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Bacarisse to step down tomorrow?

When I wrote that District Clerk Charles Bacarisse was rumored to be resigning on Friday to make official the run for County Judge that everyone knows he plans to make, I figured if that if the rumor were off it’d be by being too early. Turns out, it may have been off by being a little late.

Harris County District Clerk Charles Bacarisse is expected to announce his candidacy for county judge on Wednesday, ending months of speculation about whether he would seek the job after being passed over for it earlier this year.

Bacarisse told the Houston Chronicle last week that he had no plans to declare his intentions before Labor Day. But a close political adviser, Jim McGrath, indicated Monday that Bacarisse would make it official this week.

Asked if that was true, the district clerk hedged.

“I want to wait until I speak at the press conference to say anything, for obvious reasons,” Bacarisse said. “I don’t want to trigger the ‘resign to run’ provision until I trigger it.”

Well whaddya know? I suppose that makes sense, since announcing such a thing right before Labor Day weekend isn’t exactly a great way to get noticed. And he’s gotten an extra day in the news cycle out of it, too. Nicely done.

This comes as a surprise to me:

By state law, the county’s 59 district court judges are tasked with appointing a replacement to fill the remainder of Bacarisse’s term.

He was elected to a four-year term last November. If the judges fail to reach a unanimous decision, Gov. Rick Perry must order a special election to fill the vacancy.

The latest Perry can call a special election for the November ballot is Oct. 7, according to the secretary of state’s office.

If the judges do not agree before then, the earliest an election can be held is on the next uniform election, May 10.

“The district judges have been aware that this was coming along and they have a committee in place,” County Attorney Mike Stafford said.

“I don’t think it will take them long to meet. I’d be pleasantly surprised if they came to a unanimous decision, though.”

It was my impression from reading this statute about county elected offices that a District Clerk vacancy would be filled in a similar manner as that of County Judge, which is to say that the next election would be in November of 2008. Apparently, that’s not the case, though I can’t personally confirm that as my attempts to search for a more on-point statute were unsuccessful. If anyone can do better than I at this search, please leave a comment.

Given this, it would seem that Robert Eckels’ resignation earlier this year will have the extra bonus effect of making the county spend money on a special election. How nice for us. At least we can reasonably expect it to be this November, when the city of Houston and various Harris County independent school districts would be voting anyway. Of course, if the turnout for this special election is skewed more heavily towards the city of Houston and less towards the rest of Harris County, that might very well provide a leg up for Loren Jackson. That would be a nice and somewhat ironic coda to the whole saga, I think. We’ll see what happens.

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2 Comments

  1. Loren Jackson says:

    Charles,

    After multiple discussions with the Sec. of State’s office and a perusal of the Government Code, Election Code, and Attorney General opinions, here are 3 election scenarios:

    1) If the judges are able to unanimously agree on an appointee, that appointee will then serve until 2008. 60-70 days prior to the November 2008 election, there will be a special election (primaries) for the position with a runoff to occur on the general ballot to fill the unexpired term of the District Clerk position. If the appointee loses, the newly elected District Clerk takes office after canvassing (about one week after the election).

    2) If the judges fail to unanimously agree (in accordance with an AG opinion), then Governor Perry has 30 days from the date of the disagreement to request a special election. If the disagreement occurs prior to October 7, 2007, and Gov. Perry calls for the special election prior to that date, then the special election will occur on this November’s ballot.

    3) If the judges fail to reach consensus within 30 days of or after October 7, Gov. Perry must call a special election that will be held in May 2008.

    Hopefully, this clears up the article which inaccurately notes that the appointee will “fill the remainder of Bacarisses’ term.”

    I look forward to returning the District Clerk’s office to the Democratic Party. Together, we can reach across party lines and accomplish real change.

  2. Kenneth Fair says:

    District clerks aren’t county officials per se. Judicial districts are created by the legislature. Some counties (such as Harris County) have multiple districts, some districts serve one county, and some districts serve two or more counties.

    The relevant statute in this situation is Government Code sec. 51.301(b):

    If a vacancy in the office of district clerk occurs in a county that has two or more district courts, the vacancy shall be filled by agreement of the judges of the courts. If the judges cannot agree on an appointee, they shall certify that fact to the governor, who shall order a special election to fill the vacancy.

    More information on the process can be found in this Attorney General opinion.