Turkeys (and Other Creatures) On the Ballot

Quick! It's almost Election Day!! Do you know who your candidates are? Check this guide to the mother of all ballots!

As Mantooth herself wrote in her Link Letter cover essay in May: "A famous person once said 'the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.' A more modern day version might be, 'The price of good government is taking the time to educate yourself and vote.'"

And to that we say, "Amen."

Politically Radioactive Turkey
Like Jon and Toni Lindsay, other dedicated political couples are keeping it in the family this year. Jim Barr, the Republican incumbent who occupies the bench in the 337th District Criminal Court, isn't up for re-election, but his wife, Jeanine Barr, is running for the 182nd District Criminal Court seat. But for fun political couples no pairing can top Judge Sharolyn Wood of the 127th Civil District Court and Judge Mike Wood of County Probate Court No. 2, also known as "Mama Bear" and "Baby Bear" around the county courthouse. Mama Bear isn't on the ballot this year, but her spouse is pawing for votes for the first time in a general election.

Mike Wood has the distinction of being, without doubt, the most "political" judge in Harris County. The Svengali behind the rise of Betsy Lake as Republican county chairman, for years Wood had a highly lucrative gig as the court-appointed attorney of choice for a number of Republican jurists. He was named to his judicial post by the Republican majority on the Commissioners Court, although he had no previous probate experience. His ascension to the bench has only whetted his appetite for politics, it seems. Wood has spearheaded the GOP's "joint campaign" of judicial candidates, but early on he ticked off some his colleagues by omitting them from an invitation list for an organizing meeting he had booked at the Commissioners Court conference room. The session later had to be moved because the government space proved inappropriate for partisan activities. Wood also attempted to get friends in the Bar Association to squelch a move to put his Democratic challenger, Martha Failing, on the group's probate committee board. He was not successful.

A Turkey Called "Tex"
Thumping his Bible would actually be an improvement for H.J. "Tex" Lezar, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, who's running perhaps the most substance-free campaign for a statewide office in recent memory. And that's an accomplishment.

But what would you do if you were challenging against popular Democrat Bob Bullock, who has drawn the backing of wealthy Republicans around the state (such as Enron's Ken Lay) and the tacit support of eight Republican state senators? Tex -- whose Christian name is actually the more prosaic Harold -- has chosen to run against a more unpopular foe, President Clinton. Early in his campaign Lezar aired radio ads slamming Clinton that didn't even mention Bullock by name -- ads Lezar dubbed the "Whitewater News." More recently, his TV commercials have portrayed Bullock as Clinton's right-hand man in Texas, although we can't remember the lieutenant governor being that closely associated with the president. Lezar, whose claim to fame is his tenure as a speechwriter for the Nixon White House during its glory days from 1971-74, unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for attorney general in 1990. Back then, his Republican opponent, state Senator J.E. "Buster" Brown, opined that Lezar will "learn that you don't panic and take bizarre positions to get name recognition because you're going to be labeled with those positions and stuck with them." Maybe he overestimated Lezar's learning curve.

Lezar has at least one prominent backer, Kenneth Starr, the second Whitewater independent counsel, who gave him $1,000 and, presumably, did not contribute to the "Whitewater News."

A Gobbler Named Garry
A little lower on the statewide ballot is Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, soiled by allegations of personal use of his office on behalf of Clinton's presidential campaign and questionable business dealings that helped contribute to his personal bankruptcy. Mauro couldn't snag an expected appointment in the Clinton Administration in 1993, alongside the likes of now-departed Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy or Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, under investigation for those "support" payments to ex-girlfriend Linda Medlar. If Mauro doesn't rate a Clinton appointment, does he really rate another one by Texas voters? Republican challenger Marta Greytok, a former Public Utilities Commission member with an anti-consumer record, has her drawbacks, but how much damage can you do as land commissioner, anyway?

Turkeys at the Tee
Some candidates on this year's ballot can't distinguish business from pleasure. Take (please!) County Criminal Court No. 14's Jim Barkley, who may be a judge in fact but seems to be a shopkeeper and inveterate linkster at heart. Barkley made waves two years ago when he opened a golf accessories shop in his chambers at the county civil courts building. "I'm a golfer, and it gives me the air of being in a pro shop," he was quoted as saying at the time.

Although his business was quickly closed down, Barkley has shown a real penchant for better living through campaign fund spending. Not only did he stimulate the family business, Jubilant Cargo, with more than $5,000 in purchases last year from his campaign account, but he's also paid thousand of dollars of dues at Willowisp Country Club since 1991 with campaign money. Just takin' care of courtroom business, we guess.

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