Thursday, February 01, 2007

Commissioners Court Shuffle

The third largest county in the United States may soon have a vacancy at the top of the food chain:

Harris County Judge Robert Eckels said Wednesday he is mulling offers from the private sector and can't rule out walking away from the four-year term he just won in November.

An early resignation would create a political whirlwind in county government, where officials serve without term limits and open seats are rare.

Eckels, a Republican, has political ambitions extending beyond these on-the-table offers to make a big pile of money; his name was mentioned frequently in the DeLay-apalooza last summer. But his current job gives him oversight which spans all or part of seven congressional districts, so his interest is likely as a statewide candidate. Houtopia (much better connected than me) handicaps the potential replacements:

Some names that have surfaced on the GOP side as possible replacements are Jerry Eversole, Ned Holmes, or Paul Bettencourt. Eversole would seem more of a placeholder. If he left his Commissioner's seat to take the job, there would likely be a wide-open Republican primary for County Judge in 2008, whether Eversole wanted to keep the position or not.

Holmes, a longtime party donor, hugely successful businessman and former Port Authority Chairman, if appointed, would be a daunting opponent for 2008 challengers. First of all, he could self-fund, he would be a smooth, telegenic candidate, and he has a ton of favors to cash in -- the guy's raised money for or given to every candidate and elected official in town. Nobody wants to take him on in a GOP primary.

Then there's Bettencourt. The darling of the anti-tax conservative crowd (ironic when you think of to whom you write your enormous property tax check each year), the current Tax Assessor-Collector has one rather large obstacle -- (Commissioner Steve) Radack. That's right folks, they too are mortal enemies. So, the interim appointment is probably out for Bettencourt, though he may well look at 2008.

Keir also slips in a mention of the Democrats' chances:

After all, the average downballot countywide Dem candidate got about 48.5% of the vote in 2006, with terrible base voter turnout and absolutely no coordinated effort. All signs point to Harris County tipping back to the Democrats in the near future, so they would be crazy not to mount a serious challenge for this seat in 2008, particularly considering the dramatically higher base Democratic voter turnout in a presidential year. ...

The two names most often mentioned are former City Council Member Gordon Quan and former Party Chair and real estate investor David Mincberg. Both would be strong candidates.

Local politics could get a lot more interesting if Judge Eckels decides to bail.

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