May 01, 2008
Early overview of the Sheriff race

Unlike the DA race and the County Judge race, both of which feature candidates that have a number of similarities, the race for Harris County Sheriff has two contenders with vast differences. Incumbent Sheriff Tommy Thomas has been around forever, while his Democratic opponent, Adrian Garcia, is a part of the new generation in county politics. In style and substance, it's the good old boy versus the new kid.

This race also has the clearest roadmap for a challenger to wage his campaign, as the incumbent's record has a lot of targets at which to aim. While most Democrats running will be talking in broader and more general terms about a change of direction, Garcia can home in on a bunch of specifics from Thomas' career, including but not limited to:

There's more, but you get the idea. Garcia's biggest problem may be in deciding which of these many warts and blemishes on Thomas' record he wants to feature most prominently. Whatever parts of his own agenda Garcia will want to focus on, he's almost certain to have a hook to some failure of Thomas' to tie it to. That's a pretty strong position for any campaign to be in.

This would be a tough year for any longterm Republican to run on his record to begin with; when you actually consider Thomas' record, you realize his problems are even worse. So how does he hope to hang on? What can he emphasize to minimize the negative aspects of his service and put Garcia on the defensive?

In a word, immigration. A couple of recent news articles highlight this possibility:

Training will help Sheriff's Office ID illegal immigrants

[Sheriff Tommy] Thomas has authorized selected Sheriff's Office personnel assigned to Harris County's Inmate Processing Center to receive 287(g) training from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said sheriff's spokesman Capt. John Martin.

The program - named for the section of 1996 immigration law that created it - has trained state police in Arizona, Alabama and Colorado as well as sheriff's departments in California's Los Angeles and Orange counties and Arizona's Maricopa County to identify, process, and detain immigration offenders encountered during regular law enforcement activity.

About six to 12 deputies and detention officers will receive the initial training, Martin said.

"Illegal immigration continues to be an important topic for Harris County, and a lot of people want to know what law enforcement is doing about it," he said. "This is just something that's going to supplement our efforts to identify people at booking who are in this country illegally."

The training would give employees the ability to interview inmates more thoroughly about their immigration status and authorize them to detain those determined to be in the country illegally, Martin said.

ICE training for jails praised

In Phoenix, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said ICE trained 100 deputies and 60 jailers at his county facilities. The officers are not only checking immigration status of jail inmates, but assisting in ICE criminal investigations, the sheriff said.

"Since the cops won't ask where they're from, we ask," said Arpaio, referring to local police who don't check the immigration status of those they arrest. "We check everybody who comes in, about 300 or 400 a day, and we have determined over 8,000 illegals have been booked into our jail. It's been successful."

This is certainly a reasonable issue for the Sheriff candidates to debate, and it's one that a sizable portion of the electorate will be interested in. It also draws a contrast between the county and the city of Houston and HPD, both of which Garcia is associated with. The question is whether that debate will be conducted in a substantive manner, or if it will devolve into demagoguery. Seeing the name Joe Arpaio in one of these stories makes me fear for the latter, for he's a hero in the nativist wing and isn't shy about it. Here's a recent story about his antics from Phoenix:

Phoenix mayor: Arpaio raids are 'made-for-TV stunts'

After weeks of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio criticizing Phoenix for not taking a harder stance against illegal immigrants, Mayor Phil Gordon struck back Friday, saying the sheriff's "made-for-TV stunts" could endanger police and spur violence among protesters.

Speaking at a luncheon at the Phoenix Convention Center honoring civil-rights leader Cesar Chavez, Gordon blasted Arpaio's latest roundup of illegal immigrants in northeast Phoenix, saying that the sheriff acted in a way "that deliberately sets the stage for shouting matches, confrontations or worse."

"That's not acceptable behavior for anyone, let alone someone whose job is to help make our community safer," Gordon said.

If Thomas adopts Arpaio's playbook, I expect this race to get very ugly. Even if Thomas himself plays fair, other folks like Rep. Ted Poe, he of the bogus homicide statistics, can act as surrogates. Garcia needs to be prepared for this, or he'll be running the campaign while back on his heels. If he can fend this off, or make it too costly for Thomas to pursue this line of attack, he ought to have clear sailing. If not, he'll be in for a long summer of trench warfare.

I hope this series has been useful to you so far. Please let me know what you think. Next up will be the Tax Assessor's race.


District Attorney
County Judge

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 01, 2008 to Election 2008

Any idea when our Democratic Nominee for Sheriff will actually start talking about some of these things or even better, why he should be elected Sheriff? An issue or idea from him would be helpful. Its getting kind of ridiculous...silence isn't always golden!

Posted by: Jackson on May 1, 2008 3:43 PM

How hard would it be to have to have a mass mailing from our county democratic party introducing at least Democratic primary voters to our Harris County slate? Is there a joint coordinated campaign? E-mails from the party to precinct execs, bloggers and other likely suspects asking them to talk it up early? Asking them for ideas? A message of the day or week from the party that could be talked up by activists? Some presence at the International Fest? Maybe just some folks standing at the entrances with t-shirts on or waiving signs? Any way to convey that this is the Democratic year in Harris County? A kick-of rally with the full slate in one place with full media coverage?

Hey! I guess I just wrote myself a good blog post for over at my shop.

Posted by: Cincinnati Liberal on May 1, 2008 11:10 PM

Nailed it!

Posted by: mel on May 2, 2008 4:15 PM
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