What If They Gave a Primary...

In past years after the filing deadlines for the March primary, the Harris County Democratic Party celebrated the planting of their spring crop of candidates with festivities at a Mexican restaurant. But in this year of famine, the seedlings were so few that the party faithful had almost nothing to cheer about.

Only one forlorn Democrat, Grant Hardeway Sr., filed for a district judgeship. He will face First Assistant District Attorney Don Stricklin for the 337th bench come next fall.

The only other prospective judicial candidate, Eileen O'Neill, decided not to run for the 164th District seat after Governor George Bush appointed former Democrat and O'Neill pal Martha Hill Jamison to the vacant seat. A free pass from the guv just might be the only way a Democrat could win a judgeship these days in Harris County.

The party's plans to field a strong slate of countywide officials in lieu of judges failed to materialize. Attorney Stephen Hale's candidacy for district attorney ended before it began, when Dem Party Chair Sue Schechter bounced him from the ballot. Hale's law license was revoked after he was convicted of delivering less than five pounds of marijuana in October 1998 in Denton County. Under state law, a district attorney must be a lawyer in good standing with the state bar. Hale's departure leaves tax assessor-collector candidate John T. Webb as the Democrats' only challenger for a countywide nonjudicial post.

The only surprises in the filing came on the Republican side in the D.A. contest. Visiting Judge Pat Lykos and former controller/road rager Lloyd Kelley jumped in on the last day. Lykos immediately snapped up an endorsement from ousted Houston Sports Authority head Jack Rains. No word on whether Rambo will back Kelley.

The dearth of Democratic candidates presages a grim 2000 for the city's corps of political consultants. Nancy Sims, president of Quantum Consultants, is downsizing her operation and moving to a home office this spring, for personal as well as economic reasons. She expects her Republican colleagues to suffer financially as well from the lack of competition on the ballot.

"Democracy is good business," says the consultant, "and when there are no candidates on the Democratic side and people are running unopposed, they have no need to spend money on television or campaigning. There may be some primary business, but beyond that, it's pretty bleak for everybody."

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