Thursday, August 23, 2012

Strange happenings at the courthouse

It has been quite the exciting 48 hours in Houston politics this week. First comes word on Tuesday that State District Judge Kevin Fine is stepping down immediately and then on Wednesday we find out that the Harris County Democratic Party has removed Lloyd Oliver as its candidate for District Attorney.

Just what the hell is going on here?

Judge Fine has been the target of criticism from conservatives and other wingnuts since his campaign for the 177th District Court in 2008. Judge Fine never ran away from his past and acknowledged his past problems with cocaine. He also never shied away from doing what he thought was right, particularly when he ruled that the procedure Texas uses to sentence someone to death was unconstitutional.

Of course Judge Fine was alone in his opposition to the death machine because, well, because everyone else is more than content just to leave things as they are. I do hope that we will again, one day, have a judge who is willing to do what he or she thinks is right instead of taking marching orders from the 6th Floor.

Judge Fine was likely to be the primary target of local Republicans if he were on the ballot this year but he decided some time ago that he would not stand for re-election. His decision to step down immediately hands Gov. Goodhair the keys to name a replacement for the remainder of the term.

Anyone willing to bet that he'll choose the GOP candidate, Ryan Patrick, and let the monumentally unqualified son of uber-wingnut, State Sen. Dan Patrick, to run as the incumbent come November? In the interest of transparency perhaps he'll be allowed to continue in the DA's office while he sits on the bench.
"I can't believe the state party chairman would be in the same boat as those two goobers. And I guarantee that I'll do what I have to do to get a federal injunction." -- Lloyd Oliver
The saga of Lloyd Oliver is even stranger. Mr. Oliver, who has no political loyalty, has run for a variety of offices on both the Democratic and Republican ballots. In a shocking development  this past May, Mr. Oliver shocked the establishment and captured the Democratic nomination from fellow criminal defense lawyer Zack Fertitta.

The party bosses cringed at the thought of Mr. Oliver being the party's local standard bearer - particularly when he praised Pat Lykos, the current District Attorney. To be fair, I'd rather Ms. Lykos remain in office than be replaced by Mike Anderson (sorry, Murray), but then I'm not running for office.

Mr. Oliver does have a unique distinction among candidates for DA - he is the only one who has ever seen the workings of the DA's Office from the perspective of a criminal defendant. Now that's got to count for something.

But here's the part that makes little or no sense. The Harris County Democratic Party (doesn't that seem to be a misnomer in these circumstances?) has removed the candidate who received the most votes in its primary because they don't agree with something he said. Where was the party leadership when he filed to run in the Democratic primary? How arrogant is it for the party leadership to take the candidate who won the primary off the ballot? What does it say about the party bosses that they'd rather have no candidate at all? It seems that party chair Lane Lewis is a little delusional about the upcoming election.

I hate to break it to Mr. Lane, but no one is going to make a decision on whether to mark the straight-ticket option for the Democrats based on Mr. Oliver's name being on the ballot. Very few people really care. Folks who consider themselves Democrats will vote for the Democratic candidates and folks who consider themselves Republicans will vote for the GOP slate. Everyone else will cast their votes based on whatever criteria they choose to use. No down ballot Democrat is going to be hurt by Mr. Oliver heading the local ticket.

The only question that matters in this election is whether there will be enough votes for President Obama in the city to overcome the GOP vote in the county. If, as in 2008, the urban vote for Mr. Obama is greater than the suburban vote for Mitt Romney, the Democrats will win most of the local races - if, on the other hand, the suburban vote prevails, then the GOP will sweep the benches as they did in 2010.

Either way, neither Judge Fine nor Mr. Oliver would have any effect on the result.

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