Last Thursday, I attended the Downtown Pachyderm meeting at the Spaghetti Warehouse. At the meeting, Judge Dan Hinde rose to painfully promote the upcoming judicial signing party sponsored by the Republican Party. As previously mentioned by David Jennings, the event is scheduled during Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sunset on Wednesday, September 4 and ends at nightfall on Friday, September 6. A quick reading of the Platform of the Republican Party of Texas shows that Texas Republicans believe that “America is a nation under God founded on Judeo-Christian principles.” Moreover, the platform affirms “the constitutional right of all individuals to worship in the religion of their choice.” Unfortunately, Harris County Republicans don’t think that it is important to allow those of the Jewish faith to attend the judicial signing party.
Every other year, the Harris County Republican Party holds a judicial signing party. This event allows incumbent judges to obtain the requisite number of signatures (750) and incumbent challengers are not welcome to attend. Of course, these rules are not finite and can change as party favorites are brought through the process.
Is this activity in the best interest of the party? Do voters blindly sign petitions without asking the candidates difficult questions? For example, are pro-choice judges allowed to participate without a screening procedure?
From past experience, there is a pecking order and that order is determined by one thing – the identity of the judge’s political consultant. The first row is prime real estate and those judges definitely get more signatures than those on the back row. Judges represented by Allen Blakemore will be in the front row and these Judges will obtain more signatures than those in the back. Of course, the event organizer is Jared Woodfill, Harris County Republican Party Chairman and he is a Blakemore client. All other candidates fight for position in the back rows and this is where you find the Jessica Colon and Mary Jane Smith clients. Capturing and obtaining valid signatures is the name of this game.
Each judge usually has a table that is manned by a few supporters – traditionally, court staff or practicing lawyers (not necessarily Republicans). Sometimes, the participants are criminal defense lawyers or prosecutors trying to curry favor or donate their time instead of donating money to the candidate. This can cause an interesting situation for the judge and the signer should trouble arise.
It is always interesting to watch the dynamics at this event and work to figure out why certain people are participating in this process. Democrats participate in this process although the petitions are exclusively for Republican primary voters. And, of course, an event like this just wouldn’t be the same without low information voters like Valoree Swanson and her aunt, Norma Jeter. I say “low information” because they simply do what they are told – kind of like aliens in cartoons. Each consultant has go-to folks who blindly endorse their candidates and these are simply two examples.
I cannot help but wonder how many people attend this event without understanding the event concept; so, I thought that it was vital to bring this material to Big Jolly readers. Do pro-choice candidates slip through year after year because the party allows them to? How many judicial bypasses have been signed by the judges wanting signatures from Republican voters? Many judges and judicial candidates claim that they cannot answer the judicial bypass question because the judicial canons forbid judges or judicial candidates from making promises of conduct. That language does not mean that judges or judicial candidates cannot hold an anti-abortion position. If Terry Lowry is at the event, ask him which judges and judicial candidates to avoid – start with Susan Brown.
There is also a judicial canon, number five, that prohibits judges or judicial candidates from using their name to endorse another candidate for public office. So, is this event prohibited by canon five? Certainly it would prohibit what has become common place – judges and judicial candidates co-sponsoring events.
In years gone by, the gathering of signatures was a way to build party unity, strengthen the party, increase voter turnout, and help judges waive the filing fee. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous downside. The only time that judges participate in party activities is when they need something from the members – signatures, financial support, or endorsements. Very few judges are involved in the party and this process surely does not encourage it.
Instead, the party rents a very expensive galleria hotel and charges the candidates a fee (so the candidates can get signatures in lieu of the filing fee). If we are the party of fiscal stability and common sense, I must say that this is not a logical approach. The candidates should ask their congregations to sign their petitions. Talk to the parents in their child’s class at school. If the Harris County Republican Party is truly interested in outreach, they are not setting a good example by hosting an event for regular party folks at an expensive hotel on a religious holiday. Wouldn’t it save time and money to simply allow the candidates to bring their petitions to a Harris County Republican Party Executive Committee Meeting?
Make no mistake, if Wendy Davis runs against Greg Abbott, the down ballot races will be in real jeopardy. All Republican judges should be out building party unity during elections and this process does not encourage that growth. Those judges rumored to have opponents are out spending money and campaigning at Republican events now. Republican judicial candidates running for open seats are on the campaign trail. Most judges will never be seen outside of the judicial signing event. Naturally, these judges will be the first to jump to the Democratic Party at the first sign of trouble, and trouble is coming.
Jeff Shadwick says
Don, at the event the four tables are identical except that two go from lowest court number to highest, and two go from highest to lowest. They are not organized by which consultant represents the judge. The event is for incumbent Republican judges only so there are no competing petitions. This event is very valuable, as reflected by our willingness to pay for it. The event does not constitute a violation of any canon, just at the the joint campaign does not, but we do not sign each other's petitions which may be a violation.
David G says
I am not offended by the fact that this event is taking place Rosh Hashanah. Even if this means I cannot attend (in the future the HCRP might want to invest in a religious holidays calendar).
What does offend me is the extravagance of this event are the ” complimentary hors d’oeuvres ” and a fancy hotel lobby in the Galleria.
For an event about saving judges money it sure seems like a lot of waste. I imagine the HCRP outreach committee could spend that money in better ways.
Judge Jeff Shadwick says
David, the event is funded by the judges. The hotel is necessary for its size; it is harder than you think to book an appropriate room. The food is our small way of thanking the voters for coming.
Sally Belladonna Baggins Stricklett says
Sorry Jeff, I'm with Don. It is way past time to examine the traditional way and start doing things in a practical, most bang for the buck manner. If you want to continue then don't set the room the same way. And if you are concerned about breaking the image of the elite Republicans who only care about big business as opposed to the Democrats who really care for the working man, don't hold it at the Galleria with heavy or fat or substantial snacks.
Don Hooper says
I appreciate your service and clarification to my table arrangement comment. I am not sure that this has always been the case;-) You do show and help the party and attend functions throughout the year, my comments were not directed at you.
My point is that party participation needs to be more than this activity and what would happen if all the Judges had to gather 750 signatures. I am hopeful it would be a better party building activity and more meaningful in the general election.
Martha Jamison says
Although I don’t agree with your reasoning, I have criticized for years the way we handle judicial petition signing (besides Rosh Hashanah, the Petition Signing Party this year is being held in the middle of the statewide judges’ conference in San Antonio). I have repeatedly complained that the event shouldn’t be held in the Galleria at 5:30 p.m. on a weeknight (traffic alone is bound to depress the voter turn-out), and I am not convinced that a less expensive venue can’t be found. The concept is valuable–remember that judicial candidates have to get petition signatures to even file for office (a higher number of signatures substitutes for a filing fee; however, most candidates pay the filing fee anyway). But, it makes no sense to charge the candidates almost as much as their filing fee in order to participate in this kick-off event.
Do the Sosa Center or Tracy Gee have space and parking for this sort of event? Or is there some restriction which would forbid this sort of activity there?
Don Hooper says
Thank you for your comments and I did not mention the costs of the event because when I heard them I wasn’t sure it was accurate. I also wondered if it was just going to be supporters gathering signatures knowing the judicial conference was going on at the same time in San Antonio. Your comments are appreciated and without a doubt you are the best singer we have on the bench;-)
Do they not know that King Street Patriots rents its space for $150? You can even park near the door.
Furthermore, with that kind of savings, they could bring in food.