Sunday, August 27, 2006

The View From 22 Election Guide

Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: 'Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

With so much publicity over the dramatic withdrawal of Tom DeLay from the race for Congressional District 22 that it's easy to forget that there are seven other important offices up for election in Fort Bend County this November. With that in mind, I present the following analysis of Fort Bend's contested downballot races:

This critically important judicial seat is the only race in 2006 with a Republican incumbent. This incumbent, Judge Brady Elliot, is also the only Fort Bend Judge to be publicly censured by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. A public censure is a drastic step - just short of removal from office. Elliot was censured for “failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Judge Elliot has grown weary. In recent years, he has shown an increasingly irritable and eratic attitude on the bench, and his mistakes cost us money. A murder indictment in Elliot's court was quashed because Elliot was found to have excluded certain racial groups from the indiciting grand jury. In his most recent case that the Court of Appeals overturned based on error, Judge Elliot failed to add a lesser included charge despite the fact that both the defense counsel and prosecutor instructed Elliot it was necessary. Even GOP District Attorney John Healy came to Elliot's court to plead with the judge to include the correct jury charge, warning that the case would be reversed. Elliot ignored them. The case was reversed, and once again the taxpayers were stuck with the bill.

Albert Hollan would provide a much needed change of direction in the 268th District Court. Albert is an accomplished attorney with 18 years of courtroom experience. His knowledge of legal theory and practical judicial issues is impressive. I've had many fascinating conversations with Albert, and I'm always amazed at how much more effective he is at explaining complex issues than my some of my stuffy law professors. I would describe his judicial philosophy as "traditionalist". He believes in a restrained judicial branch that strives to apply the law as it is written. With Albert Hollan on the bench, we could have a District Judge we could all be proud of.

This one is a no-brainer: Longtime GOP crony with no courtroom experience versus an accomplished litigator and former prosecutor with 22 years of trial experience. This race has no incumbent. The former County Court Judge Larry Wagenbach retired this term.

Childers may be the County Attorney, but he is a complete stranger to a courtroom. And since the County Attorney's office is filled with his cronies (like former County Judge Roy Cordes, who is now sliding into Childers' job), the county is frequently billed for outside legal representation.

On the other hand, Velasquez is a true Fort Bend legal heavy-weight. He served for years as a hard-nosed prosecutor in the Fort Bend District Attorney's office, and he currently handles complex litigation for the City of Houston.

The choice is obvious.

This is yet another race with no incumbent. The former Republican County Treasurer was convicted of embezzlement and tampering with government records and resigned from office in disgrace. Now, another longtime GOP crony, insurance salesmen Jeff Council, has been offered up to the voters. But after all the fiascos in county government, do we really want a treasurer who is so openly chummy with Commissioner's Court?

The other option is to restore some badly needed checks and balances to county government. Neeta Sane is truly an amazing woman - a successful entrepeneur, an innovator in the field of financial management and security, a brilliant computer scientist, and a dedicated community leader. She is deeply committed to ensuring that our money is safe and our county finances are handled efficiently and with integrity.

The District Clerk's race also has no incumbent. Annie Elliot filed a lawsuit to have popular incumbent Glory Hopkins removed from the ballot. Because of incorrect mailing information provided by GOP party chair Eric Thode, Hopkin's application for candidacy arrived late. After she was kicked off the ballot, Thode openly gloated.

Annie Elliot, wife of Assistant District Attorney Mike Elliot, but no relation to Judge Brady Elliot, is massively underqualified for the job of District Clerk. She has never held a supervisory role, and has no experience at all in the county's clerical offices.

However, Veronica Torres has all the right qualifications. And unlike Elliot, Torres is not a bitter partisan. She works on the staff of Republican County Clerk Dianne Wilson, and has learned how to run a county office effectively. Torres has a proven track record of outstanding performance, and she will maintain the high standards of efficency set by Glory Hopkins.

Nobody really thinks this is a competitive race. Commissioner Prestage is immensely popular among his constituents. His opponent, Larry Blackmon, used to be a Democrat, or at least claimed to be a Democrat. Blackmon faced Prestage in the 2002 Democratic primary, but was soundly beaten. Now he is running as a Republican. The only question in this race is how big of a landslide victory Prestage will produce.

This is another less-than-competitive race. Olivo is another immensely popular Democrat incumbent. Her opponent, Ken Bryant, was discouraged from running by the GOP leadership. Olivo is an experienced campaigner with an extremely loyal base of support. She will have no trouble holding on her seat.

A teacher or a medical lobbyist...Hmmm, what a decision. In this race, I think that if voters take a look at rising insurance premiums and failing schools, the choice is simple. Unfortunately, not every voter will see a picture of Dr. John smiling in a group photo with all his lobbyist buddies. Voter education is critical in this race, so if you live in District 28, you need to tell everyone you know about what John Zerwas really is and what he will do for the Texas medical industry.

Which is why I would support Dorothy even if I didn't know her. But I do. My fiancé was born and raised in the Waller County Democratic Party which Dorothy has led for the past decade. She has been a dedicated community leader and a tireless advocate for education and health care issues. She will be an outstanding State legislator.

Like so many other races this fall, the race for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 3 has no incumbent. Farhan Shamsi and Ken Cannata will face off for the open seat in November. The JP's court is a community court - It is responsible for minor disputes and traffic offenses, but most importantly, it handles minor juvenile offenses.

Ken Cannata is the Republican nominee, and he has no experience with juvenile offenders. He is a personal injury lawyer. In his campaign materials, he promises not to be an "activist judge who legislates from the bench." Statements like this show Cannata lacks a basic understanding of the JP court. It is not a court of record - It does not issue opinions, and JP's decisions do not have the force of law. In short, it is impossible for a JP to "legislate from the bench."

Farhan Shamsi would make an outstanding JP. His career in the field of substance abuse treatment and youth intervention make him perfectly suited to get involved in the lives of our at-risk kids. In addition, his background in cutting-edge management systems will help bring the JP's office into the 21st century, increasing efficency while reducing unnecessary bureacracy. Shamsi is also committed to making the JP's court more accessible to all residents of Precinct 3. As Farhan often says, "You won't need a lawyer to get justice in my court."

Early voting starts October 23. Make sure to check the website for the Fort Bend County Elections Department for more information regarding the election.