratic ticket, and for good reason.

All in all, the Democrats did worse than four years ago. Downballot, they didn’t necessarily do as bad as some are claiming, mainly because Bill White outperformed the Democratic ticket in 2010 by A LOT. Davis outperformed them by a statistically insignificant amount, in comparison. Below, I have attached a line graph demonstrating the margins with which Republicans have won the non-Judicial statewide offices since 1998. I have omitted the 2000 Railroad Commission race and the 2010 Comptroller race because they lacked Democratic candidates and the 60 or 70-something margins would have skewered the graph:

Ranges

The other major point is that ticket-splitting has decreased rapidly. The range of the losses was about 37 points in 1998, decreased to about 25 points in 2002, 16 points in 2006, 17 points in 2010 and only 8 points last Tuesday. Like I have opined in the past, this is likely because of the growing stupidity of the average Texan, and the rise of “FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD” style straight-ticket voting.

Finally, I wanted to look into how much Democrats have improved in Bexar and Harris counties. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for finding just how Republican an election is in these counties before 2010, back when ticket-splitting was still commonplace. Ultimately, I settled on straight party voting, which is a rather bad barometer, but it beats nothing.

Bexar County

Harris County

These are bad measurements for a couple of reasons, namely that they overstate Democratic support. While Democrats received more straight ticket votes than Republicans in 2006 in Harris County, they still loss the whole county and all the positions. And 2000 wasn’t a close election either. But these graphs should just illustrate, rather unscientifically, that there is no meaningful improvement for Democrats in either county in midterm elections. If I have an abundance of time, I will average the margins of victory for all the countywide elections in a given election year to find a more accurate number.

As I have opined before, since Davis and the pack did not crack the 40% mark and did convincingly worse than 2010, Battleground Texas will be no more. Snuffed in its infancy. Either it will just fold in the next few weeks or its budget will be slashed so significantly that it will become a non-entity in practice. Most of the people running that rolling calamity will likely be out of a job. I’m going to leave my rationale for why the Democrats got whupped so monstrously to a latter post, but let’s just say there are quite a few reasons.

The most important reason, however, is that the average Texan is evidently both too stupid and too lazy to be bothered to participate in the political process. A pitiful 1/3 registered voters participated. Campaigns can do what they want to drive turnout, but until young people put down the blunt and the funyuns long enough to “occupy” a voting booth, nothing will get any better for the Democrats. Until other non-voters get up off their butts and stop being worthless, ‘poor and puny anonymities,’ politics will continue being dominated by the far-right. At the end of the day, however, in a democracy, people get the government they deserve. Lazy Texans will get that government many times over in the succeeding years.

Big Jolly Politics, Brains & Eggs (Parts I, II, III, IV), Eye on Williamson, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist all have more.

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Texpatriate endorses for District Attorney

For years, Harris County was run by a brutal and harsh District Attorney, Johnny Holmes, who turned the office into the nation’s busiest source of death sentences. As this board has opined in the past, we think that the death penalty is tantamount to unjustified killing. In addition to the outright cruelty used in depriving a fellow human being who is not actively threatening you their life, the penalty has been carried out arbitrarily and capriciously. Black defendants are targeted more frequently by prosecutors, and sentenced to death by juries with even more reliability.

While, sadly, both candidates for District Attorney support this appalling practice, only one actively trumpets her support of the penalty and even appears proud of it. Furthermore, only one candidate supports the status quo on the racially biased policies that have contributed to many of this county’s problems regarding criminal justice. That candidate is the incumbent, Republican Devon Anderson. Her policies have failed Harris County, and they should be wholeheartedly repudiated.

Anderson was first appointed about a year ago by Governor Rick Perry to this post following the death of her husband, Mike Anderson, in the post. Devon Anderson, however, also had a illustrious career as both a prosecutor and a Judge. Sadly, she has continued the misguided policies of her predecessor. Be it the death penalty, the elimination of the DIVERT program to deal with driving while intoxicated, illogical grand jury systems or policies on marijuana, Anderson is just not the right candidate for Harris County.

