D.A. Race: Lehmberg vs. (Almost) Baird
Lehmberg announces re-election bid while Baird explores a run
Duly noting the anniversary of Bastille Day – July 14, 1789, when Parisians stormed the notorious Bastille prison – Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg formally launched her 2012 re-election campaign last Thursday at Threadgill's World Headquarters, declaring herself, like those French revolutionaries, also in support of "freedom, justice, fairness, and equality before the law." To a back room packed wall to wall with local Democrats – seemingly half of them either elected officials or currently running for office – Lehmberg acknowledged a score of big names and sketched out her record and her intentions for another term.
The next day, former state District Judge Charlie Baird confirmed his intention to challenge Lehmberg in the Democratic primary and this week launched an "exploratory committee" for his campaign. Baird told the Chronicle that taking on the incumbent would be a "formidable challenge" and promised a campaign "not about personalities, but about ideas – how that office could change and ... fully address, not only the criminal justice issues, but the human issues of just the individuals that are being processed through the courts."
Lehmberg touted her dedication to public safety, her initiation of new programs in environmental law, deferred prosecution for eligible candidates, and special programs for veterans' courts as well as for the mentally ill. Introduced by predecessor Ronnie Earle, Lehmberg also called attention to the work of the Public Integrity Unit, besieged once again at the 82nd Legislature but surviving intact despite the perennial Republican effort to remove the local office's authority to prosecute malfeasance by state officials. Lehmberg noted that her office had successfully prosecuted both Democrat Kino Flores ("Mr. Ten Percent") and Republican Tom DeLay for corruption, and said the latter conviction had confirmed once again that, as has been true of state law for a century, "Corporate contributions to political campaigns are illegal."
Co-sponsors of the campaign launch were two of Lehmberg's 2008 opponents, Assistant D.A. Gary Cobb and former assistant Mindy Montford – they and Earle topped the list of local Dems gathered at Threadgill's to wish Lehmberg well. A very abbreviated list of the boldface names included Travis County Attorney David Escamilla; former Place 3 City Council Members Randi Shade and Jennifer Kim; judges Elisabeth Earle, Orlinda Naranjo, Brandy Mueller, and Rhonda Hurley; state Rep. Donna Howard; former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos and former state Rep. Glen Maxey; former Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner and former Travis County Attorney Ken Oden; former judge and executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities Scott McCown; constables Bruce Elfant and Maria Canchola ... and many more. Lehmberg's online list of supporters adds state Sen. Kirk Watson and Mayor Lee Leffingwell and a brace of City Council members as well as other officeholders – indeed, the candidate might have saved time and breath by mentioning who was not on her list of big-shot Dem endorsers.
Baird insists he's undaunted by the odds, and on Friday he named himself treasurer of his campaign and told the Chronicle, "Yes," he's running – although this week he stopped short of launching his campaign outright, instead announcing "an exploratory committee to consider a run." Baird's announcement, which appeared online and via email Monday, touted his longtime dedication as a judge of "restorative and rehabilitative justice" and to reducing recidivism. "I believe it is time for new leadership in the District Attorney's office," he said in a press release. "Applying a common-sense approach to criminal justice is something we sorely need in Travis County." Baird went on to say that the D.A'.s Office needs to modernize the case screening system to provide quicker, 24-hour turnaround on nonviolent cases and that he believes citizens are eager for changes. "I'm exploring a run to determine how deep these feelings run and to determine if Democrats in Travis County believe I'm the best person to mount this challenge. I believe I am, and I believe that the citizens of Travis County will agree."
A baker's dozen of Democrats – including Rachel Farris, Eleanor Thompson, Anne McAfee, Marguerite Jones, and Guadalupe Sosa – released a letter Monday supporting Baird's candidacy, saying in part: "Charlie brings the kind of fresh, new leadership that our District Attorney's office needs. The District Attorney's office should be a reflection of the values and standards of the community it serves. We don't have that in Travis County now."
Baird is no slouch as a campaigner and won elections to the Court of Criminal Appeals (where he served from 1991 to 1999) and to a state district judgeship as a liberal in a time when the courts were swinging hard to the right. Judging from Lehmberg's preemptive strike, he'll need all his experience, and plenty of moxie too, to unseat her.