3 Open Seats on Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Tribune reports that all three seats up for election on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014 –all Republican– will be open. The incumbents, Cathy Cochran, Tom Price and Paul Womack, are all opting to retire.

The judges, two of whom have served since the State first went unanimously Republican (1997) and one (Cochran) who has served since 2001, are not by any means the deans of the Court. Distinct from the Texas Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals has been remarkably consistent in its members of the years.

Only two members of the court, including Cochran, took office during Perry’s administration. Five were selected or elected during George W. Bush’s governorship, with two more taking office when Ann Richards was the Governor. This is remarkable, considering how long Perry has been Governor and how extensive his influence has been in just about every other part of the State’s bureaucracy.

The Court of Criminal Appeals is absolutely just as bad as any court comprised of 9 elected Texas Republicans would be (Sharon Keller, anyone?), but it could still be a lot worse. As the Tribune article reminds us, those same three Justices made up a bare majority that forbid the execution of a mentally ill man earlier this month, specifically the forced medication of a mentally ill man for the purposes of execution.

Given that Cochran, who took office in 2001, is the second most recent addition to the Court, the Tea Party holds minimal influence. All of this could change with the THREE open seats that the Court now has leading into the 2014 primaries. The Tribune article notes that eight people are eying running for these seats, but do not provide the names. I will have to do some research on this in the next day or two.

As I have said before, I have very little faith in the ability of Democrats to run candidates for these Statewide seats, ESPECIALLY the Statewide seats. I have been asked recently if this means I have a diminished faith in the leadership of the State party, and, simply put, that is not the case. I am still just as optimistic that Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa is making the inroads to turn the party around, but have always maintained that this is not the fault of leadership, but of the people themselves. There is a profound enthusiasm gap.

Both the Texas Supreme Court & the Court of Criminal Appeals saw three seats up for election last year. Democrats only contested two seats, one in each court. The candidates recruited, Michele Petty & Keith Hampton, respectively, were very good candidates who had everything going for their campaigns except that it was the wrong year for a Democrat in Texas. It was the other seats that are the most obvious examples of the gap, however. If the Texas GOP failed to recruit an establishment candidate for the same seats, you would see droves of conservatives vying for the post on ego alone. The same is missing from the Democratic Party in this State.

This enthusiasm gap is what, more than anything, makes life so frustrating for people like Hinojosa. There are only so many well-versed, liberal lawyers in this State with political talent. If they all turn down, there is not so much Party leadership may do. I noticed the same thing in Houston’s municipal politics, although the enthusiasm gap encompasses both sides of the aisle there.

Simply put, Democrats need to hit the ground running NOW to contest these seats. I sound like a broken record now when I say it, but 2014 is important not because we can win, but because we can never win until we put up a fight in an election. Because our record in 2012, 2010 & 2008 was more of a whimper. I truly hope that, when I find out who the 8 people already vying for the seat are, I find out at least one is a Democrat.

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What I think will happen

Keeping in touch with my self-imposed moratorium upon Presidential election coverage, I will not even mention that race (You can see what I had said previous in my post “Cynic“). However, I think this will be a good way for progressives to brace ourselves for what may come next.

Every statewide seat (except Keller’s): SAFE Republican
I think this is a no-brainier here, considering that the Democrats did not even bother to field candidates in some of these races. I really do like Michele Petty and Paul Salder, but this is not going to be a repeat of 2008, and even in 2008 we got our butts kicked.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Position 1: TOSSUP
Keith Hampton, especially in the (unlikely) event of a major Obama victory, could build enough of a coalition between Democrats, Independents, and pragmatic Republicans to victory. Keller is relying on people to simply vote straight Republican, which they probably will.

14th Court of Appeals, 1st Court of Appeals: SAFE Republican
Same logic as the statewide seats.

134th State Representative: LEAN Republican
2012 will not be as good of a year as 2006, which is the last time an incumbent in this district was unseated. Also, Davis is a much more civil campaigner than Martha Wong.

215th District Court: LIKELY Republican
Ken Shortreed is depending upon enough angry Democrats (like me) to vote for him. It will probably push him over the top.

Remaining local judicial races: LEAN Republican
Harris County will probably go red, especially in downballot races.

Sheriff: LEAN Democratic
I think Garcia can put together enough of a coalition with moderate Republicans to avoid defeat. The endorsement of the “C club” didn’t hurt either.

District Attorney: SAFE Republican
Self-explanatory.

Tax Collector: LIKELY Republican
Even in 2008, tax czar and DA went Republican. Additionally, CM Sullivan is a popular incumbent who has attracted quite a few Democrats (even endorsed by the JHV).

County Attorney: TOSSUP
Vince Ryan has some cross-party support, but again the Republican tilt on the election does not help.

City Council, E: LIKELY Martin
Martin has the establishment support from Sullivan, who is still quite popular.

 

Again, Democrats need to donate to Garcia, Ryan, and Hampton–NOT Obama. Obama has enough money, he is out-raising the Koch brothers!

Cynic

One of the things I have noticed since being up here in Mass is that the liberals here are optimistic and sunny and happy. Personally, I have little respect for the Massachusetts Democratic establishment (I mean, Scott Brown, come on), but I get that they are mostly optimistic whereas Democrats haven’t won statewide office in Texas since I was an infant. I have a really that Texas has turned me into quite the cynic. For example, I think Sadler and Petty and Hampton are all fantastic candidates, but at a certain point I accept that they will not win, nor come anywhere close to winning. However, my optimism has always been towards the future, towards this abstract idea that there will be a people’s backlash at the end of the decade, spurred on by demographic changes. A coalition of Latinos, African-Americans, Asians, Austinites, and Inner-loop professions will rise up to kick the good ol’ boys out of the capitol. So here is my timeline:


November 2012 — Romney defeats Obama in electoral college, Obama wins popular vote. Republicans pick up net gain of two seats in the Senate, Democrats gain about a dozen seats in the House. Statewide Republicans all win. Wendy Davis is re-elected barely, no change in State Senate. Democrats pick up a few seats in the State House.

November 2013 — Parker re-elected.

November 2014 — Republican elected Governor (and all statewide offices). Perry might even get it again, but I would say a primary challenger will knock him off. Democrats make gains in Congress.

November 2015 — First Hispanic mayor of Houston elected.

November 2016 — Romney defeated by Democrat, Democrats retake the House. Slight gains for Democrats in the State Legislature but Republicans hold onto statewide offices.

November 2017 — Hispanic mayor re-elected.

November 2018 — Castro/Davis elected Governor and Lieutenant Governor, respectively. Castro ushers in new era of hispanic lead Democratic rule in Texas.