February 01, 2007
Eckels contemplates resignation

Today's big local politics news is the announcement by Harris County Judge Robert Eckels that he may step down to take a higher-paying private sector job.

"In the last 90 days I've had conversations with a New York firm and international investment banking firms," Eckels said, saying he often has been approached by lobbying and law firms interested in hiring him.

"I have had more serious discussions than in the past. They are more concrete."

He is contemplating those offers, he said, but it is premature to talk about who he is "visiting with."

"I don't have to decide today. But I don't rule out anything," said Eckels, who was in Los Angeles on business. "I wouldn't do anything until I knew the county was in good shape and I had a chance to visit with my colleagues. I'm not looking for something else to do."

Either way, Eckels said he will make a decision sooner rather than later. He has been county judge since 1995.


If Eckels stepped down, it could create a political standoff, since the commissioners, who would be charged with appointing someone to serve until the next general election, are split 2-2 along party lines.

"The constitution doesn't allow offices to be vacant. Eckels will still serve until his successor is appointed and qualified," County Attorney Mike Stafford said. That also means that Eckels, a Republican, potentially could break a partisan tie in appointing his successor.

Couple of points:

1. A long time ago, Eckels had sworn that he would serve no more than three terms, which would have meant he wouldn't have run last year, but he changed his mind.

2. If Eckels resigns anytime this year or before late August of 2008, there will be an election in 2008 to fill the rest of his term, which expires in 2010. Otherwise, the next election for County Judge will be as scheduled. Here's the relevant statute:

(a) If a vacancy occurs on or before the 74th day before the general election for state and county officers held in the next-to-last even-numbered year of a term of office, the remainder of the unexpired term shall be filled at the next general election for state and county officers, as provided by this chapter.
(b) If a vacancy occurs after the 74th day before a general election day, an election for the unexpired term may not be held at that general election. The appointment to fill the vacancy
continues until the next succeeding general election and until a successor has been elected and has qualified for the office.

In other words, the sooner he leaves, the longer his appointed successor has to act like an incumbent for the replacement election. That could be a very big deal.

3. Regardless of how long the interim judge will have to sit in Eckels' seat, expect the Democrats to make a big push for that office. There is already likely to be a big Dallas-in-06-style push for other countywide offices, and it rather goes without saying that this one would be the big prize. This will be one very expensive race.

4. If a Democrat does eventually claim Eckels' seat, there will be ripples felt at the state level. This is because Harris is one of the rare counties in Texas that officially supports a lowered appraisal cap. With a Democrat as County Judge, thus giving Commissioner's Court a Democratic majority, that could change, though someone would have to get Sylvia Garcia to change her mind first. Assuming this is still a wish-list item for that crowd in 2009, a change in position by Harris County could have a dampening effect on their efforts.

Lots of intrigue and drama in the offing here. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Houtopia and PDiddie have more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 01, 2007 to Local politics

I don't have a dog in this fight, living just a few miles outside of Harris County. But it seems to me that if Judge Eckels were a true fiscal conservative and had been thinking about taking a private sector job for a while, he could have made that decision already and spared the taxpayers the cost of a special election and chosen not to just run for re-election. More from the Tom DeLay Republican "entitled to the office" mold.

Posted by: Dennis on February 2, 2007 6:51 AM

Eckels contemplates resignation
Usually when one steps down, one just does it. This contemplation business is an attempt to jar something loose - either that or Eckels has hired a Hollywood promoter.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on February 2, 2007 11:34 AM

Dennis Re-read the article there is no special election. If an appointment is made then the seat is up for election in November of 2008.

Posted by: Dave on February 12, 2007 3:07 PM