Election 2020

How Police Reform Is Playing A Role In The Harris County DA’s Race

Democratic District Attorney Kim Ogg is squaring off against Republican Mary Nan Huffman in her bid for reelection

In the aftermath of the choking death of George Floyd, one of the major demands of demonstrators was and is for police reform. That's an issue that's more in the hands of Houston's mayor and city council than Harris County's District Attorney.

But as early voting begins Tuesday, it's unquestionably playing a role in Democrat Kim Ogg's bid for a second term as DA.

"I think that police reform is now the big ticket," said Howard Henderson, director of Texas Southern University's Center for Justice Research. "If you look in Harris County, you have Kim Ogg, who is taking a position that though she is focused on criminal justice reform, she's also focused on maintaining public safety, which is a unique position to take."

 

Ogg's Republican opponent in the general election is Mary Nan Huffman, a former Montgomery County prosecutor and attorney for the Houston Police Officers' Union.

Douglas Griffith, the union's vice president, said Huffman has the union's endorsement, saying Huffman does more for victims of crime.

The union is disappointed with Ogg, alleging that the DA’s office isn’t doing enough to keep violent offenders off the streets.

"We just believe that she should be fighting harder to keep these guys locked up,” Griffith said. “Bail reform, she was all for bail reform, which she agreed for misdemeanor cases. We didn't realize that this was going to spread to felony cases."

Ogg, who was initially in favor of bail reform, ultimately came out against the county’s settlement of the bail reform lawsuit, saying it did not do enough to protect the victims of crime. That stance, among others, led to her being challenged from the left in the 2020 Democratic primary.

The police union's endorsement could help Huffman with more conservative voters.

But Howard Henderson said it's not clear whether it will help with Harris County as a whole.

"It's upon (the union) to make their case," Henderson said, "because the assumption in many cases is that when you talk about law and order, you cannot at the same time talk about racial equity. And I think that is where, if you look at Kim Ogg's position, she said, ‘Hey, you could do both at the same time.'"

Henderson adds that the police union is not without its own problems.

“Right now, the union has its own set of issues in terms of taking national criticism for their role in supporting police misconduct," he said.

Ogg is trying to steer a middle course in part because she's concerned about her left flank. The Houston GLBT Caucus endorsed one of Ogg's rivals in the Democratic primary, former prosecutor Audia Jones, despite the fact that Ogg is the first openly LGBT person to hold the DA's office.

Bottom line: the caucus didn't think Ogg was progressive enough compared to Jones.

"The two sticking points were bail reform and marijuana criminalization. Those were the two kind of biggest issues that came up for our membership repeatedly," said Austin Davis Ruiz, chief spokesman for the caucus.

Fast forward to August, and the Caucus has endorsed Ogg over her Republican opponent for the general election, because they felt she'd moved more in their direction on marijuana decriminalization.

One factor that could weigh against Ogg: There's no straight ticket voting this year. That means voters have to navigate their way to near the bottom of one of the longest ballots in the state just to weigh in on the DA's race.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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