On Thursday, in Primary Recommendations, Part I, we covered the statewide and some Harris County positions. Today we’ll cover the judicial races, any other county positions, and the four propositions on the ballot.
This is going to be long, but I’m not going to split it into another post, because early voting is already halfway over, and people are waiting for my information. So, if you want to go about this the short way, look for the races and my choices in bold. Again, to get your own sample ballot in Harris County, go to www.HarrisVotes.com.
I’m going to start with the few random races we didn’t cover already, so we can cover the judicial races all together. I’m still referring to the endorsements from various groups and friends, including the summary of such the matrix of endorsements put out by SREC SD7 Committeeman Mark Ramsey. For judicial races, I’m adding in recommendations from a friend who works in the DA’s office and has some inside information. Some of the candidates I have met and researched on my own as well. And for most of the judicial races, I worked through the information with son Political Sphere, who is working as a prosecutor now. An additional source you might use for statewide judicial races is www.TexasJudges.org.
According to the official website, “The Harris County Attorney's Office represents the County, its departments, elected and appointed officials, and employees in all civil matters that involve county business. Our Office also represents the Harris County Hospital District, the Harris County Flood Control District, the Harris County Appraisal Review Board, and the Greater 911 Emergency Network, which are separate legal entities.” One public case they handled was a suit against Volkswagen for violations concerning their fraud to avoid clean air measurements.
This has been a challenging position to decide. I’ve changed my mind even after my discussion with Political Sphere, based on meeting the two candidates on Saturday.
|Jim Leitner for Harris County Attorney|
Photo from Cypress Texas Tea Party Facebook
Jim Leitner receives endorsements from Steve Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Harris County and Gary Polland’s Texas Conservative Review—all the others on Mark Ramsey’s list go to Chris Carmona. Hotze’s and Polland’s magazine slates are least likely to convince me in the absence of people I know personally to be conservative. However, Leitner also got the nod from my prosecutor friend who knows him.
So Political Sphere and I did some online research. Leitner is older and clearly more experienced. He has worked in the DA’s office. In his private practice he manages several employees. I looked for a website and found only a video on YouTube, which listed a website on it, but that site does not exist. Not helpful.
Carmona is much younger. He has business experience prior to his law practice, beginning in 2010. His practice covers family law, personal injury, and other normal solo practice work. He does have a website.
|Chris Carmona for Harris County Attorney|
Photo from Cypress Texas Tea Party Facebook
After that look, we wondered why the conservative groups, like CCHC [Conservative Coalition of Harris County, which includes a number of people I know personally) gave Carmona a near endorsement of 67%. [70% is considered an endorsement.] Maybe it is because he is a strong constitutional conservative, we supposed. However, the US Constitution doesn’t come up much in this job.
So, we were leaning toward Leitner, even against the odds, pending Saturday’s Tea Party meeting. Both spoke. Leitner first. He made me uncomfortable. In the brief 10 minutes he had to convince us of his qualifications, he connected himself with Pat Lykos, the previous DA who was ousted in the primary a couple of years ago by Mike Anderson (who died of cancer the year after being elected, and was replaced by his wife, Devon Anderson). He accused Mike Anderson of creating a specific scandal to blame on Lykos to oust her. I had never heard of the particular scandal; there was much else against :sudden accusation against Mike Anderson, who seemed to me very principled by all reports. Leitner did exclude Devon Anderson from the accusation.
Leitner seemed defensive—when I was unaware there was any reason for him to be.
Then Chris Carmona spoke. He pointed out that, while his opponent has more years of experience, Carmona actually has considerably more experience in the issues handled by the County Attorney’s Office. He seemed positive, conservative, and trustworthy. After the dark and scary speech we’d just heard, I could see clearly why so many conservative friends went with Carmona.
He changed my choice. I’m voting for Chris Carmona.
Constable, Precinct 5
There are eight Constable precincts in Harris County. This is a law enforcement division. A large part of their budget comes from contracts with homeowners associations. They patrol the neighborhoods and answer house calls. They write citations for violations—and, just to clarify, none of that goes to their budget, so they do not have quotas, nor would they have any reason to. They do other law enforcement as well as needed, supporting the other law enforcement divisions: the Sheriff’s office, Houston PD, other incorporated city PDs, and anything I’m forgetting.
