It’s the most interesting local race on the ballot.
Two years ago, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson bested Democratic challenger Kim Ogg in a tussle focusing on substantive policy reform. Both touting impressive criminal justice resumes and spoke optimistically about improving the community by making changes at the state’s largest district attorney’s office.
This year is different.
Anderson finds herself at the center of a raft of problems, many that she had little direct control over. And Ogg has fanned the political flames of every new revelation.
November’s election comes in the middle of a turbulent year for an office that generally sees change during times of upheaval. In 2008, voters unseated former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal after racist and sexist emails were uncovered. That led to the election of Pat Lykos who served for four years before being ousted in the GOP primary after losing the support of law enforcement and most of her prosecutors. While Anderson has the support of her troops and Houston’s largest police union, 2016 has not been kind to the district attorney’s office.
“I think Houston has become the laughingstock of the United States when it comes to prosecutorial integrity and we need to establish a level playing field for everyone – the accused and crime victims,” Ogg said. “I want to give voters an option to elect a top prosecutor who will make them safer and ensure that their basic constitutional rights aren’t violated.”
Anderson has denied any wrongdoing by her office in each instance and insists Ogg is “desperate” to make political points at every turn, accusing the challenger of repeatedly grandstanding.
Anderson declined an interview request from the Houston Chronicle to talk about the race and her campaign. Ogg, on the other hand, has continued to hammer away at several cases that have made headlines since Anderson took office.
In a University of Houston poll in September, the two are in a statistical dead heat with Anderson edging Ogg, 30 percent to 29 percent. However, the poll showed that nearly half – 47 percent – of respondents, were unsure about their choice for district attorney.
Political observers are watching the race closely, not just because it is at the top of the local ticket, but because there are implications on national issues such as the death penalty, mental health issues, bail reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said he would not be surprised if the numbers in November flip from the election results two years ago, giving 55 percent to Ogg and 45 percent to Anderson.
“For partisans in both parties, there is significant distrust of Anderson,” Rottinghaus said. “This probably makes her a solid prosecutor – both sides dislike her equally – but it puts her in a tough spot politically.”
As I said before, I would not put too much stock in that poll for downballot races like this. While it’s certainly possible for a candidate for an office like District Attorney to buck partisan trends – see Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012, for example – the tide is going to be a big factor in who wins. I don’t think Anderson has done herself any favors, and I disagree with the odd assertion that she had “little direct control” over “many” of the problems associated with her office. That will work against her in a scenario where the partisan split is close to 50-50, as it was in the past two Presidential elections, but if the Republicans ave the advantage, then I’d expect Anderson to win. Past experience suggests she’d still be favored even in a 50-50 year, though perhaps her troubles would be enough to erase that edge. I’d probably bet the under on Prof. Rottinghaus’ estimate of Kim Ogg’s percentage in November, but all in all I do believe she’s the favorite. Honestly, if this isn’t the year for a Democrat to be elected DA, I don’t know when it would be.