Kim Ogg, the Democratic candidate for this post, is completely different. She has a record as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor, being able to see both sides of the courtroom in an honest and noble manner. As the longtime director of Crime Stoppers, she also has the capacity to examine crime from a more objective point of view, seeing it as something to be prevented rather than just punished.

Ogg is also a little less eager on the death penalty, and she advocates for reforming the venal grand jury system, which allows the political buddies of Criminal District Judges to recruit their friends. This has reduced the grand jury system into little more than a rubber stamp for zealous prosecutors. Under Ogg’s purview, combined hopefully with certain Judges (such as Susan Brown) being defeated for re-election, hopefully this system can be reworked into an effective check and balance once more.

Perhaps most importantly, Ogg has taken bold stands on the need to reform asinine policies on drugs within Harris County. She would rescind the so-called “trace case” policy, which prosecutes residents with felonies for even mere residues of cocaine in dramatically capricious fashion. She would also take advantage of an obscure state law to cite-and-release all those caught with small amounts of marijuana, then work out pre-trial diversion programs that would dismiss all charges if a small amount of community service is rendered. This board supports the full legalization of marijuana, but given that the District Attorney cannot change the law, we believe Ogg’s program — known by the acronym G.R.A.C.E. — is the next best thing. Anderson has only offered a lackluster imitation.

More so than almost any other election at the local level, Harris County voters have a very clear choice this November. They can go with another predictable Republican, trigger happy with putting people to death and complacent with a horrifying status quo that is corrupt, racist and ineffective. Alternatively, voters could rightly repudiate these realities and choose a candidate with an actual plan to shake up the DA’s office for the better.

Accordingly, this board endorses Kim Ogg for District Attorney.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Kim Ogg

Editorial note: This is the nineteenth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

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Texpatriate: What is your name?
KO: Kim Ogg.

T: How long have you held this post? What number term are you seeking?
KO: I am currently the managing partner at the Ogg Law Firm, PLLC. The 2014 race for Harris County District Attorney is for an unexpired term of two (2) years.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
KO: I have not been previously elected to any post.

T: What is your political party?
KO: I am a Democrat.

T: What do you think the role of District Attorney should be?
KO: The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 2.01, states that the primary duty of a district attorney is not to convict, but to see that justice is done. The DA is the highest law enforcement official in Harris County and represents the people in all criminal investigations and prosecutions of individuals and corporations for violations of Texas law in Harris County.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with the actions undertaken by the incumbent?
KO: I specifically disagree with my opponent’s actions in the following specific cases:

  • Entering into a secret plea bargain arrangement with Judge DenisePratt that allowed Pratt to resign from her bench in lieu of facing further criminal investigation by a Harris County Grand Jury and facing criminal charges.
  • Failing to investigate (former) HPD Homicide Sgt. Ryan Chandler for Tampering with a Government Document, following the request for criminal charges by Chief Charles McClellan.
  • Orchestrating Chandler’s criminal investigation to be reviewed by a Montgomery County Asst. DA, preventing a Harris County Grand Jury from investigating Chandler.
  • Failing to investigate the conflict of interest between ADA Inger Hampton and Chandler for working on criminal cases together while romantically involved and for failing to take any administrative action for Hampton’s unauthorized access into criminal case files on behalf of Ryan, after he was under criminal investigation.
  • After learning from a prosecutor that Sgt. Ruben Sean Carrizal backdated a search warrant while employed at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, allowing him to resign instead of firing him.
  • Failing to notify the Harris County Sheriff’s Office about Carrizal’s actions during a routine background check; remaining silent when the Harris County Sheriff’s Office hired Carrizal three days after he resigned. He backdated a search warrant and never missed a day of pay.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at his or her job? If so, why?
KO: I believe that my opponent specifically failed in her duty as District Attorney to investigate and prosecute two police officers who lied on government documents and a Republican Judge who harmed thousands of Houston families by dismissing their cases without notice.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
KO: I pledge to be a District Attorney who seeks justice without influence of friends, political allies or professional colleagues because I believe in equal justice for all. I have a strategic plan for reducing crime that involves the full spectrum of diversity in Harris County and will flip current public safety priorities.

