In Harris County, Kim Ogg’s more cautious approach to reform wins big while Travis County’s incumbent DA still faces a challenge from the left.
Kim Ogg’s bruising primary fight to remain Harris County District Attorney was one of the most closely watched races in criminal justice reform circles heading into Super Tuesday. Both national reform groups and local progressive organizers in Houston backed a Democratic challenger promising a more transformative vision for change than Ogg, who first ran for office as a criminal justice reformer.
Democratic primary voters in the nation’s third-largest county instead chose Ogg’s more cautious, incremental approach to reform this week. The incumbent DA declared victory Tuesday night by the time early vote totals showed her clearing the four-way primary by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff. With all precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Ogg won 54 percent compared to second-place finisher Audia Jones, who had only 24 percent of votes.
Jones, a former prosecutor under Ogg, launched her campaign last year amid a widening rift between the incumbent DA and the criminal justice reformers who first helped usher her into office. Jones and other progressive critics accused Ogg of abandoning the movement she once championed by resisting landmark bail reforms in Harris County and repeatedly seeking to expand her office during her first term. Ogg, elected in 2016 as part of an earlier wave of reform-minded “progressive prosecutors”, became Harris County’s first Democratic DA in 40 years—before 2018’s blue wave shifted politics in the county’s massive criminal justice system—largely by running on the issue of jail diversion for petty pot possession cases. In an interview last month, Ogg argued that her “balanced approach” to reform not only ensures public safety but will also survive general election attacks from the right (i.e. police unions) that she’s gone soft on crime.
While Ogg won’t face a runoff, incumbent Travis County DA Margaret Moore won’t be so lucky. The same national reform movement to elect progressive prosecutors also backed challenger Jose Garza, a former public defender and labor rights lawyer who has vowed to end low-level drug prosecutions as a way to curb mass incarceration. Early vote returns have Garza ahead of Moore 44 to 41 percent, meaning the two will likely face each other in a runoff. If he prevails, Austin and Houston could follow very different paths for reform in the years to come.
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