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The final book by the legendary and inimitable AN IMPASSIONED AND SEARING DEFENSE OF OUR RIGHT TO THE FIRST AMENDMENTreplete with Molly Ivins’s trademark biting humorBill of Wrongs is a testament to her life’s work. ground would be. The GOP retained control in Harris County two years ago, but the margin was already shrinking. Democrats won 48.5 percent of the countywide vote in 2006, an increase from previous years. “They were competitive, but they all lost,” says Richard Murray, political scientist at the University of Houston. For Gerry Birnberg, the improved 2006 showing was an important first step. A lawyer by trade, he’s been involved in county politics since the early 1970s. Back then, Houston was so thoroughly Democratic that some political operatives didn’t even want to admit to working for Republicans. The first case Birnberg argued before the U.S. Supreme Court involved printers who feared that if they put their names on Republican political mailersas state disclosure laws requiredtheir careers would be finished. Republicans chipped away over the years, and in 1994 they swept every county office. “We haven’t recovered from that blow:’ says Birnberg, who lost that year himself, coming up short in a bid for the local court of appeals. But for Birnberg, the absolute low point for Democrats in Harris County may have been 2003, the year he became county party chair and the DeLay redistricting plan kicked half a dozen Democratic congressmen out of office. The party was “just getting overwhelmed by the Republicans:’ Birnberg says. Democratic percentages in Harris County have been creeping back up since 2002, but it’s been slow going. \(In 2006, the party fielded only 10 candidates in the county’s roughly four bided their time, and after the 2006 election, they saw their opportunity. Historically, Harris County Democrats perform one percentage point better in presidential election years. Added to the 48.5 percent Democrats garnered in 2006, that one percent could put the Dems within spitting distance. In November 2006, just weeks after the Dallas success, Birnberg and other party leaders, including Democratic strategist Matt Angle, began organizing the 2008 effort. The Harris County campaign was split into two tiers. Birnberg and the county party would recruit candidates, register voters, and run get-out-the-vote efforts. This tier is run by Bill Kelly, a political consultant who directed successful state House races in Houston for Hubert Vo in 2004 and Ellen Cohen in 2006. Simultaneously, Angle and a group of major campaign donors, including Houston trial lawyer Dave Matthiesen, would organize the Harris County Project, which, with help from the state party, would raise money for a major ad campaign targeting specific voters through mail and television advertisements. As the national political environment continued to turn against Republicans, Birnberg all of a sudden had no trouble finding potential candidates. “We didn’t have to do much recruiting,” he says. Too many people wanted to run. Birnberg formed a committee of 40 local leaders to vet more than 70 potential judicial candidates. Birnberg is adamant that no one was told they couldn’t run, though several were encouraged to 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 17, 2008