T: What place do you think that Pre-Trial diversion programs (also known as “DA’s probation”) should have in the criminal justice process?
KO: Pre-Trial diversion has an appropriate place in the criminal justice system as a useful tool for holding a person accountable for their law violation while allowing them to avoid a permanent criminal record for the offense. It deserves regular use, which I have pledged to begin using in all misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases.

T: In what ways —if any— do you think that the DA’s office should amend the way it deals with marijuana cases?
KO: I have proposed creation and use of the GRACE program.

The GRACE program is the future of misdemeanor marijuana prosecution in Harris County. No jail. No bail. No permanent criminal record… if you earn it. GRACE stands for Government Resource Allocation/ Criminal Exemption and utilizes existing law to summon offenders directly to court rather than arresting and jailing them. Once offered GRACE, offenders are referred — through the extant mechanism of pre-trial diversion — to the Clean & Green Program. In return for case dismissal, GRACE-eligible offenders will clean up litter and recycle debris reclaimed from Buffalo Bayou; that means, rather than languishing in jail, offenders will spend two days working to better our community.

Government’s first duty is public safety. Currently, every misdemeanor marijuana arrest takes a patrol officer off of our streets for three hours or more. Kim believes police resources are better spent investigating the crimes that harm our community most, not transporting and booking non-violent drug offenders.

Houston has the fifth-highest arrest rate for misdemeanor marijuana in the country and, since 2007, has prosecuted 100,000 Houstonians, saddling them with permanent criminal records and compromising their futures by limiting their job and housing opportunities. Additionally, local records show that those arrested are disproportionate representations of our community; to an alarming degree, those arrested are black, Hispanic, male, under 25 years old and low-income. The “nail em’ and jail em’” policy employed by the current Harris County DA means marijuana offenders are incarcerated and housed right alongside hardened, violent criminals. As recently as November 2013, the American Medical Association amended their official policy regarding marijuana possession, calling for “public health based strategies, rather than incarceration.”

As DA, I want to bring Harris County’s criminal justice policies into line with other states and with common sense. Marijuana is illegal in Texas, but permitted for medicinal use in 24 states and for recreational use in another two. Marijuana law is rapidly evolving at the national level, and the future of marijuana prosecution is evolving too.

It is time we start utilizing our public safety resources in a manner that makes Harris County safer, and stop racking up slews of arrests for crimes that don’t directly involve — or even impact — public safety. By re-rerouting offenders through GRACE, Harris County taxpayers will save more than $10 million per year, and offenders will have the opportunity to clean their community and their record.

T: What role do you believe that capital punishment should have in the future of the country?
KO: Capital punishment is available by law to the District Attorney for use in seeking the ultimate sanction against a murderer. The future of the death penalty is as fluid as the public sentiment among Texas voters. If elected, and with the increased prosecution for and use of ‘Life without Parole’ sentences, I will seek the death penalty in fewer cases than my opponent.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one things you have done to address each of them?
KO: Three issues of paramount importance to me are:

  1. Grand jury reform – As DA, I have pledged to be a leader in the Legislature for reform which bars the‘ key man’ practice of grand jury selection and requires random selection of grand jurors.
  2. Revolutionize management of the DA’s Office as a public law firm, not a paramilitary pseudo-police organization – I have researched the current paperless systems being used by various counties, and found that Tarrant and LA both employ paperless systems that are effective and efficient. I have pledged to change the current culture as set by my opponent and to professionalize prosecution management of more than 600 employees.
  3. Pursuit of violent and white collar criminals as a priority, instead of jailing thousands of non-violent drug offenders, a significant percentage of whom are mentally ill, at taxpayer expense. I have worked my entire professional career to improve public safety, including work as a public servant and as a pro bono volunteer. I have written, taught and worked with the Texas Legislature to improve criminal laws and procedures.

