After half of the Texas district attorneys seeking re-election were defeated in primaries last week, a board member of the National District Attorneys Association says, “Incumbency does not have the shield that it once did.” The question is how many of the winners are progressive reformers.
Six of the 12 sitting Texas district attorneys who faced primary challengers lost re-election bids last week, the Texas Tribune reports. Analysts disagree on whether this is a sign of criminal justice reform taking center stage or normal turnover. The 12 incumbents challenged in their primaries were among about 50 district attorney seats up for election this year. Experts said the number of ousters is indicative of a trend that district attorneys, who often would stay in office for decades, are no longer safe. “Incumbency does not have the shield that it once did,” said Josh Marquis, a district attorney in Oregon since 1994 who serves on the board of the National District Attorneys Association. Marquis said part of that weakened shield is because voters nationwide are becoming more informed about the power of their local prosecutors.
On top of that is the relatively new threat of big money pouring into these races to fund more progressive, reform-minded candidates. Liberal billionaire George Soros has set his sights on transforming the American criminal justice system one local prosecutor at a time. His money largely funds candidates running on reformist issues, like reducing mass incarceration by diverting low-level drug offenders into treatment programs and addressing racial inequality. A group tied to Soros gave almost $1 million to defeated Bexar County DA Nico LaHood’s largely unknown opponent in the Democratic primary, Joe Gonzales. Gonzales, who likened LaHood to President Trump, beat LaHood by nearly 20 percentage points. Marc Levin of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation says the recent results show that “voters want a district attorney who will define success by improving public safety and reducing recidivism, which in many cases involving nonviolent offenders means alternatives like a drug court rather than prison.”