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January 13th, 2020:

Interview with Akilah Bacy

Akilah Bacy

We come now to HD138, another one of the top Democrat targets in this cycle, following an election in which the Republicans held it by 47 votes. It’s now an open seat, as incumbent Dwayne Bohac has chosen to retire. I hadn’t realized it till I started writing these posts, but Bohac is the senior member of the Republican legislative caucus from Harris County. His departure leaves something like only 15 members of the class of 2002 still in the State House, though several members from that year have moved on to other elected office. Three candidates are in the Democratic primary to win this seat, and we begin with Akilah Bacy. Bacy is an attorney who started out as an assistant DA in Harris County, and now operates her own firm, specializing in probate, employment discrimination, and criminal defense. Here’s what we talked about:

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Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Judicial Q&A: Judge Steven Kirkland

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Judge Steven Kirkland

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Judge Steven Kirkland, the incumbent Judge of the 334th District Court. I am running for re-election.

My experience – 15 years on the bench, 30 years of legal experience and a lifetime of service to Texas communities – has taught me that balance, equity and fundamental fairness are standards that all judges must strive for as we interpret the law and seek justice. I am the son of a truck driver, who worked my way through law school and learned from my parents always to fight against injustice. As a community leader, I fought to expand affordable housing and end discrimination. As a lawyer, I sued polluters to protect our neighborhoods. As a judge, I work to make our court system more transparent, accountable and fair.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a Civil District Court hearing cases involving personal injury, property damages, contract disputes, constitutional issues and other civil complaints.

3. What are your main accomplishments in the past four years?

I was in the midst of trial in August 2017 when Hurricane Harvey devastated our community. The Courts were not spared and we lost a whole courthouse along with many days of operations for the entire justice complex. As a veteran of the impact that TS Allison brought to the Court system, I knew how to adapt Court operations to deal with the real impact of the storm not only for the Courts, but the lawyers and parties involved. We quickly adapted procedures and practice to keep the Court functioning at close to pre-storm efficiencies.

I also continued to be a leader and educator on lawyer wellness issues, specifically speaking to legal groups about the dangers of addiction, how to get help and offering tools to cope with the many triggers for folks coping with substance abuse issues.

4. What are your goals for the next four years?

In every Court that I have served in, I have adopted procedures and programs to improve process. Currently, I along with others in the Harris County District Courts are looking at several initiatives to address implicit biases, provide courtroom experience to young and diverse lawyers and to streamline jury service by implementing direct assignment of jurors to a court, rather than gather in the jury assembly area.

5. Why is this race important?

Judicial independence and diversity.

Word on the street is my opponent in the primary is being funded by a wealthy litigant who lost a case in my Court. If we want judges to have the courage to apply the law equally to all people, we have to re-elect judges who do so. My track record shows that is what I do. I do this in high profile cases which you can find with an internet search. But, I also do it in all cases, which is evidenced by the results from HBA’s judicial evaluations where lawyers practicing in my Court consistently rate me highly on fairness, hard work and efficiency.

My election is important to folks who value diversity. Diversity enhances legitimacy of the process and actually improves outcomes by ensuring many perspectives are bought to bear on a dispute. While we have made significant strides in increasing diversity of the bench in Texas, we still only have six open LGBT District Court Judges in the State of Texas. I am the longest serving open LGBT Judge in the state. If you believe as I do, that the people should see folks who look like them when they look at their government, then you have to ensure office holders who reflect the diversity of the population are elected and re-elected when they do a good job.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I have a passion for justice. This passion directs my politics, career and community choices and activities. All my life I have stood up for what is right and spoke out against and tried to change what is wrong. From my record, you know where my heart lies. My thirty years’ experience of activism and accomplishments in the community and the party shows it’s not just talk with me, I walk the walk.

Judge Hidalgo’s first year

Been pretty good so far, I’d say.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

During her longshot campaign in 2018, Lina Hidalgo at times sounded like a candidate for mayor or Congress. With talking points on immigration, criminal justice reform and education, her critics contended she surely misunderstood the role of county judge.

Hidalgo insisted the incumbent crop of leaders had a too-narrow view of what county government could accomplish. She unseated Ed Emmett, the popular three-term county judge, in an Election Night stunner amid a Democratic sweep of countywide posts. And then she set about enacting her vision.

After a year in office, Hidalgo has mollified many concerns about her inexperience, marshaled the county’s response to a series of chemical fires and presided over a Commissioners Court of older men who often clash. With her two Democratic colleagues, she has broadened the size and scope of county government, and pledged to do so further in 2020 with a focus on early childhood development.

“We’ve begun to transform the way we do things in the county,” Hidalgo said. “The county used to be in this box that was just about roads and bridges. Now, we’ve seen and we’ve shown it can be about environmental investment. It can be about criminal justice reform. It can be about voting access.”

She has also seen her national stature rise. Forbes magazine named her to its “30 Under 30” list. Presidential candidates have sought to meet her during trips to Houston, attention she said makes her feel humbled.

Locally, the public views Hidalgo with a curiosity her predecessors did not elicit. After Hidalgo appeared on a BBC panel in November with a state senator and two members of Congress, she was the one several attendees waited to greet afterward.

During a holiday toys for kids event at the George R. Brown Convention Center in mid-December, Hidalgo greeted families waiting in line in English and Spanish. Young women, in particular, asked to take photographs with her. They asked how a person like her ended up in a position like this.

“They ask how did you do it? How did you manage to break into the machine?” Hidalgo said. “My biggest message to young people is to get involved … to volunteer, to participate. We need smart people in government.”

Judge Hidalgo recently gave her first State of the County address, in which she talked about the things that she and Commissioners Court accomplished this past year. As the story notes, the election of Adrian Garcia to the Court as well, which gave Dems a 3-2 majority and the votes on the Court to begin doing the kind of things Hidalgo had spoken about during her campaign, was a key aspect to this. She had the vision from the beginning, and the courage to run when no one else wanted a piece of that race, and she has very much been the public face of the Court and in many ways the county. There’s a lot she has to be proud of, and to build on going forward.

The article mentions that Hidalgo has yet to decide whether to seek re-election in 2022, though it does not quote her directly on that. My guess is this is more of a “I’m just focusing on doing my job and not thinking about that yet” situation than any actual possibility of her not running again. I have heard that there are people who are thinking about running against her in the 2022 primary, which I’d say is likely about opportunity in a newly Democratic county rather than an assessment of her tenure. Be that as it may, I feel confident that 2022 will be a higher profile election year for County Judge than 2018 was. I’ve not heard any names attached to these whispers, but I do know who I plan to vote for.