Mansfield plunked down the $3,000 filing fee to run in the Republican primary. He had no party ties, no base of support, and no name recognition. What he did have was a rusted-out Ford Festiva, which he drove around the state to visit courthouses, party activists, and victims' rights advocates. He won in a primary in which Republican voters chose between two candidates they knew nothing about.
He continued his driving campaign, staying in cheap motels with his Pomeranian, Royal. They would appear together at speaking events. Mansfield said he drew some criticism for an "undignified" campaign. "And I just said, 'That's the way it is.' If someone doesn't vote for me because I campaign with a little dog, that's their problem."
Mansfield compares his effort to that of a 1996 Democratic Senate hopeful who gained notice for touring the state in his Nissan pickup truck. "I was Victor Morales before Victor Morales," says Mansfield, failing to recognize that voters actually took notice of Morales. In all, Mansfield spent about $7,000 on his campaign, some of that on dog food for Royal during the race.
His Democratic opponent was incumbent Charles Campbell, who won every endorsement from legal groups and newspapers.
Mansfield's anonymity ended when it was reported before the election that he had lied about his experience. He claimed a legal background primarily in criminal defense when in fact it was almost entirely in insurance and pension law. He claimed to have written extensively on criminal and civil justice issues when in fact he had written guest editorials for a Houston suburban newspaper and articles for an insurance-industry trade publication. He also listed his birthplace as Houston even though it was Brookline, Massachusetts.
After the Texas Lawyer newspaper caught him in that lie, he claimed he had spent years in Houston as a child, until the newspaper caught him in that lie too.
Mansfield characterized himself during the campaign as a political novice -- until that was also revealed as a lie. He ran for Congress in New Hampshire in 1978 and 1980. And Mansfield ultimately would disclose that he paid a $100 fine for practicing law without a license in Florida in the mid-1980s. He didn't even get his birthplace and birthdate right on a Harris County voter affidavit in 1990.
Ironically, the negative publicity may have helped Mansfield defeat Campbell. Voters at least recognized his name, even if they couldn't recall why. He rode to victory with other Republicans in George W. Bush's gubernatorial defeat of incumbent Ann Richards.
"The odds that voters know who they are voting for in Court of Criminal Appeals elections are akin to those of me winning a daytime Emmy," defense attorney Wice says. "You want proof? I have two words: Steve Mansfield."
Less than a month after being sworn in, Mansfield was in the news again. An unknown person filed a complaint that Mansfield was mistreating his three Pomeranians. During his working hours, he kept them inside his little car, which was parked inside a Capitol underground garage. Mansfield put food, water, and dog toys in the car for his pets and walked them around the Capitol grounds during his lunch break. A Humane Society investigator did not file charges, although he recommended Mansfield leave the dogs at home. Even though Mansfield was exonerated, the canine caper reinforced his reputation as a weirdo.
Six months later the State Bar of Texas issued an unprecedented public reprimand against Mansfield for lying during the election. Today Mansfield makes petty excuses and wild analogies to justify what he did.
"Certainly, I did some dumb things during the campaign," he says. "Unlike our president, I'm not blaming society." He then continues to compare himself to the current occupant of the White House.
"I thought I was every bit as qualified for this job as Bill Clinton was for running for president in 1992," he says. "I didn't see a single newspaper ever point out his very meager qualifications, but they sure as heck weren't afraid to take shots at mine. I thought that was unfair."
Mansfield attributes his problems to sloppiness. "I mean, here I was, a political neophyte. I acted before I thought. I certainly wasn't intending to mislead anybody." He says he accepts blame for his actions, then detours by contending that the State Bar reprimand "to some extent was politically motivated by certain people who were upset at the fact I had won." He adds, "Because even though, yes, I had somewhat exaggerated my background, there certainly have been one heck of a lot of candidates for various offices that have done that and have never been treated like I was."