May 12, 2008
Early overview of the County Attorney race

At this point in the overviews, I've basically covered the races where I think the candidates have a good chance to affect their vote totals in a significant way. The remaining races, for County Attorney, District Clerk, and Harris County Department of Education Trustee, will I believe primarily be determined by the Presidential vote. Not completely, of course - as we saw in the introduction, even the judicial races have a certain amount of variance. No race is beyond at least some measure of control by the candidates, but some have more than others.

And of those "others", I believe the County Attorney race has the greatest potential for breaking away from the pack. Democrat Vince Ryan, who served in the County Attorney's office in the 80s and who unsuccessfully ran for County Judge in 1994, has some name recognition for being a three-term City Council member, from 1987 to 1993. (He was also in the news last month for suing his former employer; that may or may not be to his ultimate political benefit, but it did get him in the news, which other candidates in these races will have a hard time doing.) He should be able to do enough fundraising to get his name out there more. As the trick to these races is making sure that the voters who should be supporting you go far enough down the ballot to find you, that will help him.

Ryan also has a couple of decent campaign issues to work with, thanks in part to Sheriff Tommy Thomas. I mentioned before that Harris County Judge candidate David Mincberg sent out a press release criticizing County Judge Ed Emmett for the amount of money that was spent defending the Sheriff's office in the Ibarra lawsuit. That same criticism can and really should be made against County Attorney Mike Stafford, since the issues that were singled out by Federal District Judge Kenneth Hoyt were about how Stafford handled the case. Similarly, it was Stafford who signed off on Sheriff Thomas' 14-day email retention policy, which State district Judge David J. Bernal ruled violated state law. Both of those incidents give Ryan the opportunity to question Stafford's judgment and competence, while tying him to Tommy Thomas and Chuck Rosenthal, two of the biggest albatrosses in county politics this year.

For a normally low-profile office for which there usually isn't much competition - Stafford was unopposed in 2004 after winning a special 2002 election to fill the unexpired term of his predecessor, Michael Fleming, who himself was unopposed in 2000 after winning a close race against Sylvia Garcia in 1996 - that's good news for a challenger. As for Stafford, let me take a moment to explain what the County Attorney does:

The Harris County Attorney's Office was the first County Attorney's Office in the State of Texas to be created solely to serve a major urban county's civil law needs. The Harris County Attorney's Office represents the County and its elected officials in all civil matters and also serves as the legal representative for several separate legal entities that operate within Harris County, including the Harris County Hospital District, the Harris County Flood Control District, the Harris County Appraisal District, the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, and the Greater 911 Emergency Network.

If I'm Michael Stafford and I can't get someone from, say, the Flood Control District or the 911 Network to say something nice about me and what my office did to help them that I can put on a mailer, then I deserve to lose. Ryan may have issues to club Stafford with, but those issues aren't "his" in the public's mind right now; they're mostly Tommy Thomas' problems. Assuming his unopposed campaign last time didn't make him complacent about raising and hoarding contributions, he ought to be able to get a head start in defining himself to the voters and give them a positive impression before Ryan can make him look bad. I'll be surprised if he doesn't try something like that.

Basically, I think if this race gains a higher profile through Mike Stafford being in the news, or through successful fundraising on Vince Ryan's part, it's good for Ryan. If the race remains obscure, it's better for Stafford. None of it may matter - the Presidential coattails may well be the determining factor - but I think there's a decent chance that we'll hear some things from this campaign. As with many of these countywide races, that will be the first time in awhile for the County Attorney. If nothing else comes out of this year's election, being able to focus even a little more than we normally do on those offices is a net positive.


District Attorney
County Judge
Tax Assessor

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 12, 2008 to Election 2008

I don't think the county attorney ever signed off on the HCSO email purge. I think Sheriff Thomas and co went to the County Attorney after the can of worms was opened to determine if what they had done was legal.

Posted by: Trafficnerd on May 12, 2008 4:06 PM
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