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Spoiling for a Fight

Peter Schulte: He passed the state law enforcement test on the first try!

Last month I talked to Peter Schulte about his nascent campaign to unseat incumbent Sheriff Lupe Valdez in next year’s Democratic primary. He seemed smart and nice, but a little too timid for the game, as though he didn’t quite realize that you can’t win a fight without throwing a punch.

Well, now the young guy is coming out swinging -- after, he says, some Democratic stalwarts tied to Valdez’s campaign tried to get him to drop out in exchange for a legal job at the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, which if true, is a pretty lame bribe. “Dallas County needs someone to bring competent, responsible leadership," Schulte tells Unfair Park, "and it’s not getting it right now, and I don’t want to work for someone who I feel is ineffective."

Schulte also says he resigned on Friday from the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, where his boss, Craig Watkins, endorsed his opponent.

When asked if Watkins pressured him to drop out of the race, Schulte paused. He started to answer my question, and then we got disconnected. A dropped call can ruin a conversation. I even started to fear for Schulte’s safety. Finally, he returned my call, and I asked him the same question. Again with the pause.

Then Schulte said that Watkins didn’t pressure him and quickly changed the subject.

You can’t exactly blame him. Last week, Valdez’s campaign announced that nearly all of the Democratic establishment (funny that there now is such a thing) was backing her quest for a second term, even though the sheriff has struggled to do the nuts and bolts of her job with a reasonable degree of competency. A host of outside agencies have criticized the operations of the Dallas County Jail under her leadership, and even though the former FBI agent inherited an extraordinarily troubled department when she was elected to the position in 2004, there are no real signs that the place is getting any better.

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In fact, while state inspectors flunked the Dallas County Jail just once in Jim Bowles' 20-year reign, they’ve giving the jail failing marks every year she’s been in office. Investigators with the U.S. Justice Department also criticized Valdez’s jail for being about as sanitary as my first apartment, describing in one report the drain flies and fly larvae swarming in the bathrooms.

In an ideal world where truth and honesty reigned, Democrats would actually care about how the county was treating its most marginalized citizens, most of whom have yet to be tried for their alleged crimes, and actually welcome some competition for their embattled incumbent. In the real world, well, not so much.

Local party leaders are rather irritated that Schulte is challenging Valdez, carping on blogs that Schulte doesn’t have a good voting Democratic voting record and is not really one of them. He might want to consider that a compliment. But back to Schulte. We’re giving him a little free press right now to offset the post on Dallas Blog last week that reported he was on the verge of dropping out of the race. In fact, Schulte seems to be readying for a fight.

Since Schulte used to be a suburban police officer, I asked him if he passed the state law enforcement test that Valdez infamously flunked on her first try. “I passed it the first time; I didn’t find it to be very difficult,” he says. “It’s really elementary-type stuff.” --Matt Pulle

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