Precinct 5 is in west and northwest Harris County, south of Hwy 290. (Technically, south of the railroad alongside 290; and Precinct 4 is just to the north, so also of interest to our Tea Party.) The two candidates are Ted Heap and Al Hoang. Phil Camus, the current Constable, is retiring at age 80.
Ted Heap is the Chief of Precinct 5. He has been a cop for 32 years, holding every position from the ground up in the precinct. He’s aware of the growth, and believes he understands how to handle it efficiently, which doesn’t necessarily mean more money and more cops. He has worked with the budget, which is about $37.5 million.
|Ted Heap, for Constable of Precinct 5|
photo from Cypress Texas Tea Party Facebookf
His opponent is a defense attorney with no law enforcement experience. If he were elected, he would have to spend his first nine months going through academy training in order to qualify.
It may be that much of the job is administrative. Being a cop isn’t required. But it sure is helpful. If nothing else, for morale. You have experienced, hard-working police officers, and instead of bringing in someone to lead them who has been one of them and understands them, you bring in an outsider who doesn’t understand what they go through. That makes it hard to feel respect going both directions.
Hoang has an interesting history, much of it as an activist in Viet Nam. He has run for state rep. before. I couldn’t find a website for his campaign and didn’t meet him. There is some information here.
Ted Heap was at Saturday’s meeting. (We’ve been getting half a dozen candidates at every meeting for months.) He struck me as the quintessential lifetime good-guy Texas cop. I’m persuaded he’ll do a good job.
I haven’t studied Precinct 4, nearby, but endorsements across the board are going to Mark Herman, rather than Rolf Nelson. There’s probably good reason for that.
Harris County School Trustee
There are two positions up for vote, Position 1 Precinct 2, and Position 2 Precinct 4. My ballot includes only Position 2 Precinct 4. (These are not the same precincts as the Constable race, nor the voting precinct.) Eric Dick gets recommendations across the board. Danell Fields bravely came to speak at our Tea Party a while back. She loves kids and education, but she was woefully unaware of any of the issues we are concerned about with the HC School Board and its very existence. So, Eric Dick gets my vote.
Statewide Judicial Races
Texas’s Supreme Court has two divisions, by purpose. The Supreme Court and The Court of Criminal Appeals. There are three Supreme Court positions up for election this primary: place 3, place 5, and place 9. And there are three Court of Criminal Appeals positions: place 2, place 5, and place 6.
Supreme Court Place 3 and Place 9 are fairly clear-cut decisions. For Place 3, Michael Massengale gets 100% endorsement from CCHC (my friends), as well as most of the more conservative sources, and my DA friend. Debra Lehrmann gets a few of the magazine slates. Lehrmann is the incumbent, and yet she has this much opposition. Many who supported her when she was elected are against her now. She has tried to undo tort reform, using personal leanings rather than the law. If tort law needs changes, pretending she has the power to do it from the bench is not the way. Meanwhile, Massengale has been excellent on the court of appeals in Houston. I’m going with Massengale.
In the Place 9 race, the logical choice is Eva Guzman. She writes well-reasoned decisions. She receives unanimous support from all the groups and individuals I’ve gotten recommendations from. Her opponent, Joe Pool, is the son of a famous Democrat congressman from the Dallas area. He’s a trial lawyer who has tried three separate times running for a supreme court position, never garnering more than 30% of the vote. There’s no reason for him to get more than that this time either.
The Place 5 race is a little more confounding, not least because both candidates have the same last name: Paul Green and Rick Green.
Paul Green is the incumbent. Rick Green is a legislator and radio commentator, and speaker for WallBuilders, which puts him in favor with homeschoolers and constitutional conservatives, which is a good fit for me personally. So it’s not surprising he’s getting some attention. He has a particular complaint against Paul Green, regarding the Texas v. Naylor case. It was a case in which a lower court judge granted a divorce and division of property and child custody to a same-sex couple—which implies that Texas recognized the marriage as valid, before the SCOTUS ruling last summer. Paul Green did not concur that the decision was correct, but that there was no one with standing attempting the appeal. It was law related, not necessarily his personal feelings. Rick Green is asserting he is against family values.