 

Texpatriate supports Death Penalty abolition

The death penalty has not really been the topic of political conversation of late. Earlier this month, Noah M. Horwitz wrote on how both gubernatorial candidates –State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democrat, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican– were tried and true supporters of capital punishment. Even Davis supported the expansion, much less continuation, of the mechanisms.

Now, the fact that both serious gubernatorial contenders support capital punishment should not be all that surprising. After all, recent polling suggests that more than 70% of Texans support its continued use. However, since 2012, the Texas Democratic Party has called for the total abolition of capital punishment as a part of its platform. Simply put, this board has eagerly been awaiting Democratic candidates to follow through with espousal of such a plank.

Davis supports the death penalty, but as best as we can figure out, so does State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Ditto for Sam Houston (Democrat’s candidate Attorney General) and Kim Ogg (Democrat’s candidate for Harris County District Attorney). So what gives?

The previous individual posts and editorials of this publication have certainly heavily suggested such a conclusion, but we are not completely sure if it has ever been unequivocally stated in print. To be clear, this board supports the total abolition of capital punishment. There are a literal plethora of reasons why the sentence is ineffective or overly pricey. And the process of lethal injection, particularly with recent shortages of execution drugs, raises important important questions about unnecessary cruelty. But the overarching concern with this issue is that, no matter which way it is carried out, the killing of another human who does not present any immediate or existential danger to another is morally wrong. That’s it.

This can be a religious issue, if one prefers it that way. The bible is pretty clear about the whole “Thou shall not kill” thing. But wholly separate from any religious influence, all people should agree that minimizing violence is an ideal way to run a civilization. Vengeance is not a healthy way to govern our laws. The entire reason why vigilante justice and lynch mobs are illegal is that primal reactions should not trump the established moral supremacy of due process and civil liberties.

But to humor the other arguments, it can be shown that death penalty does not deter violent crime. It’s not even an open question. Nor does it actually save money; every significant investigation has shown that it actually costs more money to follow through with a death sentence than the cheaper penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Furthermore, recent travesties in Oklahoma and Arizona have reopened debate on just how “painless” death by lethal injection actually is compared to other methods.

At the root of all these problems, however, is a fundamental moral hiccup with the idea that it is okay to kill another human being. We seriously do not see it as that complicated.

Likewise, it should not be all that complicated for the aforementioned Democrats to come down on the right side of this issue. There is something to be said for not going too far to the left in an attempt to remain viable to a more centre-right electorate. But the death penalty, an issue where people’s lives are quite literally directly at stake, is simply different.

Perhaps this board is too full of starry-eyed optimist. But we dream of a State where our politicians –ostensibly courageous public servants who will do what’s right over what’s popular– aren’t afraid of some mythical blowback for publicly espousing a position everyone already knows is being peddled in private.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represents a majority of the board.

Drugs, Drinks and the law

A couple of days ago, I analyzed and commented upon Kim Ogg’s plan for eliminating arrests for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Ogg, the Democratic candidate for Harris County District Attorney, took a stance unfathomable just two or three years ago. Under her proposals, all individuals caught with 4 ounces or less of marijuana, even repeat offenders, would be cited by police instead of arrested. Offenders would then have to show up for court on a day their ticket would proscribe. Once at court, offenders could easily enter into a short community service program to have the charge dismissed. If Ogg is elected, the implementation of the program will put Harris County on equal footing with many more progressive locations for its de facto decriminalization of the possession of marijuana.

Considering the constraints that a DA has, this is the most relaxed position on marijuana possible without some assistance from the State Legislature. State Law allows DAs to implement this cite-and-release program for misdemeanor offenses, but not felonies, so the same prosecutorial discretion toward possession of more than 4 ounces of  marijuana is a non-starter. Texas does not have a system of direct democracy through referendums the way that California, Colorado or Washington state does, for example, so all change must originate from the State Legislature.

