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Lloyd Who? Harris County Dems Pick Perennial Goofball in DA Primary

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The term “perennial candidate” is never flattering. But this primary season, Texas Democrats picked at least three of them to continue toward election day: Grady Yarbrough, who made it to a run-off with former state lawmaker Paul Sadler for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate; Kesha Rogers of Fort Bend, who was soundly defeated by Pete Olson in Congressional District 22 last year and is now famous-ish for publicly calling for Obama’s impeachment; and Lloyd Oliver, who barely beat the actually-qualified Zack Fertitta in Tuesday night’s Democratic primary for Harris County District Attorney.

Fertitta was the favorite in that race. Like, a lot. Earlier this month, Neil Aquino, a liberal blogger for the Houston Chronicle, described it as an “easy race to call.” He wrote, “Lloyd Oliver has run for office a number of times before in Harris County as a Republican. He has also voted in Republican primaries. Zack Fertitta is the only credible candidate on the Democratic ballot for DA.”

Fertitta is well-liked and respected by Democrats and Republicans. He’s been an Assistant DA in Harris County since 2003. He was endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Houston Black American Democrats, and the Houston Tejano Democrats. He was an Eagle Scout.

But he lost to Lloyd Oliver, a defense attorney who says he runs regularly because it’s “good for business.” Earlier this year, Oliver was named “Not Qualified” to be DA by a whopping 88 percent of respondents to the annual Houston Bar Association poll.

The Chronicle has a hilarious/depressing profile of Oliver here, with theories about why Oliver won, including his own (“dumb luck”) and that maybe voters mistakenly thought he was black. Highlight: when asked what’s next, Oliver said, “I’m hoping to get a phone call from some Democratic SuperPAC that will send me a lot of money. If so, I’m going to get me a John Edwards $300 haircut. That’s the first thing I’m going to do.”

Did I mention that he won?

But the bottom line is, Oliver will not (unless that luck stays super-dumb) pose much of a challenge to Mike Anderson, who trounced the incumbent Republican DA, Pat Lykos, 63 to 37 percent.

We profiled Lykos’s troubled term here, in which she was investigated by two grand juries but never indicted—investigations she says were politically motivated. Prosecutors and police say they oppose her for two controversial reforms: her “trace” policy, which says you can’t use drugs as evidence if there isn’t enough of them to be tested twice, and her DIVERT program, which put some convicted of DWI through treatment and probation. She and supporters say those policies freed resources and jail space for more dangerous criminals, and that she’s unpopular because she broke up a “frat house” atmosphere at HPD and a “good old boy” network among prosecutors.

But Lykos—and her reforms, for better or worse—are history. Mike Anderson, who spent 17 years as a prosecutor and 12 years as a district court judge, will replace her on the ballot and likely in the role of DA. Anderson has the support of prosecutors, the Houston Police Officers Union, and Johnny Holmes Jr., the longtime DA who preceded the disastrous Chuck Rosenthal, whom Lykos replaced. Holmes was the poster boy for hard-nosed Texas justice, sending thousands to prison and 200 to death row during his 21-year tenure. Anderson is nostalgic for those days.

“There are some things from the good, old days that are very, very important—honor, integrity, ethics,” Anderson told the Chronicle. “I mean all those things should just flow like a heart beat at that office.”

Oliver, who has served in Anderson’s court, is less misty-eyed about his by-the-book, law-and-order opponent for November. Anderson is a “tyrant,” Oliver said. “He’d make a good prison guard.”

Emily DePrang joined The Texas Observer in 2011 as a staff writer covering criminal justice and public health. Before that, she was nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. Before that, she was a waitress. She's also appeared in The Atlantic, Salon.com, and VICE. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and has won some things, including the Public Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists (2012), the National Health Journalism Fellowship from USC Annenberg (2013), and a nomination for a National Magazine Award in Reporting (2014). She still sometimes thinks about waitressing.