I don’t understand getting standing. But my son tells me that in general Paul Green writes reasoned opinions and is well respected.
Meanwhile, Rick Green has very little patience for disagreement, and possibly very little patience or personality for the nitty-gritty boring detail of ruling on the actual law as written.
I can see why those who favor Rick Green are doing so. But in this case I’m avoiding a gut reaction and going for reasoned experience. I’ll be voting for Paul Green.
Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2 has three candidates: Mary Lou Keel, Ray Wheless, and Chris Oldner. Keel is the incumbent. The endorsements are about half and half for Keel and Wheless. However, looking at their experience, both Keel and Oldman have board certifications in criminal trials. That implies they have had a number of years’ experience in the particular field of the certification and have met other qualifications. Wheless is board certified in civic trial and personal injury law. Keel has handled 279 criminal appeals, including 5 death penalty cases; her experience is considerably better than Oldner’s. Wheless might be good for another type of court, but his experience isn’t a good fit for this one. I’ll be voting for Mary Lou Keel.
Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5 has four candidates: Sid Harle, Brent Webster, Steve Smith, and Scott Walker. There is no incumbent. The choice among everyone I know is between Harle and Webster. Harle oversaw a rather famous case in which Michael Morton was exonerated, leading to the Michael Morton Act, to protect against the problems that led to his incarceration. A prosecutor withheld evidence of a second person in the house in which the murder took place. Some years later that second person murdered again, using the same MO. Eventual DNA evidence proved who the real perpetrator was, and Michael Morton was released. The prosecutor, who had moved on to be an elected judge by then, was sent to prison.
One concern about Harle is that, in general, some who work in defense go on to focus more on criminal rights than on victim rights and applied justice. That doesn’t necessarily mean this is true of Harle, just a stereotype. Webster has some prosecutor training. But he’s younger and may not be experienced enough for this court. Political Sphere calls it a tough choice. Either might be good enough. My prosecutor friend goes with Harle, and that might tip the balance for me. I believe I’ll vote for Sid Harle.
Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6 has two candidates: Michael E. Keasler and Richard Davis. Keasler is the incumbent. He gets endorsements across the board. Keasler has been a good judge. However, he will be forcibly retired a few years into his term. He’s now 74. The age of retirement is 75, but if the judge turns 75 during his term, he has until the end of the first year after that. So in a couple of years he will be replaced with an appointee, who will then have the advantage of incumbency when first facing voters.
Richard Davis is younger, but not young. He has worked in the Burnett County DA’s Office, and is a guest lecturer at Baylor Law School. His county work gives him broad experience in civil and criminal law, including handling appeals work.
So, if you want to give Keasler support, I totally understand. But I’m persuaded that Richard Davis might be a better choice because of the forced retirement Keasler is facing. Mine is a vote for Davis as a choice of the people, not a vote against Keasler and his work.
I am dealing here only with those with primary opposition. I am unaware of any unopposed Republican judicial candidates that shouldn’t be supported. And several of them I support enthusiastically. The time for vetting them is now, because, in November, Democrats tend to vote straight ticket, while Republicans hesitate to vote for anyone they haven’t vetted. If we don’t want Democrats to take over courts in our county, this is the time to get to know the judicial candidates.
14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2 is between Kevin Jewell and Bud Wiesedeppe. This is an open court. Both get about equal endorsements on Mark Ramsey’s matrix. Jewell gets 73% with CCHC, which is a full endorsement. He also gets the endorsement of my DA friend. I met him on Saturday. He has the right demeanor, and has good experience specifically in appellate law, since 1998. There’s a comparison of experience here, which is confusingly absent for Wiesedeppe, although Wiesedeppe has worked as an attorney at Woodfill & Pressler since 1997, which I believe is former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill’s firm. They stand up on many challenging social issues. However, I’m not seeing his appellate court experience. I’ll be voting for Kevin Jewell.
