Voters in Travis County — home to Texas' capital city Austin — embarked on an interesting experiment Tuesday by nominating José Garza as the Democratic Party candidate for district attorney over incumbent DA Margaret Moore by a 68% to 32% majority.
The county leans heavily Democratic, so that means Garza is likely a shoo-in for the office.
The first order of business? Garza says his office will not prosecute low-level drug offenses, such as sale or possession of under one gram of a controlled substance.
Garza contends such prosecutions are ineffective, costly and unfair to minorities.
"We know that 60% of all people arrested and charged with drug possession through traffic stops are people of color," he said. "So, it is time to end the war on drugs in this community to begin to unwind the racial disparities in our criminal justice system."
Another position that would be controversial in most of the Lone Star State, but not in Austin, is Garza's opposition to capital punishment.
Texas leads the nation in death sentences and executions, but Garza said his office will not seek the ultimate penalty in any case and will review existing capital cases "to ensure that there are no forensic, evidentiary, or legal issues that should cause the conviction to be called into question," according to his platform.
The nominee also made it clear he will use his office to pursue social justice objectives.
"We will use our resources to investigate and prosecute the powerful actors in Travis County who have harmed the public—landlords who exploit immigrants, police officers accused of misconduct, and corporate heads who take money from the poor will no longer have a free pass in Travis County," his platform reads.
To some — obviously many in liberal Travis County — all of that sounds great. But in our view, vision and reality don't always match up. Making Austin a safe haven for small-time drug dealers and users, for example, doesn't sound all that great to us. Nor does a blanket ban on pursuing the death penalty. We think such decisions are best made on a case-by-case basis, as is common across the state. We support Garza's position that the rich and/or powerful should not have any special advantages in the justice system. But that can also be used as an excuse to give a pass to those at the bottom in pursuit of those at the top. Equal justice should mean equal justice.
We will have to see how this goes. The justice system is not above some reform in Texas. The question is how far do we want to go.