October 20, 2008
Endorsement watch: District Attorney

As expected, the Chron endorses Pat Lykos for District Attorney.

The next chief of the Harris County District Attorney's office must plunge into a multilevel rehab job. Despite a staff that boasts many superb professionals, former DA Chuck Rosenthal managed to savage the office's reputation. For decades before that, Rosenthal and predecessor John B. Holmes Jr. helped embed in the DA's office a culture that prized conviction at almost any cost, sought death sentences with a conveyor-belt monotony and followed outdated policies that choked access to justice.

This fall's candidates for district attorney, Democrat C.O. "Brad" Bradford and Republican Pat Lykos, both pledge to transform that culture. Of these two qualified contenders, the Chronicle recommends Lykos for Harris County district attorney.


A graduate of South Texas College of Law, Lykos has served on the front lines of law enforcement, as a police officer, a lawyer and a criminal court judge. No one could accuse her of being soft on crime -- she has signed death warrants -- but Lykos' judicial signature has been her role on panels and commissions seeking modern, preventive responses to family violence, juvenile crime and mental illness.

She has been a trailblazer in innovative sentencing, working to include community service and victim restitution as part of probation requirements.

Lykos was also an early advocate for a regional, independent crime lab to replace the discredited Houston Police Department facility. The corruption and ineptitude in that lab began before former Police Chief Bradford took office, but his under-aggressive responses have weakened his leadership credentials.

Lykos has her leadership flaws: She has been criticized privately and officially for poor listening skills and brusqueness with colleagues and subordinates. To her credit she has worked with noticeable success in mellowing what she calls her "intense" demeanor.

We hope that Lykos applies this improved openness to the best proposals from her competitor. While Lykos has called for more care in the DA's future pursuit of the death penalty, Bradford is commendably blunt in calling for capital punishment as a "last resort."

Bradford also proposes creating a public defender's office and changing grand jury selection to include more working people and minorities. Citing fiscal stewardship, he favors giving citations rather than incarceration for some low-level, nonviolent crimes. We think these are sensible proposals for urgent problems. Lykos should take them seriously.

Sounds to me a little like they preferred Bradford's platform, but chose Lykos anyway. Folks who think the Chron has it in for Bradford are not going to be dissuaded of that. I'll be very interested to see how A Harris County Lawyer, who had previously discussed some of the issues the Chron cites, thinks about their endorsement.

By the way, according to Grits, the Austin PD is now implementing that cite-not-arrest policy for Class B misdemeanors. If they can do it, so can we.

Meanwhile, no Presidential endorsements yet from the Star-Telegram or the El Paso Times, though the former is at least promising one this week. Elsewhere, the Bryan-College Station Eagle joins the list of papers that had never before endorsed a Democrat that are now recommending Barack Obama.

This year is different, in large part because of the very difficult challenges facing this nation after eight years of a failed Bush administration. We are faced with a choice between Sen. John McCain, who claims to be an agent of change but promotes the policies of the past, and Sen. Barack Obama, who also wears the change mantle, but offers a vision for the future, even if he has yet to fully explain how he would carry out that vision if elected president in little more than two weeks.

Every 20 or 30 years or so, a leader comes along who understands that change is necessary if the country is to survive and thrive. Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the 20th century and his cousin Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan -- these leaders have inspired us to rise to our better nature, to reach out to be the country we can be and, more important, must be.

Barack Obama is such a leader. He doesn't have all the answers, to be sure, but at least he is asking the right questions. While we would like more specificity on his plans as president, we are confident that he can lead us ever forward, casting aside the doubts and fears of recent years.


Also of great concern is McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Like Obama, she has little experience in governing, but unlike the Illinois senator, she is a candidate of little intellectual curiosity who appears to be hopelessly unready to be president. The fact that people are confused by the difference between Palin and comedian Tina Fey's caustic impersonation is clear evidence that Palin should not be, as they say, a heartbeat away from the presidency.

We also are dismayed by the tenor of the McCain-Palin campaign. If their goal is to severely wound an Obama presidency should that come to pass, they are dangerously close to succeeding.

Gotta say, especially for a paper in such a deep red area (read some of the comments for the flavor of it), they have a much firmer grasp of what this campaign is about, and what has actually taken place, than the DMN or the Express News. Kudos to them for taking a stand.

Then there's the Waco Trib, which chooses to wuss out.

While applauding the upsurge in voter engagement, we lament what has become a poisonous environment.

So, after long, even painful, deliberation, we have decided to side with neither Barack Obama nor John McCain.


The message that we want to deliver in our non-endorsement this year is that we must get beyond the reflex to attack those fellow citizens with whom we disagree.

If recent political trends hold true, on the day after our election, we can count on roughly half of our citizens to either actively or passively undermine whoever the eventual winner of this contest will be.

Instead of unifying behind our leadership and behind the concept that democracy is strengthened by the collective wisdom of all, our tendency as a nation is to destroy opposing viewpoints and destroy those who hold such viewpoints.

If they have demonstrated anything, both Sens. McCain and Obama have demonstrated that they are patriots who have a deep love of our country. To suggest otherwise is to feed into the poison.

That's a lovely sentiment, and as hard as it may be to argue with it, I have to ask, what election have they been watching? The McCain campaign has been nothing but destruction, divisiveness - hello, "real America" and "real Virginia", anyone? - and poison for weeks now, and it's just going to get worse. How can you wring your hands about this without acknowledging where it's coming from? I'm sorry, but that's just gutless.

On the plus side, the Trib did endorse Linda Yanez and Sam Houston for the Supreme Court, and had some nice things to say about Jim Jordan. So they have that going for them.

Finally, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times appears to have perfected time travel, because the John McCain that they endorse for President was last seen around 2003 or so. They also continue a remarkable trend in that every single paper that has endorsed McCain has not mentioned the campaign he has run, and only one (the Globe-News, in passing) mentions Sarah Palin. I guess if you really want something badly enough, you can find a way to justify it.

UPDATE: Here's AHCL on the DA endorsement.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 20, 2008 to Election 2008
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