We have a rarity in Harris County politics this year - an actual Democrat-versus-Republican race for a County Commissioners Court seat. That race is for Precinct 3, where long-term incumbent Steve Radack faces Democrat Dexter Handy. Radack last had a Democratic challenger in 1996, when he defeated a gentleman named Fred Stockton by a 68.8-31.2 margin. El Franco Lee, running for re-election in Precinct 1 against a Libertarian candidate, has not faced a Republican since at least 1996 (the County Clerk's online archives only go back that far). Jerry Eversole, the man who expects to be nailed by the FBI any day now, last faced an opponent when frequent commenter and Commissioners Court regular Charles Hixon ran against him for Precinct 4 in 2002, garnering 27% of the vote. That was also the last time we had a competitive race for the Court, as Sylvia Garcia won the open seat formerly held by Jim Fonteno in a close finish against former Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, 52.0-46.5; both she and Eversole ran unopposed in 2006.
Will we have a competitive race this year? Probably not, but you never know.
Handy, a 28-year military veteran, had just $1,200 in the bank as of early October, after taking in $5,400 in contributions and spending $6,100 between July and late September. Radack, by comparison, had $922,000 in the bank after accepting $39,000 in contributions and spending about the same amount in that time period.
University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said it would be a "real shock" if an underfunded, relatively unknown Democrat knocked off an entrenched Republican commissioner in a traditionally conservative precinct. However, the results could be unusually close as a growing number of minority families, who often vote Democratic, settle in Houston's western suburbs, Murray said.
"The county is changing," Murray said. "Is there enough change to put a 20-year commissioner in some peril? Probably not, but that's why we have elections."
I'll say this for Radack - When he goes, the Court will not be the same.
Known for his colorful, brash commentary during Commissioners Court meetings, Radack did not change his tune as he sought an endorsement Monday from the Houston Chronicle's editorial board.
When asked about ethics issues that have dominated the county judge race, Radack said he saw no point in Commissioners Court voluntarily agreeing to follow standards that are not required by law since it would be easy for loopholes to be exploited. He freely admitted that county contracts are awarded to friends if everything else about the proposals is equal.
He also reiterated his opposition to building a downtown jail rejected by voters last fall without putting it on the ballot again. And he expressed unwavering support for the contract deputy program, saying it puts more officers on the street to protect everyone, not just neighborhoods that can afford to pay for deluxe protection.
So anyway, this election will be interesting as a partisan temperature check for the precinct, with what I suspect will be the real fireworks to come in 2012. Having said that, I have a question: Does Harris County have a requirement to review, if not redistrict, Commissioners Court precincts in 2011? I know that redistricting in Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts is optional and radioactive, but if the law requires it, then that's a different story. A question I'd like to see addressed is at what point should we split the existing precincts, each of which has about a million people in it, which is greater than the population of seven US states, into smaller ones? Surely smaller precincts would bring greater breadth to the Court, and might make it less expensive for challengers to wage campaigns. What do you think?Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 29, 2008 to Election 2008