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Vince and Brad

Congratulations to Vince Ryan, who I think will do a bang-up job as the new Harris County Attorney.

Many Harris County residents may have been saying “Vince who?” when they learned that voters ousted a Republican incumbent and elected the challenger in the county attorney’s race.

Democrat Vince Ryan defeated Mike Stafford 51 percent to 49 percent, benefiting from Barack Obama’s long coattails and news reports about several Republican county officials’ alleged ethical lapses.

Ryan, a lawyer, said he is the right person to be coming into government now. The County Attorney’s Office, he said, can play the role of watchdog and try to insist that county officials and employees take the ethical high road.

“What county government needs is a group of watchdogs, not lapdogs,” Ryan said. “The County Attorney’s Office is an absolute key to the checks and balances on county government.”

That’s a theme he sounded over and over again during the campaign – listen to the interview I did with him if you need a reminder – and it’s one of the reasons I’m happy to see him win. I believe Ryan will not be shy about picking a fight if he thinks someone in county government is doing wrong, or about to do wrong. Needless to say, that’s something we’ve lacked around here of late.

Stafford, 57, said his outlook remains positive despite losing in his bid for a third term. After Commissioners Court appointed him county attorney in 2001, he won election to a two-year term in 2002 and re-election to a four-year term in 2004.

Stafford’s campaign team didn’t have unlimited funds to wage a high-profile campaign and run television ads, so it limited itself mostly to putting out signs, he said.

“We knew Obama was going to energize Democrats, and we ran into what (Commissioner Steve) Radack called a tsunami,” Stafford said. “It’s part of the election process, and the Democrats won fair and square.”

That’s very gracious of Stafford to say, but he certainly could have had a bigger war chest if he’d wanted to. One fundraiser a year during his tenure, especially for a guy who was unopposed the last time out, would have banked him some decent money.

As happy as I am for Vince Ryan and the many other Democrats who won, I’m sad for those who lost. It’s a long list, much of which is familiar to you. Democrats had a lot of good reasons to get to work for this election, and the many fine people who put themselves out there to represent all of us were a big part of that. I’ve said this to a couple of them via phone and email, and I’ll say it here: Thank You for your effort and your belief. I know I speak for many when I say it was all greatly appreciated.

One of those sad results was in the DA race, where Brad Bradford led early, then trailed by the end of the evening as Republican voting strength on Tuesday caught up to him. Bradford isn’t quite ready to concede yet, however.

Democrat C.O. “Brad” Bradford’s campaign still was not ready to admit defeat in the race for Harris County district attorney Wednesday, hoping he can garner enough votes from outstanding absentee and provisional ballots to squeak past the apparently victorious Pat Lykos.

The Republican former felony court judge held a nearly 5,000-vote lead in her bid to become the county’s first female district attorney after all obviously valid ballots had been counted. She declared victory shortly before midnight Tuesday and did not back down Wednesday.

“I feel good about the election,” she said.

Bradford declined an interview request, but Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg said the winner should not be crowned until all the votes are counted. He said it is “altogether possible” that enough of the nearly 7,000 provisional ballots cast this election are valid and include votes for Bradford to change the outcome of the race.

“If they went to that effort to participate in the election, by golly, we owe it to them to expend the effort to determine whether their votes should be counted or not,” he said.

A provisional ballot is used when a voter is not on the registration list, but believes he or she is properly registered. If a person is registered, his or her vote is added to the total. Typically, only 10 percent of provisional ballots are deemed valid, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office.

In addition, 3,378 mail ballots that were sent overseas have not yet been returned. Those votes will be counted if the ballots were filled out by Tuesday and arrive at the clerk’s office before Sunday.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said she doubted those ballots will change the results of any countywide election, but said it is always possible.

“I am not closing any doors.” she said.

While I think it’s likely that provisional voters skew Democratic, it would have to be a landslide to make up the deficit. Absentee ballots tend to be overwhelmingly Republican, so it’s probably better for Bradford if no more of them show up. Obviously, every vote should be counted, but unfortunately I think the odds of them having an effect on the outcome are slim. My congratulations to Pat Lykos on her imminent victory.

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