Thursday, April 19, 2012

Still on the case of the mysterious rift

Not me. Patti Kilday Hart.

Houston attorney Debra Norris, who aspires to run for judge someday, received a tantalizing phone call from a local political consultant last October. The caller, Justin Jordan, told her that leaders in her neighborhood recommended her as a judicial candidate. Furthermore, he assured her if she ran against a particular incumbent, State District Judge Steven Kirkland, Houston attorney George Fleming would provide sufficient campaign contributions.

Intrigued, she met both Jordan and political consultant Bethel Nathan, whom Jordan identified as his former employer, at a Starbucks. Their message to her was "we have funding, we're looking for the right candidate and you are it." Though she was "flattered," Norris said she decided against the race. "I talked to other people and everything I learned is that he (Kirkland) is an outstanding judge."

The story provides important context as the May 29 Democratic primary approaches. Kirkland, a Democrat first elected in 2008, finds himself battling a well-funded opponent, Elaine Hubbard-Palmer. In her last financial report, her sole contributions, totaling $35,000, came from Fleming's law firm or the political action committee he funds. 

Do go read the rest. Attorney Fleming is both coy and oily about his intentions regarding his challenge to Kirkland. Two prominent Democrats get it (my emphasis is in bold):

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, fears the inter-party fight will ultimately harm Democratic unity. He notes that Jordan has publicly worked for Republican candidates and causes. And Fleming, he said, "minces no words when it comes to Steve and his desire to defeat him." The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Ken Shortreed in the November election.

At the time of the deadline for her January campaign contribution report, Palmer had received $35,000 in contributions from two sources: $7,000 from the Fleming law firm and $28,000 from a political action committee named Texans for Good Leaders. Fleming, it turns out, is the chief contributor to Texans for Good Leaders: He dropped the group a $25,000 check on Dec. 14 - the day before it wrote Palmer a check for $23,000.

The size of those contributions exceeded the limits of Texas' Judicial Fairness Act. As a result, the Texas Ethics Commission issued an order permitting all candidates to raise unlimited funds

"Oh well, somebody broke the law, so we'll just let everybody break the law." See, that's how it works in Texas politics.Try that at the bank today and see what happens. Update: Don't everybody test the theory at once.

That's small consolation to Kirkland, who said he expects to raise and spend $150,000 to remain competitive with Palmer. She's been running radio ads and sending expensive direct mail pieces across the county. "A countywide race in a contested primary is expensive," he noted.

I could not reach Jordan or Nathan, but Jordan's Linked-In profile mentions Republican affiliations, and says he is an employee of Bethel Nathan Communications. Harris County Democratic Chairman Gerry Birnberg sees the Kirkland-Palmer race as disheartening on two levels. It is sapping limited resources. And it demonstrates the inherent flaws in the election of judges.

Unlimited campaign contributions allow individuals to "get rid of a judge" because they have a "personal stake," Birnberg noted. "Welcome to the election of judges."

We will never have representative government until we get the money out of our politics. One way to begin to slow down the gravy train of corruption is to stop evaluating candidates on the basis of how much money they can raise.

Another way is to support candidates and parties who support the separation of corporate and state.

At least it was nice not to have to mention Kirkland's sexuality or Hubbard-Palmer's race, wasn't it?

Update: John is a little more coarse and one-sided.

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