Kim Ogg debates primary challenger Sean Teare
(Courtesy ACLU of Texas)

In the Ogg House: Harris County DA Ousted in Primary 

Challenger Sean Teare handily took out the embattled two-term incumbent Kim Ogg.


Back in 2016, Kim Ogg became the first Democratic district attorney in Harris County in nearly four decades—and was celebrated as a champion of progressive reform. But it didn’t take her long to become an embattled figure among reformers and party faithful alike. Today, voters ousted Ogg, overwhelmingly backing her primary opponent, political newcomer Sean Teare. He took home about 78 percent of early votes, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office.

His successful campaign largely took aim at Ogg’s broken promises. 

Ogg, who took office in January 2017, would have been the longest-serving DA in Harris County in nearly 25 years had she been elected for a third term. But political sparring, party in-fighting, and workplace culture issues turned the tide against the 64-year-old native Houstonian. 

Teare, 44, worked under Ogg in the DA’s office for six years as the division supervisor of the office’s Vehicular Crimes Division before he resigned in February. He had previously done a stint in the office after getting his law license in 2007. But it was under Ogg where he said he experienced what he called “all time low” morale and a “toxic” work environment.

Teare secured endorsements from the Houston Chronicle—which had backed Ogg in her 2020 reelection—as well as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, former Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. 

Her loss didn’t come as a huge surprise. A report from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs released last month showed Ogg’s approval ratings at a low point. Of potential voters surveyed, 61 percent said they viewed Ogg unfavorably, and 42 percent said they would “never” vote for Ogg, compared to only 4 percent who said the same of Teare. 

In December, the Harris County Democratic Party voted by a large margin to admonish Ogg. Democratic Precinct Chair Daniel Cohen told Houston Public Media that Ogg “has weaponized her office using a prosecutorial double standard, that she’s not aligned with Democratic values, and that, as an emerging premise to all of this, she’s actually put her finger on the scale in both rhetoric and direct endorsement of Republicans.” 

During Ogg’s tenure, the Harris County Courts have been hamstrung by Hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which caused unprecedented backlogs in criminal courts. But Teare and the DA’s critics have said Ogg’s own policies have compounded the problems. 

After taking office and promptly cleaning house in 2017—firing nearly 40 veteran prosecutors—she set out to make the changes promised during her progressive campaign.

She spearheaded multiple diversion programs for low-level drug crimes and mental health-related incidents, all with the aim of keeping people out of Harris County’s notorious pre-trial lockups. Ogg also vowed to reduce the use of cash bail for nonviolent crimes. Her early stance, and a federal court battle related to the practice, drew outrage from conservatives, police, and bail bonds businesses. But, during her first term, she began to waffle, saying the low or nonexistent bail requirements—which are normally used to ensure people show up for future court dates—led to a “disturbingly high rate” of no-shows after release, with no consequences. 

She made another early call that Teare harshly criticized during his campaign: to overhaul the criminal intake process in Harris County. She installed a permanent staff to replace a rotation of lawyers who worked overtime to talk with local law enforcement to determine whether there was enough to support a case before bringing someone in. 

An investigation by the Houston Chronicle found that this new system led to a staggering number of cases that didn’t meet the basic standard of probable cause. In 2022, 4,500 of Ogg’s cases were thrown out or lost because they lacked probable cause. While the cases were pending, defendants often sat in jail for months before judges realized they had no basis for keeping them there. 

“The intake system, the way that police interact with the DA’s office on the streets has been dismantled since 2017,” Teare told Houston Public Media. “That’s going to take a heavy lift to fix.” 

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Critics argue that this process is unnecessarily crowding jails and bogging down the court system. Ogg has unsuccessfully requested huge budget hikes to support hiring more prosecutors, as the Harris County DA’s office has comparatively few staffers among other large cities. In 2019, an outside consulting group analyzed the DA Office workloads at the behest of the Harris County Commissioners Court and dubbed the caseloads for the prosecutors “unsustainable”. 

Teare’s campaign highlighted this internal issue within the office, saying that under Ogg, Harris County “hemorrhaged good prosecutors.” The office’s turnover rate nearly doubled between 2018 and 2022, according to the Texas Tribune

The DA also drew criticism for her investigations into fellow Democrats Lina Hidalgo and Rodney Ellis for the handling of COVID-19 related contracts and the use of government warehouse storage, respectively. While neither elected official was indicted, three of Hidalgo’s former aides were indicted for allegedly steering a contract award to a particular private vendor. 

Ogg also drew fire for her decision to hire Rachel Hooper, general counsel for the state Republican Party, to investigate the case against Hidalgo’s former staffers.

“There’s no excuse for Ogg appointing Hooper, a highly partisan Republican to probe Hidalgo, a liberal lightning rod,” wrote the Houston Chronicle editorial board in its endorsement of Teare. “Ogg, a savvy politician, should have known bad optics don’t inspire trust.”

This primary race was highly contested, with Teare coming out of the gate with strong financial support. Ogg’s funding caught up in the latter half of 2023 and early this year, with the decisive support of local bail bonds businesses. 

As the Chronicle’s editorial board put it, there wasn’t a great deal of “ideological daylight” between the candidates. In a questionnaire provided by ACLU Texas, they largely agreed on most points. Both said Harris County should reduce incarceration rates, both said they would support marijuana legalization. But Ogg notably said she didn’t agree that the district attorney “has a responsibility to help decrease current jail overcrowding and the associated transfer of people to other states”. 

The battleground race instead saw the two candidates and former colleague hitting at each other’s records and affiliations. Teare said Ogg had been too political as DA, and her leadership had caused the office to falter. Ogg accused Teare of legal conflicts of interest, as one of the attorneys at his law firm is representing one of Hidalgo’s former aides in their legal troubles. Teare has said he has been completely “walled off” from the case, which meets ethical standards for such conflicts. He also said he’ll recuse himself from prosecuting the case as DA.

Ogg, who enjoyed widespread support of local police, criticized Teare for accepting nearly $700,000 from George Soros’ Texas Justice and Public Safety PAC in the month leading up to early voting. In her condemnation, she quoted Houston Police Officers Union President Douglas Griffith as saying, “Teare claimed to be a friend to police, but sadly appears to side with George Soros. Other big-city DAs funded by Soros have been a disaster for the communities they represent.” 

In 2016, Ogg accepted a $500,000 ad contribution from Soros. 

A spokesperson for Teare told the Chronicle in response to her call-out, “She aligns herself with GOP rhetoric, funding, and endorsements”.