There’s been a lot of focus on how Harris County will vote this year after Hillary Clinton’s wide margin of victory in 2016 – I’ve certainly contributed to that – but it’s important to remember that Clinton carried Fort Bend County as well, and there are some big elections happening there, too.
Cliff Vacek knows Fort Bend County like the back of his hand. The former state district judge, now 71, has lived his whole life in the fast-growing, diverse suburb southwest of Houston, where he’s also served as a teacher and had his own law practice.
“The criminal justice system ought to be fair,” said Vacek, a Republican. “I hope people feel like I do, that they want the prosecution to be swift, they want it to be vigorous, but they want it to be fair. That’s what I offer.”
Brian Middleton once worked as a prosecutor for longtime District Attorney John Healey, but the Houston native now wears many hats — running his own law firm in southwest Houston in addition to working as a municipal prosecutor for the cities of Meadows Place, Jersey Village and Wallis and as a judge for the city of Jacinto.
If elected, Middleton would become the first African-American district attorney for the county of more than 765,000 residents, which is 35 percent white, 21 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic, and 21 percent Asian and other.
“I think it would send a signal to the rest of the world that we in Fort Bend County have very strong values and value diversity,” said Middleton, 46, a Democrat. “People of color can succeed.”
Whoever wins, it will represent a major change in Fort Bend County, where Healey, a Republican, has presided over the district attorney’s office since 1992, the year Bill Clinton was elected president. The race is being closely watched as the county backed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 but has continued to elect Republicans to top county offices.
Other key races include county judge, where Republican incumbent Robert Hebert is trying to stave off a challenge from Fort Bend ISD board member KP George. At the federal level, meanwhile, Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, a Republican who has represented the 22nd Congressional District since 2009.
I think psychologically, the state GOP is prepared for the possibility that they’ll lose Harris County. They don’t want to, of course, and they’ll do what they can to win as many races as they can, but they saw the numbers, and not just the ones from 2016. Losing Fort Bend, even one countywide race, would be a much bigger blow. The Republican takeover of the state began in earnest in the suburbs, which grew rapidly in population and voting strength, and spread from there. Democrats have mostly taken over the big urban counties, but an incursion into this kind of turf is as whole ‘nother thing. It changes the narrative of where Republicans and Democrats are, if nothing else, and it would definitely be a major consideration in 2021 when maps need to be redrawn. I don’t know how Middleton or George are going to do – in some ways, winning these county offices is harder than winning legislative races – but they have the potential to really shake things up if they win. Keep an eye on this.