One Step Over the Line

Watching the Texas gubernatorial primaries unfold this season is like playing Twister.

Watching the Texas gubernatorial primaries unfold this season is like playing Twister. Texans have their feet on the red and blue circles, but when the wheel turns to purple next year, most won’t be able to stand upright with their dignity intact. The latest candidate to enter the contest is Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor infamous for chasing House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay out of office. Earle has filed a one-page form with the Texas Ethics Commission designating himself as his campaign treasurer for an unspecified statewide office. After nearly 40 years in elective office, Earle has many campaign finance reports on file, begging to be reviewed for just who contributed while he was seeking media attention prosecuting high-profile Republicans. Surely DeLay’s team will come out of retirement just to ensure the reports are analyzed. Earle retired from the Travis County District Attorney’s office early this year without a conviction of either Tom DeLay or Kay Bailey Hutchinson. In 2005, Earle filed charges against DeLay for conspiring to violate Texas’ election law and money laundering. Most charges were thrown out in the summer of 2007, while some issues are still awaiting trial. Earle's opponents in the Democratic primary will likely include Railroad Commissioner Mark Thompson and Ambassador Tom Schieffer, who 37 years ago served in the same Texas House freshman class as Earle. Humorist Kinky Friedman has announced his intent to run, too, hoping to echo the electoral success of fellow comedian Al Franken. On the Republican side, incumbent Gov. Rick Perry—known affectionately to conservative women as Gov. Good Hair—is seeking re-election. Kay Bailey Hutchison, at a political disadvantage the longer she stays in one the U.S. Senate's 40 minority seats, has talked of coming home to challenge Perry. If matched up against Hutchinson in the general election, Earle would be at a significant disadvantage. He filed charges against Hutchinson, then state treasurer, in 1993, only to be humiliated by his own ineffective handling of evidence. When Earle attempted to drop the charges on the first day in court, the judge forced the jury to return a “not guilty” verdict, making Earle look like a fool. Earle is equally foolish to allow himself to be “wooed”—as much as any declared candidate can be—by an unsophisticated “Texas Needs You, Ronnie Earle” website and a similarly themed Facebook fan page. Leaning on his Netroots friends may give Earle the political cover to enter the race, but it won’t keep his candidacy from being twisted into knots during a full examination of his prosecutorial record and previous contributions to his campaign coffers. Dr. Dora Kingsley is founder of Trenton West, a national policy and opposition research firm based in California and Washington, D.C. As an adjunct professor with the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development, Dr. Kingsley has taught graduate coursework for fifteen years and is a lifetime fellow of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Public Administration. To contact Dr. Kingsley, click here.

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