This topic continues to be in the news after a major bombshell of opinion news today. The New York Times‘ Editorial Board called this morning for the repeal of the Federal prohibition on marijuana, leaving the decision to legalize up to the individual States. The Times went even further by suggesting that States would be correct to legalize.

I do not think Texpatriate has ever published an official editorial advocating for legalization, but that is surely not for lack of support; more likely because the issue never broached state or local politics enough to justify the discussion. Astute followers will recognize by now that I am personally a big proponent of marijuana legalization, for a couple of different reasons. First, as the overwhelming evidence suggests in Colorado and Washington, legalization will drastically increase revenue for the State, funds that may go to constructive projects such as roads and schools. Second, the use of marijuana is one of personal responsibility, and should not be dictated by the government.

Marijuana poses no true physical risk to its user. It is not addictive and it does not harm you. It is impossible to overdose on it. But this should not be the grounds with which we determine the legality of intoxicants? After all, alcohol poisoning is an all too present feature in the college environment, and tobacco (nicotine, precisely) is arguably more addictive than heroin. But both alcohol and tobacco are completely legal in the United States, and widely distributed and available to the general public.

Ogg makes a great start with her GRACE program, but much work is surely left to be done. However, nearly all this work must be taken at the State Legislature. As for myself, I have a few other suggestions that will be sure to stoke the embers, so to speak, and should facilitate some discussion on drug policy. I consider myself an unabashed libertarian on these issues, so I suspect that many of my usually most-loyal allies will find something to disagree with me on here.

First things first, I think Congress should remove all Federal crimes involving the possession of any drug, or the distribution of any drug if it does not actually involve interstate acts. What this means is that the drug trafficker or conspiracy must actually spread across multiple states, and may not merely involve drugs that could plausibly have affected multiple states. I also think Congress should repeal the asinine National Minimum Drinking Age Act, first passed thirty years, which coerces States into raising their drinking ages to 21 or risk forfeiture of highway funding.

Congress has no right to meddle in State issues like that, and the entire idea of entangling a completely unrelated item such as highway funding to vice is patently absurd. I even agree with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that the scheme is unconstitutional.

When it comes to State laws, I have a similarly ambitious idea for what needs to happen. Non-cannabis drugs such as cocaine or an opioid should be effective decriminalized, so that all focus is placed on the treatment of addiction to these debilitating drugs.  The production, distribution and sales of these substances should still be zealously prosecuted.

As for drinking laws, I think the drinking age should be lowered to 18, if not lower for beer and wine. There is the obvious problem about the age of majority being 18 (e.g., you can serve in the army but not have a beer), but it also could inversely cut down alcohol fatalities. A key problem with binge drinking on campus is that, with bars out of the question, young people flock to underground parties, often with mysterious punches spiked with some unknown substance. When the drinking gets out of hand, students will be less likely to seek help if they think that they will get in trouble.

Obviously, this is all wishful thinking given the current political realities of our system. But it is important to keep an open mind on political topics that are still on the horizon. Who would have thought that the legalization of marijuana would enter the mainstream so quickly as of two years ago? Who is to say that the decriminalization of other drugs or the lowering of the drinking age should not be next?

Ogg for GRACE

Photo: Kim Ogg for DA campaign.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Kim Ogg, the Democratic candidate for Harris County District Attorney, has unveiled an ambitious new program to deal with marijuana offenses. Under Texas law, those possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana commit a Class B Misdemeanor, whereas those possessing between 2 and 4 ounces commit a Class A Misdemeanor. Ogg’s proposal would create a program, a backronym known as G.R.A.C.E. (Government Resource Allocation/Criminal Exemption), that would largely reform enforcement of the current pot laws in Harris County.