80th Judicial District Judge has two candidates: Ken Shortreed and Will Archer. Shortreed gets 100% endorsement from CCHC and a number of others, although Archer gets some endorsements as well. He gets my DA friend and personal friends as well. I’ve met him in person and feel good supporting him. He reminds us “Near the bottom of a long ballot, there’s a Shortreed.” There’s a comparison here.
125th Judicial District Judge has two candidates: L. A. Olson and Sharon Hemphill. Sharon Hemphill spoke to us on Saturday. She said the Democrat on the court now had only been involved in 8 cases prior to becoming a judge, and is near the bottom of the poll ratings. Complaints are that he doesn’t understand the law. She has 25 years of experience, representing in 378 cases, including in district courts as well as family, criminal and federal courts. She is mediation trained—which she has been involved in since 1991, long before it became common practice. As experienced as she is, Leif Olson also has good experience. (Comparison here.) It was some time ago that we saw him at our Tea Party, but he has impressed more of my friends, including my DA contact. It’s close to a toss-up; either will be a huge improvement over the Democrat incumbent. But I’m going with Olson.
151st Judicial District Judge has two candidates: Jess Hastings and Aaron Gabriel Adams. Hastings has been attending our Tea Party meetings for years, and I’ve always thought he was worth supporting. Adams has ten years of experience in intellectual property and real estate law. Hastings has 25 years of experience with a wide variety of civil law, including much more court experience. Hastings gets endorsements across the board. I’ll be voting for Jeff Hastings.
178th Judicial District Judge has four candidates: Xavier Alfaro, Phil Gommels, Nile Bailey Alfaro is qualified—and has the right kind of experience—he’s a better bet.
|Xavier Alfaro for 178th District Judge|
photo from Cypress Texas Tea Party Facebook
339th Judicial District Judge has two candidates: Mary McFaden and Antonio Benavides. McFaden has 14 years of experience as a prosecutor. She gets endorsements from all on the matrix who have endorsed, plus my prosecutor friend. I’ve met her at our Tea Party. Benavides’s endorsement page shows only the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, which mainly endorses Democrats. I’ll be voting for Mary McFaden.
County Civil Court at Law No. 1 Judge (unexpired term) has two candidates: Clyde Raymond Leuchtag and Gloria Cantu Minnick. Leuchtag is the appointed incumbent. The controversy in this race surrounds Minnick, who is running as a Republican while her husband, F. Richard Leach, is running for another position as a Democrat. She answered questions about this at our Tea Party, but not convincing us that she’s a conservative at her core. Leuchtag’s experience is good. He seems to be doing a good job. There’s no reason not to keep him there. I’m going with the entire matrix of endorsements, and the recommendations of my friends, and going with Clyde Leuchtag.
There are four propositions on the ballot. Propositions on a primary ballot are recommendations; they do not have the force of law if approved.
Proposition 1 concerns replacing the property tax system with a non-income-tax alternative (such as higher sales tax). Since property tax pays for local services, such as fire and police protection, and schools and local roads, it makes sense that property owners contribute. The alternatives are subject to changes to unbelievably high, bad for business, sales taxes, which we don’t want. So I’m voting NO.
Proposition 2 says we will comply with federal immigration laws—and not allow sanctuary cities. Cities that defy the law subject themselves to penalizing loss of state funds. This should be a given. The Harris County GOP recently supported this proposition. I’m voting YES.
Proposition 3 prohibits governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks. I’m not a big union supporter in general. I’m especially not big on labor unions for public employees. That means that, from the wages we taxpayers pay them, the union confiscates a portion and uses it as it sees fit, regardless of how that goes against the taxpayer or the public employee. That should be stopped. I’m voting YES.
Proposition 4 says Texas should strongly assert 10th Amendment Rights; i.e., “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Governor Abbott fought for this as Attorney General. We need more assertion of our rights, as the federal government continues usurping our rights. So, while this doesn’t change any law, it does express our encouragement for our leaders to go forward asserting Texas’s sovereignty. I’m voting YES.