Clearly, we have not had enough stories about what a terrible thing the Democratic near-sweep of the local judiciary was.
A bit like the weather, partisan judicial races seem to be something many people complain about but few do anything to change.
But unlike the weather, change is a possibility.
That fact again gained a toehold in political discussions after last week's near-sweep of district court seats in Harris County by Democratic candidates. It was, in the words of American cultural guru Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again.
In 1994, Republicans swept through the local courthouse like a West Texas windstorm, knocking out 19 judges and leaving a single civil court seat in the hands of its Democratic occupant.
Democrats might now say that the resurgence led by Sen. Barack Obama, in which 22 of 26 Republican judicial incumbents lost, was an overdue payback. The Democrats enjoyed a similar resurgence in Dallas County two years ago.
Tom Phillips, the former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has long supported an abandonment of partisan judicial races. Elected as a Republican, he even made headway in the Legislature in 2003, as he lobbied for a new selection process in which an independent commission would recommend judicial candidates for appointment based on qualifications, not political affiliation.
He was joined in the crusade by former Texas Attorney General and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill, a Democrat.
Phillips said Republican Party bosses killed the bill that proposed these changes, the ultimate irony of which was that Hill's daughter, Martha Hill Jamison, was one of the casualties of Tuesday's Harris County massacre.
Current Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, a Republican, took the occasion of the near-sweep in Harris County to denounce partisan judicial races.
"This is a strange way to select those who guard our legal rights," Jefferson said in a prepared statement after the polls closed. "It is time to decide whether partisan election is the best means to ensure judicial competence. It has become clear that in judicial elections, the public (particularly in urban areas) cannot cast informed votes due to the sheer number of candidates on the ballot."
Jefferson, who was re-elected last week, has opposed partisan races for years. He said he will convene a summit of public officials, interest groups and media to explore the issue of judicial selection, with the conclusion presented to the Legislature.
And by the way, if we start to decide that the voters can't make informed decisions in certain races, where do we draw the line? Quick, tell me what the Land Commissioner does, and what the major policy differences were between 2006 candidates Jerry Patterson and Valinda Hathcox. Maybe we need more blue ribbon committees to tell us who we should and should not be electing.
GOPers are privately and quietly vowing to do better in two years.
"We won't face those additional straight-ticket voters," one judge who was not up for re-election said, referring to the 47,000-vote advantage the Democrats enjoyed last week among those who punched a single button, the same factor that led to the 1994 purge.
Consider this: In 2004, there were about a million votes cast in each contested judicial race. In 2008, it was about 1.1 million, or 100,000 votes more. Here's how the average candidate did in each year:
2004 avg GOP 536,000
2004 avg Dem 470,000
2008 avg GOP 540,000
2008 avg Dem 558,000
2002 avg GOP 330,500
2002 avg Dem 272,000
2006 avg GOP 286,000
2006 avg Dem 262,000
Republican Joan Huffman, a former criminal courts judge who is in a runoff for a state Senate seat, said in a debate with Democratic opponent Chris Bell last week that she favors the current system. She argued it is more open as it is.
Bell had this to say about the system:
"The party in power is usually loath to change the way we select judges.
"And I think if the Republican Party had been serious about wanting to engage in some type of reform in the area of judicial selection, they controlled the state Senate and they controlled the state House and they controlled all the statewide offices, and so that was the time to move in that direction."
2004 hi GOP 545,012 54.21%
2004 lo Dem 460,283 45.79%
diff 84,927 8.42%
2004 lo GOP 524,198 52.08%
2004 hi Dem 482,385 47.92%
diff 41,813 4.16%
variance 43,114 4.26%
2008 hi GOP 564,023 51.44%
2008 lo Dem 532,383 48.56%
diff 31,640 2.88%
2008 lo GOP 522,687 47.54%
2008 hi Dem 576,834 52.46%
diff -54,147 -4.92%
variance 85,787 7.90%
UPDATE: Clay Robison agrees that there will not be a serious effort to change the judicial election process.Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 10, 2008 to Election 2008