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Watkins and Price: Democrats or Blackocrats?

Not that the office of district attorney isn't political anyway. In the old days when the Republican old guard dangled the local district attorney on puppet strings, the office functioned as a kind of collection agency for the well connected. Walk away from a deal with one of those guys, and the district attorney would have you in front of a grand jury before you could say, "What country is this?"

So now that the district attorney is a Democrat from the other side of the tracks, that's all changed, right? Maybe not so much. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has been making major moves to consolidate his political power, first by pushing his own assistant district attorneys to target and run for election against judges he doesn't like, now apparently by having his top assistant seek to oust the chairman of the county Democratic Party.

You could ask: why shouldn't a major figure in the local Democratic Party seek to consolidate his control over Democratic office-seekers and holders? Republicans do it. So what?

The so-what in all things Craig Watkins is the Hill case. Watkins was accused in that one of bringing criminal charges against a wealthy Dallas couple in order to help Watkins' political associate Lisa Blue collect money from them. Watkins won an appeal of a contempt finding in that case. Generally speaking, it's a pretty complicated matter without a whole bunch of heroes on any side.

But don't forget this part. After a full review, 204th Criminal District Judge Lena Levario, a loyal Democrat like Watkins, found that Watkins had cooked up a phony criminal case against the Hills in order to help Blue, a mega-donor Democrat, squeeze the Hills for legal fees.

Even back in the solid Republican days at the Dallas County Courthouse, I don't remember a district attorney in Dallas County ever getting hit with quite that explicit or damning an indictment of his basic integrity as a law enforcement officer. The so-what factor here is that Watkins has already demonstrated a penchant for official oppression, and he even does it in fairly heedless fashion. At least the Republicans showed us some respect by hiding their moves a little.

We have to ask: In an increasingly Democratic county, what will Watkins' penchant be if he achieves the power to decide who gets to be a Democratic candidate and who gets to be a judge? Woe betide the poor sucker who ever makes the mistake of owing Lisa Blue a nickel. We'll probably see him out in front of the courthouse with his face and hands sticking out of a box.

This is a political question, and in the end all of the answers must be political. If this is how the Democratic Party really wants to play it, then what can anybody else say? I guess the answer for people like me will be to go vote for Republicans, an awfully sharp stick in the eye but maybe I can make myself do it.

But I can't help wondering in the meantime what the hell's happening to Dallas County Democrats. The other day we had the ugly saga of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, arguably the county's most powerful elected Democrat, attacking Sheriff Lupe Valdez, another Democrat, on a racial quota issue in her command staff.

Ever since 2008, everybody talks about the big Democratic tide in Dallas County -- the blue tsunami. But I look at Price and Watkins in recent months and find myself wondering if they really are true Democrats. What if they are really just Blackocrats? What even minimal effort or proclivity does either of them show for reaching an inch beyond their own narrowly ethnic base to form common cause with any other Democrats?

The problem with being Blackocrats is this: Dallas County now is about 32 percent non-Hispanic white, 39 percent Hispanic and only 23 percent black. If we judge by the ethnicity of the kids who show up every year for school, the story in southern Dallas for the last several years has been one of fairly dramatic depopulation by black families. It's a good story, to the extent that it expresses black upward mobility, most of which tends to be up and out. Those black families who have earned their way to the suburbs are being replaced rapidly by Mexican immigrant families whose hard work and determination surely will carry them up that same road in the not too distant future.

But where does that leave the old-style Blackocrats, the ones for whom it's all black, all day, 24/7 and 352 days a year, the ones whose motto is, "You're all white. You can go to hell." I don't see a future in it. But then again, maybe that's because I don't want to.


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