Every two years, people get worked up over the way we elect judges in Texas. This year is no exception, with Sen. Dan Patrick prefiling a bill that would eliminate straight ticket voting because it supposedly harms “good” judges. He’s not the only one – Mike Tolson has a quote in the Houston Chronicle from former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, who doesn’t like straight ticket voting:
“In a close county like Harris County is now, being an incumbent doesn’t help you,” Brister said. “The odds are 50-50. You leave your practice and will be making less money, and you have to be constantly worried whether you will keep the job. If you lose after one term, all your clients are gone to somewhere else and you have to build your practice all over again. That makes it real difficult to convince someone to run.”
Methinks Mr. Brister needs to look again at the results – incumbents won across the board in Harris County. Plus he apparently thinks that once elected, you should be there forever, seeing as how you’ve “given up” your client base and all. Ridiculous.
Look, if you want to reform the way judges are elected, there is a very simple way to do it. Move their elections from November to May and make them non-partisan, just like municipal races. And in counties as large as Harris, divide them up into the County Commissioner precincts. It ain’t rocket science.
But it will never happen because political parties rake in most of their cash from the judicial candidates. And I suspect that straight ticket voting for judges will survive for the same reason. After all, if you aren’t asking voters to vote straight ticket Republican judges, there is no need for a joint judicial campaign, thus no need to force the candidates to pony up their life savings to fund it.
Separating judges from straight ticket voting in November elections will not decrease the odds of getting a “bad” judge or three, it would actually give more influence to special interest groups and candidates with deep pockets. Bad idea.