Of all the elections in Dallas County last night, no race was as shocking as Jim Foster's upset of Republican County Judge Margaret Keliher. Craig Watkins surprise defeat of Republican Toby Shook in the district attorney's race understandably garnered the front page headline in The Dallas Morning News, but Watkins had nearly defeated incumbent Bill Hill four years earlier so nobody can say they didn't see him coming. But Foster was such a lightweight that his now new Democratic colleague on the Dallas County Commissioners Court, John Wiley Price, threw his support to Keliher.
Considering Keliher's largely progressive record, it seems as if she were a victim of a lengthy ballot and an angry herd of straight-ticket voters, who lazily lumped all local Republicans with Bush and Iraq. On the issues that Democrats should care about, Keliher was a leader. As the Dallas county judge, which essentially serves as the chief executive of county government, Keliher won the respect of environmentalists across the state for repeatedly butting heads with Governor Rick Perry's administration on clean air measures. A veritable expert on environmental issues, Keliher pushed for Dallas County to abide by EPA clean air guidelines and immediately address its problems, while Perry wanted Dallas County to have more time to clean up its dangerously polluted air. She also pioneered a program to get rickety, polluting cars off county roads.
Keliher's progressive cred is extensive. She arguably did more to improve the grim health conditions at the Dallas County Jail than Democratic Sheriff Lupe Valdez and led the charge to give county employees raises. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Keliher utilized the powers of county government to make sure the evacuees had health care and shelter; her tireless efforts were a stark contrast to Dallas Mayor Laura Miller's irritation over the whole ordeal.
That's not to say that Keliher was perfect--her leadership style at times was more suited for a corporation than the messy world of county government, where you can't always get what you want. And, of course, you could blame her for losing the Cowboys to Arlington, although Laura Miller if not Jerry Jones might be more at fault. Keliher also did have problems getting along with her fellow commissioners, but ironically, it was always the Republicans--and not Price--with whom she bickered. Keliher spent her first and last term trying to convince her colleagues to the right that the approach of running Dallas County on the cheap were starting to backfire. And for that, Democratic voters bounced her out of office in favor of a former deputy constable who runs a fire alarm company.
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Nobody knows a lot about Jim Foster and some blame goes to the DMN and the paper version of Unfair Park for not reporting more on who the hell he is. I talked to Foster in August and figured him to be a nice gentleman who didn't quite understand the job he was running for. He made a few vague criticisms of Keliher but he wasn't attacking her from the left or any position of political clarity. A perennial candidate, Foster ran for sheriff four years ago but lost in the Democratic primary to Lupe Valdez. We'll see if he fights for the types of issues Democrats care about but in one of his first quotes to the Morning News today he complained about how the local taxpayers who helped fund Parkland Hospital need to "stop bearing the burden" of paying for the indigent care off people outside the county. Is this the face of Dallas Democrats? --Matt Pulle