As I was reading this AAS article, Retiring DA engaged community in his job, it seemed like a “no-brainer” that Ronnie Earle should run for the Democratic nomination as Governor of Texas in 2010.
Lawyers and judges call Earle an innovator and say he was the perfect match for Austin, a place where juries have shown little appetite for sentencing low-level offenders to prison.
Terry Keel, a prosecutor under Earle in the 1980s and 1990s who went on to become county sheriff, a state legislator and Texas House parliamentarian, said Earle struck a balance between innovative programs and being tough on crime. Keel said, for example, that Earle was one of the first in Texas to create a special unit for prosecuting child abuse crimes.
“What he’s most known for, and rightfully so, is he was willing to think outside the box,” said Keel, a Republican. “Ronnie sees the role as more of a social worker than as a law enforcer.”
In the past decade and a half, Wilson Andrews, a bailiff in Travis County courts, has volunteered on a variety of Earle initiatives, including community crime prevention committees and at the Travis County state jail, helping reintegrate former offenders into the community. Andrews, 75, said Earle is “straight up.” “In other words, he cares,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Earle, 66, is married to Twila Hugley Earle, with whom he once taught a class on “community building” at the University of Texas. They have three grown children, including Travis County Court-at-Law Judge Elisabeth Earle.
He grew up northeast of Fort Worth on a ranch near Birdville, now called Haltom City. He came to Austin when he was 19 and earned government and law degrees from the University of Texas. At 26, he became Texas’ youngest judge when he was appointed associate judge in Austin’s Municipal Court,
In 1973, Earle won his first of two terms in the Texas House of Representatives, and three years later, he ran for district attorney and defeated then-County Attorney Ned Granger.
Earle recalls that he started out as a tough-on-crime prosecutor but within a few years realized that, standing alone, that approach was flawed. Criminals would go off to prison and return to Austin as better criminals, he said.
“To do the same thing over and over and wait for the same result is insanity,” he said.
In the 1980s, Earle was a leader of the emerging community justice movement, pushing alternative sentencing programs like jail boot camp and making restitution for victims a priority.
With the issues this state has had in recent years with its prisons and reform talk coming from both sides of the aisle the last several years – problems at the TYC, putting innocent people in jail, easing some sex offender requirements, and alternatives to prison – an Earle candidacy would have built-in appeal.
Of course, he’s got tremendous support and credibility with the Democratic base in Texas. He’d be a great counter on the ballot to either Perry or Hutchinson, and will not shrink in the face of their attacks. He’s also well positioned to take advantage of the GOP’s corruption. And he’d make the “wing-nut” heads spin in the Texas GOP. Here’s what the article said about a run for governor:
As he prepares to leave office Thursday, Earle, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2010, is coy about his future plans. “I am going to be doing some life preaching, but it ain’t going to be the gospel,” he said.
It is impossible to know whether Earle would seriously consider running. Democrats would be fortunate to have a candidate with his experience and integrity on the statewide ballot.