State law gives wide discretion for local police to cite-and-release offenders for certain misdemeanor offenses, as opposed to arrest, incarceration and bail. Under such a system, which has already been used in limited circumstances throughout both Travis and Hays County, defendants would immediately be released on their own recognizance, and be expected to show up in court themselves. Much like a traffic ticket (Class C Misdemeanor), if one does not show up to this proceeding, an arrest warrant will be issued and the individual will likely be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

However, if one does show up to this court date, the defendant will be ordered to complete two work days worth of community service, namely picking up trash in the so-called “Clean and Green” program. Once this program is completed by defendants, the case will be dismissed without further court proceedings. Accordingly, the program is more reminiscent of a Pre-Trial Diversion program (colloquially known as DA’s probation) than of Deferred Adjudicated probation. The differences between the latter and this program is that no blemish on one’s permanent record would persist. Furthermore, as best as I can ascertain, the program is not merely limited to those without previous offenses –as most Pre-Trial diversion programs are. Rather, it appears indiscriminately open to all accused of a misdemeanor pot offense.

A couple of years ago, I shadowed an assistant DA in a misdemeanor criminal court for ab0ut a week. What struck me as the most surprising feature of Court was the utter lack of diversity in the cases brought before the court. Driving While Intoxicated, as well as minor possession of marijuana, constituted well over 80% of the crimes. The amount of money that the DA’s office could save by not prosecuting these cases would be extraordinary. More prosecutors could be freed up for unorthodox roles, as well as moved into investigating more serious, violent crimes. Police, meanwhile, could be opened up to investigate similarly more heinous offenses.

The Chronicle article does go out of its way to reference a response to this announcement by incumbent DA Devon Anderson, the Republican candidate. Anderson retorted that she too was looking into some sort of similar program.

“Since the beginning of the year, we have been working with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department on a pilot Marijuana Intervention Program that will be implemented this fall,” Anderson said. “Crafting this program is complicated and requires the effort and cooperation of all law enforcement agencies to ensure that we create a program that works and stays in line with the law.”

I think the most interesting item of note is that Anderson replied in a constructive way, not with a substanceless attack that Ogg was somehow soft on crime. That is a HUGE change of pace for a District Attorney’s election in Harris County in the last few years. The tide is turning on the legalization of marijuana –it is like same-sex marriage at this point; no longer if, but when.

Sagacious followers of this publication will be aware of my support for the legalization of cannabis, but such an objective in the short term is just unrealistic in Texas. An arrangement such as this one, with a DA liberalizing the enforcement mechanism for low-level crimes, is probably the best possibility that has a reasonable chance of happening in the near future.

All in all, this just solidifies the positive impression I have about Ogg. She has a proven track record of being tough on crime, so she does not need to pay lip service to ridiculously strict laws in order to prove a point. She will be the anchor of the downballot Democrats, being the inspiration for many to continue voting all the way down Democratic.

The Pratt scandal continues

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The scandal that lead to the downfall of former Family District Judge Denise Pratt now looks to have the capacity to negatively affect Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson. As the astute will recall, an attorney out of Galveston County by the name of Greg Enos, who last year was behind the scandal and eventual downfall of former Galveston County Court at Law Judge Christopher Dupuy, shepherded the complaints and eventual investigations into Pratt.

Pratt, who oversaw a broad array of family court matters, was accused of gross incompetence and misfeasance while in office. She allegedly deliberately backdated orders, unilaterally dismissed cases and covered up this negligence. The DA’s office investigated her once last year, but then no-billed her. After restarting the investigation earlier this year, Pratt promptly resigned and suspended her re-election campaign.

Now, the Houston Chronicle reports that this resignation was a direct quid-pro-quo for non-prosecution on the part of the DA’s office. Simply put, in exchange for Pratt’s voluntary removal from the judicial system, she would not face any further consequences. No justice for all the victims of Pratt’s terrible reign of incompetence and negligence.

Click here to read about Ogg’s statement, as well as Enos’!