No, it’s not 2008, though there are a couple of superficial similarities.
On paper, Ed Gonzalez is a near-replica of former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.
The Latino Democrats served in the Houston Police Department and represented the same district on City Council. Eventually, both were appointed mayors pro-tem.
Now, eight years after Garcia unseated Harris County’s longtime Republican Sheriff Tommy Thomas, Gonzalez, 46, again is looking to follow in his political mentor’s footsteps.
“We don’t need just a manager. We really need a reformer,” the soft-spoken Gonzalez, a former hostage negotiator, said during an interview at Montrose’s Blacksmith coffee shop. “That’s what I represent.”
Garcia vacated the sheriff’s post last May to run for Houston mayor, at which point members of the county’s commissioners court replaced him with Republican Ron Hickman. Garcia came in third and now is challenging Congressman Gene Green, the longtime District 29 representative, in the Democratic primary.
Gonzalez and Hickman are widely viewed as the favorites in the Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively.
Gonzalez is up against sheriff’s lieutenant Jeff Stauber, 52, constable’s lieutenant Jerome Moore, 42, and Theodore “Ted” Perez in the Democratic primary.
All of them face a steep fundraising climb in a primary unlikely to draw much notice. Stauber reported $1,200 in the bank as of the end of 2015, while the others did not file end-of-year finance reports or reported having no cash on hand.
Asked about his top three priorities, Gonzalez listed crime prevention, jail management and working within the office’s budgetary constraints.
“I’m really going to look at some diversion programs,” Gonzalez said, adding that he supports channeling low-level drug offenders to treatment and support services rather than jail.
Stauber, who is running his first campaign for public office, criticized Gonzalez for keeping six homicide case files, including those for one active case, when he left the Houston Police Department in 2009. Gonzalez had placed the files in a box while clearing out his work area and did not return them until the department launched an inquiry into lapsed murder investigations years later.
Police charged a suspect in one of those murder cases within two weeks of receiving the file.
“A family, their investigations were held up for five years,” Stauber said. “I think that needs to be looked at.”
Stauber, who said he most recently voted in a Republican primary, plans to focus on officer training and education, technology and improving community relations.
Moore and Perez did not respond to interview requests.
My interview with Ed Gonzalez is here, and my interview with Jeff Stauber is here. Adrian Garcia cruised to an easy win over the scandal-plagued Tommy Thomas in 2008, but he was in a good position to win regardless thanks to the overall Democratic surge in Harris County that year. Ron Hickman is an appointed replacement Sheriff, not a troubled longtime incumbent, so that dynamic is very different, but the effect on the outcome of partisan turnout levels is not. More Democrats than Republicans voted in 2008; Thomas’ problems mostly helped Garcia run up the score. The Sheriff election this is more like an open seat race than anything else, and barring anything strange it will likely be decided more by turnout levels than anything else. As someone with a mostly clean slate, I think Hickman gets some benefit of the doubt, meaning that his Democratic opponent will have to either find some effective points of attack against him, or rely on a sufficiently high surge. We’ll have a better idea of how that might go once we know who the Presidential candidates are.