April 08, 2008
The two DA runoffs

The Chron overviews the Travis County DA runoff, which is the hottest contest on the Democratic side of the ticket for tomorrow.

A sharp debate over who would be the best public watchdog at the state Capitol has overshadowed the usual issues of crime and punishment in the race to replace retiring Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.

As Tuesday's Democratic primary runoff nears, Mindy Montford, an assistant district attorney who ran second to Earle's longtime first assistant Rosemary Lehmberg in a four-person race, has tried to focus on crime.

Her advertisements warn Travis County residents about rising burglaries and tout her courtroom toughness. But the campaigning always returns to the office's small but powerful Public Integrity Unit, which can investigate lawmakers and state politicians for ethical violations.

The unit's biggest recent case is Earle's controversial and still pending prosecution of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. No Republican is running, so the runoff will determine who takes over after Earle's high-profile 31-year tenure.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, said the Legislature created the integrity unit in the seat of state government decades ago, realizing that local district attorneys would be unlikely to investigate their political colleagues back home.

"The Travis County district attorney is functionally the ethics enforcement agency for the entire state," Smith said. "The issue of who is elected here is critical."

This has been a pretty nasty campaign, with a lot of allegations about Republicans supporting Montford, one of which landed a well-known Democratic consultant in some hot water. My qualms about Mindy Montford are that she's got too cozy a relationship with lobbyists, and that she won't be as aggressive about the Public Integrity Unit as Rosemary Lehmberg will be. I'm rooting for Lehmberg to win, and if you're in Travis County and haven't voted yet, I hope you'll consider voting for Lehmberg today.

Meanwhile, back in Harris County, third-place finisher Jim Leitner has hopped on board the Pat Lykos Express, despite earlier statements that he would not endorse anyone in the runoff. That action has got Kelly Siegler taking action to get out the vote for herself, and caused at least one former colleague to lose respect for Leitner. I still think Siegler is going to win this one, but I don't know how confident I should be in that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 08, 2008 to Election 2008