Dallas County bucks Texas’ red voting trend

Posted on 07 Nov 2014 at 7:45am

Republican won countywide election for DA, but in other races, Democrats won by wide margins

election-2014DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

If Dallas politics represented politics throughout the rest of Texas, national news outlets would be reporting a Democratic landslide in the governor’s race that swept in a slate of new faces.

In Dallas County, Wendy Davis garnered a commanding 10 percent lead over Republican Governor-Elect Greg Abbott. And Leticia Van de Putte, in her race for lieutenant governor, received just a few thousand votes less than Davis to defeat Republican Dan Patrick handily in Dallas County balloting.

If Dallas County voting patterns were echoed throughout the state, Republican George P. Bush would have been forced into a runoff with Democrat John Cook for agriculture commissioner, and David Alameel would have been just a few thousand votes short of an outright win and forced incumbent John Cornyn into a runoff.

But Dallas County doesn’t reflect Texas voting patterns and none of the statewide candidates that won in Dallas County won their races overall.

Abbott received a majority of votes in Davis’ home, Tarrant County. He won the majority in Democratic Harris and Bexar counties. Among large urban counties, Davis’ win was larger by percentage only in Travis and El Paso counties.

Susan Hawk is the first Republican elected countywide Dallas County since Sheriff Lupe Valdez led a Democratic sweep in 2004. Hawk, who replaces two-term District Attorney Craig Watkins, previously served as a criminal court judge, a position to which she was elected as a Democrat.

Watkins was the first black district attorney in Texas. He quickly gained national fame testing DNA evidence that exonerated convicted murderers and others. But Watkins angered many Democrats over the past year and lost their support because he supported a challenge to Dallas County Democratic Chair Darlene Ewing.

Ewing won her race over the Watkins’ assistant DA, Heath Harris.

He also supported three challengers to incumbent judges, including Judge Lena Levario, who held him in contempt of court during the 2013 trial of oil heir Al Hill III, who claimed he was indicted on mortgage fraud charges as a favor to Watkins’ political benefactor, Lisa Blue.

The challengers Watkins supported managed to oust popular officials in the Democratic Primary last spring.

A strategy whispered among some Democrats was to get Watkins out of office by supporting his opponent and then retake the office in four years in blue Dallas County. But if Hawk, the first woman elected DA in Dallas, builds support and a reputation as a fair district attorney, that may not be easy to do because of the power of incumbency.

As a judge, Hawk had a reputation for finding innovative ways to rehabilitate probationers. In the LGBT community and for those with HIV, she built relationships with counselors from AIDS Arms and Legacy Counseling to ensure inmates with HIV received their medication and remained compliant.

Hawk has said she plans to continue Watkins’ exoneration project.

While no new LGBT candidates were elected in the county, the influence of the community was apparent in at least one race.

Felicia Pitre worked in the office of openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons supported her candidacy in the Democratic Primary, and she won a four-way primary race and took an easy victory in Tuesday’s general election.

While openly gay Judge Tonya Parker was unopposed, she received more votes than most of the other judges running unopposed for judicial district court positions.

In the biggest win for the LGBT community, a nondiscrimination proposition to change wording in the city charter won with 75 percent of the vote.

While nondiscrimination in city employment has been the law in Dallas for two decades, the proposition changes wording in the city charter. Gender identity was included in the definition of sexual orientation in the ordinance. They’re now simply listed as two protected categories.

The recommendation for the change in wording came from the mayor’s LGBT Task Force chaired by Councilman Adam Medrano.

County Clerk John Warren, who was easily re-elected was recently asked if he would issue marriage licenses once Texas became a marriage equality state. He said he wanted to be the first to issue them.

A number of elected officials who are members of Stonewall Democrats sailed to victory including former Dallas City Councilwoman Pauline Medrano who becomes the new county treasurer.

County Judge Clay Jenkins’ name recognition soared as he became the focus of two national stories this year. He welcomed President Barack Obama to Dallas to discuss housing up to 2,000 children fleeing violence in Central America and he became the calm face of Dallas as America freaked out over the Ebola virus.

Jenkins sent a message to supporters after his victory. In it, he referred to the immigration issue.

“Too many of our neighbors live in the shadows due to our broken immigration system,” Jenkins wrote. “We need a bipartisan solution to our immigration policy and a shared sense of community for everyone.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 7, 2014.

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