The Week in Politics: Tracing a Prosecutor's Downfall, Corruption in the East and More

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | September 30, 2016

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Houston Prosecutor Struggling to Earn Supporters on Either Side

Issues surrounding policing and race remain front and center concerns on the national political scene. For at least one local prosecutor, they're one of the issues hurting her chances for re-election.

Devon Anderson, the Republican district attorney of Harris County, Texas, faces a tough battle in November against Democrat Kim Ogg. Anderson has been criticized from the left for blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for the murder of a sheriff's deputy.

"She has earned the ire of Democrats for things like backing the sheriff on the Blue Lives Matter issue," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. "Harris County has been besieged by claims of racial bias and overaggressive prosecution."

But Anderson has also alienated potential supporters on the right, particularly those that are against abortion.

Last year, anti-abortion activists ran an undercover sting operation attempting to show that Planned Parenthood allegedly trafficked fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood was eventually cleared of all charges, but Anderson's office brought charges against the anti-abortion activists for falsifying government documents. Though the charges were ultimately dropped, their impact may still be felt on Election Day.

"There are a lot of Republicans who are vehemently against her because of that prosecution," said Rottinghaus. "The most hardcore fervent Republicans won't support her."

Anderson has also been criticized for locking up a mentally ill rape survivor in jail for nearly a month to get her to testify.

One of her most recent controversies reveals that thousands of pieces of evidence were mistakenly destroyed at one precinct. As a result, more than 100 felony cases have been dropped and a thousand other cases are being reviewed. Anderson's office learned about the issue in April and immediately launched an investigation, but she didn't share information about it with defense attorneys or the public until last month.

"There's no question that voters are annoyed about the criminals going free," said Robert Stein, a pollster at Rice University.

Despite all this, a poll released last week showed Anderson with a slight advantage over Ogg, leading her opponent 30 percent to 29 percent.

Anderson was appointed to the office in 2013 by then-Gov. Rick Perry to succeed her late husband Mike. She beat Ogg in the 2014 election, but the electorate is going to look a lot different in November.

Turnout will be much higher, with more Democrats expected to participate. According to Stein, 117,000 voters with Hispanic surnames have been added to the county's rolls since 2012. In addition, the same poll that showed Anderson with a narrow lead put Hillary Clinton 10 points ahead of Donald Trump in Harris County, which has been the nation's most competitive large county in recent presidential elections.

"Anderson does not have a good ear for a changing demography," said Stein. "She is probably not likely to be re-elected."

The Week in Corruption

It's been a tough week for politicians in the eastern half of the country.

Let's begin with "Bridgegate."

David Wildstein, who was appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, testified this week in the trial of two former Christie aides. Christie has always denied knowing about the scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge as political payback. But Wildstein said  that Christie not only knew about the plot, he laughed about it.

In New York last week, two former aides of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo were accused by federal prosecutors of soliciting and accepting bribes. At the funeral of his father last year, Cuomo described one of the men, Joe Percoco, as "my father's third son, who I sometimes think he loved the most." Cuomo described the situation as a "disappointment" but denied any knowledge. Prosecutors did not suggest the governor played a role in the conspiracy.

In North Carolina, GOP state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell was indicted Tuesday on 14 federal charges of fraud and money laundering related to his personal use of campaign funds for items like tickets to the musical "Jersey Boys" and his granddaughter's birthday party. He pleaded not guilty to all charges on Thursday.

In Kentucky, political consultant Larry O'Bryan pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a state corruption probe. O'Bryan became the second person to plead guilty to charges stemming from a kickback scheme in which state contracts were steered toward a consulting firm, with some of the money going toward Democratic campaigns.

The first person to plead guilty was Timothy Longmeyer, who served as personnel cabinet secretary under former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and briefly as deputy attorney general this year under Beshear's son, Andy.

The Beshears have denied any knowledge of the kickback scheme. GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, however, has hired a private law firm to investigate his predecessor's administration.

Fresh Fuel for Kentucky Feud

Bevin and Andy Beshear have feuded since the two men were elected last year. Attorney General Beshear has sued the governor three times, alleging Bevin had overstepped his bounds.

On Wednesday, a judge sided with Beshear, saying Bevin had been wrong in dissolving the University of Louisville's board of trustees. That came less than a week after the state Supreme Court ruled in Beshear's favor in another case, finding that Bevin lacked the authority to unilaterally cut funding for higher education.

On Tuesday, Bevin sent Beshear a text message reading, "I would strongly suggest that you get your house in order. Your office is becoming an increasing embarrassment to the Commonwealth."

In the text, the governor sent Beshear a link to a news story about a case in which an investigator from the attorney general's office was accused of making false statements.

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