GOP Chair Jonathan Neerman Says DA Craig Watkins is Trying to "Start a War" By Sending E-Mail Claiming He Attacked His Family

Nearly three months after he told us that Tanya Watkins -- the wife of District Attorney Craig Watkins -- working as a campaign consultant for judicial candidates posed an "ethical dilemma" for the couple and presented "the potential appearance of impropriety," Dallas County Republican Party chair Jonathan Neerman was quoted in yesterday's Dallas Morning News regarding Tanya's gig.

"It's one more brick in the wall," he told The News. "One more reason for voters in Dallas County to oppose Watkins."

This prompted an e-mail, which can be read after the jump, from Watkins' campaign sent at 10:22 last night to supporters featuring photos of both Craig and Tanya. In the missive, Craig writes: "I personally take issue with Mr. Neerman" for, among other things, mounting "an attack against my wife and family."

Tanya hasn't responded to a message left on her cell phone, and Jamille Bradfield, Craig's spokesperson, says he is out of town and unavailable until Monday. Neerman, however, tells Unfair Park that he's surprised Watkins singled him out because he viewed his comment as "fairly innocuous," especially when compared to the statements in the same story from Craig McDonald and Lynn Pride Richardson, who both called it "a conflict of interest."

"It raises the appearance of impropriety when a family member is a political consultant for candidates in Dallas County, and the voters have a right to question that," Neerman says. "If he has such tunnel vision that he doesn't see that voters would raise questions about this, then I can't help him."

Neerman stresses that, as a public office holder, Watkins is not above questioning, and his record will be up for scrutiny this election cycle. He says Watkins should expect the GOP to run an active campaign against him in 2010. "If he thinks this is bad, it's gonna be a long 12 months."

He also scoffs at the accusation that this is a personal attack on Watkins or his family. Neerman says it's a legitimate question of what's going on in the District Attorney's Office, and the voters are entitled to answers. "To act so indignant that we would even ask the question I think shows a level of arrogance in that office."

The e-mail is titled "Here we go again!" and includes a comment referring to the Republican's "hour of desperation," but Neerman says he has no idea of the meaning behind either statement. "Republicans are as energized and optimistic as we have been in years around here. If this is our hour of desperation, then we wouldn't have any candidates running. But that we have so many candidates running is an indication that people recognize that this will be a good year for Republicans."

So, what's Neerman's best guess as to the motive behind all this?

"I think he's doing it to try to draw me offside and start a war."

We'll have comments from Tanya or Craig if and when they respond, but until then, the text of the e-mail is below.

Today in the Dallas Morning News Jonathan Neerman Chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party tried to make an issue of my wife Tanya's political consulting firm. In the article they raise the outrageous claim that it is a conflict of interest for my wife to be gainfully employed as a political consultant and tried to call into question our family's ethics.

As a proud husband and father, I personally take issue with Mr. Neerman. His attempt to bring credibility issues to my job as District Attorney has gone too far. It is perfectly ok to question my actions in my official capacity as the District Attorney. In fact I welcome close scrutiny of the job I have done. However, in their hour of desperation, Mr. Neerman wants to divert the attention of the voters from the real issues and mount an attack against my wife and family.

My wife Tanya has been and remains an integral part of my campaign and career. She has honed her community organization skills into a successful career. But even before she began to make her political consultation skills available to others, she consulted the Commission on Judicial Conduct to ensure that it could not possibly pose a violation of any law or ethical provision.

Over the past three years we have brought transparency and credibility to the justice system. Let's keep moving forward and not allow the diversionary tactics to take us back to the days of negative politics and personal attacks. Let's send a message to Jonathan Neerman that we will not allow personal attacks toward public servants and their families.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten