Why Is Heath Harris as Democratic Party Chair a Bad Idea Again?

Craig Watkins

Steve Blow weighs in today echoing the conventional wisdom that DA Craig Watkins is obviously trying to extend his political power by pushing colleagues into positions of local importance, in this case convincing First Assistant DA Heath Harris to run for Dallas County party chair, Democrat version. I have several problems with this theory. Well, not with the theory, which is sound: Watkins wants people favorable to him in positions of political power. My insider analysis of this: aduh. We ask our judges and district attorney be political animals by the act of making them elected. Don’t be surprised when they act as such. He’d be an idiot to act any other way.

The complaint about how he’s doing this, best as I can tell, centers on the fact he’s so naked in his approach. I’ve detailed my problems with Watkins, but the fact that he’s terrible at concealing his desire for power is a good thing. Evil people hide this. Cocky people say, yeah, so what? I’m okay with cocky. I have no problem with this.

I do have a problem with the suddenly full-throated defenses being mounted on behalf of Darlene Ewing, the current party chair. When Watkins ran in 2010, all I heard from local Democrats was how Ewing couldn’t control all the upstart Dems who rode the blue wave to office in 2008. (I did not hear this from Watkins’ staff; they ignored the local orgs.) In my few dealings with Ewing, she seemed capable and kind. But does that mean she shouldn’t have to deal with a challenger favorable to Watkins? Of course not.

Also annoying is the idea that Harris — maybe the only grown-up in the D.A.’s inner circle — is Watkins’ puppet. Based on what? The fact he’s loyal to his boss, a man he admires? That’s silly.

I have no idea if Harris would be a good party chair. A legitimate complaint is that his current job may be so demanding that he can’t devote the time needed to the party chair gig. (My feeling: that’s not a problem.) I do think Harris’ being dismissed because of his professional relationship with Watkins is absurd.

16 comments on “Why Is Heath Harris as Democratic Party Chair a Bad Idea Again?

  1. Eric–It is a bad idea for any civil service employee to take on such a political role. Harris, unlike Watkins, was not elected by voters. He was hired by Watkins and receives nearly $130k from the taxpayers to perform a civil service. It is difficult to see how he possibly could perform his day job without dealing with political issues that will arise during the day such as fundraising, taking press calls, talking to candidates, etc.

  2. So, essentially you’re upset that all this group is getting cocky and will loose. Think there are a lot of us that are excited about this cockiness. Get it amped up! Show us those moves.

    Only furtive thing here is you. It’s his inability to be clever sneak that irritated you enough to write your post.

  3. As I recall, Heath Harris ran at least twice for Judge in Dallas County; at least once as I recall, prior to Darlene’s ascension to County Chair after the Susan Hays’ debacle. Today’s incumbent County Chair–then unknown to me–defeated Walter Hofheinz and Bruce Rothstein to fill the remainder of the term of Chair. Both Bruce and Walter had run for offices prior to the date…and were known to many Democrats. Having volunteered myself in many campaigns since 1998 (Victor Morales, Regina Montoya Coggins, Pauline Dixon, Ron Chapman, among others), by then I knew many other Dems–whether elected or not. But, in July, 2005, I had NEVER even met or heard of Darlene Ewing. I didn’t even know that she was a precinct chair! I couldn’t imagine then that someone who had never run for office (to my knowledge) and who was in such clear precarious health would ever be elected to fill that vacancy…but the force of east Dallas prevailed! Elected again in the 2006 Primary, she was in office when Democrats swept the County in November that year. Now, there are those who mistakenly assume that we turned the county solely due to Darlene’s presence then. But DEMOGRAPHICS are what turned the county BLUE…that, and hard work by Dem candidates from one end of the county to the other…Arrogant, self-satisfied Rethugs defeated themselves, too…along with hard-working precinct chairs. Darlene has served us well…she’s even met the President..but her health condition ALONE demands that she focus on that —and perhaps her law practice! In fact, months ago that was her intention. This notion that a Democratic Dallas County can’t continue without Darlene Ewing is as specious as pushing Paul Tran onto the SDEC in 2012–when all he wanted to be was a national delegate!
    So, let’s go, Heath! You da man!

  4. Having Harris talk for hour about why he should be County Chair and what’s wrong with the party, I was left feeling “meh”. He seems to be an armchair quarterback who doesn’t support Ewing because she’s not black or she doesn’t have enough black friends. He has some pretty naive notions on how elections function, and not much of an idea of how the county party structure works.

    It’s a democratic process that will all sort out, but I hope he’s not just running because he’s eying the patronage opportunity of controlling the budget for the county party. He seems like a guy who is going to sweep all the familiar faces out and bring in new people who haven’t had much success in politics up until now. The money will dry up for the DCDP and flow to a PAC that runs adjacent to the county party, much like the Texas Trust did for years in relation to the state party.

  5. I’m not going to saying Ewing is super awesome but Harris seems like weak tea in comparison. I sat through an hour-long spiel about what could be better and his aspirational generalities on what he’d do differently. I came away thinking he’s an armchair quarterback that doesn’t really know much about how elections come together or the difference between paid employees and volunteers. I hope John Tackaberry is right that demographics are what is carrying the day for Democrats, because Harris as chair isn’t going to light a fire under voters or precinct chairs.

  6. Harris seems like a nice guy, but he’s not much of a political thinker nor has he given the impression that he knows how to deal a primarily volunteer workforce. He’s on the ballot. He’ll have his shot. If he wins though, he’s not going to be an upgrade.

  7. Funny, Jonathan, how much were those law firms paying you when you were dealing with political issues that will arise during the day such as fundraising, taking press calls, talking to candidates, etc.? Better yet, how much were you billing your “clients”? And who were those clients?

  8. I know both Darlene and Heath. Heath is very nice and handsome. But it doesn’t make me feel comfortable that he has lost two democratic primaries in which he was the candidate. If he won, it would not be the end of the world but I don’t think that has the first clue about what it takes to run the party. John Tacklaberry’s comment about Darlene’s “health” is a reference to her weight. I think there has been subtle and not so subtle discrimination against Darlene because she is overweight and I think that is wrong. Part of what has made her a good chair is her lack of ego. She hasn’t used the chairmanship for personal power trip or gain. At the end of the day, who is better for Dallas County?

  9. Very happy about informed commentary here.

    Not saying Heath would be great. Saying arguments against Heath that argue he’s Watkins’ puppet aren’t supported by anything. Darlene may be 10 times the county chair Heath would be, but I’m GLAD we’re going to havr that discussion, rather than corronate another party chair.

  10. SUB-POINT: typing comments on your phone when you’re drinky and at a Nick Badovinus joint is DIFFICULT.