The Lazarus Effect

Moribund Dallas County Democrats set their sights on judgeships

Republican political consultant Clayton P. Henry doesn't believe too much should be made of one judicial race because "Bill Rhea didn't put on a full-press political campaign." Still, he cautions Republican judges. "No one gets a free ride anymore. You have to present yourself and your qualifications to the public. Huey was a wake-up call for all judicial candidates."

Dallas County Republican Party Chairman Bob Driegert also feels the 2000 election results are misleading because the "Bush campaign allocated no money to Dallas, and he didn't campaign here. Our phone banks in Dallas were used to call Arkansas."

Political analyst and Democrat Dan Weiser believes otherwise. "When a homeboy runs for president, it's expected that he is going to get anywhere from 3 to 7 percentage points more just from being a homeboy. It was a big surprise when Bush didn't do as well as expected." Shifting demographics might have made the difference.

Democratic candidate Mary Ann Huey took on the Republican judiciary and lost, but her race has motivated other Democrats to run in 2002.
Democratic candidate Mary Ann Huey took on the Republican judiciary and lost, but her race has motivated other Democrats to run in 2002.

On the other hand, the Republicans might have gotten fat and happy because they had no competition for statewide races in 2000. At the top of the Democratic ticket for U.S. Senate was a perennial candidate whose vote-getting ability depended on the name he shared with deceased dancer Gene Kelly. This election cycle, however, Democrats should run a full slate of candidates with name recognition, political experience or money. If Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez receives the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, party loyalists anticipate he will invigorate the Hispanic electorate, which has a traditionally low turnout.

"Rest assured, we are not complacent," Driegert counters. "The Republican campaign effort in this county for Rick Perry and Phil Graham will be tremendous in 2002, which will mean more money will be spent on all the down ballot races."

Money, of course, will be a factor for those candidates who decide to run. In the two hotly contested judicial races last year, each candidate spent more than $200,000, and that was just in the Republican primary. "To mount a minimal campaign in the general election, it could take as much as $100,000," Driegert claims. "Better count on $200,000 if you want to do any kind of meaningful direct-mail campaign."

If the money doesn't stop them, Democratic candidates still will have to overcome the power of incumbency as well as the power of the press: The Dallas Morning News generally endorses most incumbents, particularly if they have received high ratings in the Dallas Bar Association poll and haven't humiliated themselves in office. At least three Republican judges are considered vulnerable even in their own party because of allegations of misconduct that have been lodged against them; another three have announced they intend to resign; and at least two more are being considered for appointments to state appellate or federal district court. "It's like musical benches out there right now," says Republican consultant Henry. "We won't know who is going to wind up where until the music stops."

Of course, the Democrats don't intend to wait. They have recruited at least 20 lawyers who plan on throwing their vests into the ring after Labor Day. "They say you keep running until somebody elects you," says Larry Mitchell. "If you are a Democrat, you have to believe that change is inexorable, if not in this election cycle then the next. So I might as well start now."

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