All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.
- Thomas Jefferson
In Williamson County it’s rare that an incumbent running for reelection to a county office is not reelected. There are many reasons for that. The reasons why are not simple and the solution is not easy. It’s always hard to oust an incumbent, it takes a lot of money, as well as a determined organization and effort to get the job done.
Recent events in Williamson County – a man sitting in jail for 25 years for a crime he did not commit – have highlighted the need to replace our elected officials. This post is an attempt to answer the question that is asked often in Williamson County, “How do these people keep getting elected?”
There are two ways to unseat an elected official, in the primary election, or in the general election. In Williamson County the Republicans hold every elected office, and rarely is there any effort to challenge an incumbent in a primary. Most primary fights are for open seats. The last successful ousting of an incumbent was in 2008, for Precinct 1 Constable. It was a down ballot race, by a wealthy challenger, against an incumbent who had lost the backing of some elected officials in his own party.
Williamson County has been a majority GOP county since the mid 1990s, and became a one-party county not long after that. Oher than a near miss of winning the Precinct 1 Commissioners seat in 2008, there’s been little for Democrats to cheer about in county elections for some time. But what this shows is that there will be no accountability until incumbents start getting beat for reelection.
As it stands in Williamson County, once elected to a county office, that person stays in office until they decide to leave, and that’s wrong. The Commissioners Court is dominated by those who cater to businesses and corporations that enter into contracts with the county on construction and infrastructure projects. Since it’s a one-party court there’s little transparency or accountability, and any attempt to shine light on their back-room dealing causes infighting and lawsuits.
When it comes to judicial elections it is hard to recruit candidates against sitting judges or attorneys because of tacit fear of retaliation. Those with legal experience that live and work in Williamson County fear that if they run for office against a sitting judge they will no longer be able to get fair treatment when appearing in front of that judge after challenging them. The way many see it, there’s little to be gained from the months of advertising, having your name on signs throughout the county, if that will be held against you, and your clients, when in court.
There are many hurdles to running for office: time, family, fund raising and work just to name a few. And none of this is meant to discourage anyone from running for office; however it shows why incumbents rarely face electoral challenge. We need well-qualified, hard working, courageous people to run for office; however, that alone won’t get the job done. Along with candidates we must have an active and engaged citizenry that is committed to working to change the way our county is governed.
A couple of things to keep in mind. Politicians never unelect themselves, even the bad ones. And we can’t beat somebody with nobody.
The candidate filing dates have changed for the 2012 election. Candidates (other than precinct chairs) that want to run for office in the Democratic or Republican primaries must file between November 12th and December 12th, 2011.
It’s beginning to look like the political winds are starting to blow in a different direction, even in Williamson County. An innocent man rotting in jail for 25 years for a crime he did not commit, and evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, is a reminder of the need for reform. A District Attorney who delays the release of information and DNA testing that could exonerate that innocent man will do that. A Commissioners Court doing what they can to help out a local judge accused of sexual harassment will do that. So will the defunding of education and the social safety, which GOP elected legislators for for this year. The list, of course, could go on.
Change is hard, and if the last 3 plus years have taught us anything, it should be that change won’t come unless there is sustained engagement and involvement by citizenry with their elected officials.
So, how do these people keep getting elected? How much more are you going to take quietly?