The District Attorney’s contest is one of the most anticipated matchups on the Dallas County Ballot. Republican nominee Susan Hawk is trying to unseat two-term District Attorney Craig Watkins.
Watkins was inaugurated in January of 2007. He was the first African-American in Texas elected to the position. He touts a 99.4 percent felony conviction rate and is most known for his partnership with the Innocence Project of Texas.
“The Innocence Project is a commendable effort to review and re-open cases in which the defendant has strong claims of innocence,” said Rick Halperin, director of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program. “Dallas County leads the entire nation in the release of innocent and wrongfully convicted individuals.”
Despite widespread recognition for the success of the Innocence Project, Hawk has encouraged voters to look beyond this one accomplishment.
“However commendable this project is, it is not a sufficient reason to re-elect Mr. Watkins,” Halperin added. “People need to look at his complete record and decide if he is the best choice.”
On the other side, Hawk is a former felony prosecutor and has been a criminal court judge for the past two decades. Throughout her campaign, she has continually touted Watkins as inexperienced.
“Watkins points out, I have been District Attorney since 2007,” said Gromer Jeffers of The Dallas Morning News. “Two terms I’ve served as district attorney, how can you say I don’t have experience?”
Nevertheless, Hawk continues to claim that Watkins has never walked into a courtroom and tried a case. She emphasizes the fact that she has tried more than 150 jury trials with a 98 percent conviction rate. Chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party Darlene Ewing said the District Attorneys job is not to be a trial lawyer. The D.A.’s job is to be an administrator and work in a management position.
Hawk isn’t the only candidate getting heated. Watkins called his opponent a “desperate politician.” He is likely referring to the fact that Hawk has run for office as both a Republican and a Democrat.
“It’s going to be hard to convince Democrats to support her because she used to be a Democrat and she turned Republican and that sort of thing is not appealing to base voters in Dallas county,” Jeffers said.
The candidates met face-to-face in two separate televised events. In their first TV matchup, Hawk criticized Watkins for his use of forfeiture funds. She was referring to an instance in 2013 when Watkins used money from this fund to settle a car accident he caused.
“They [forfeiture funds] are there to be used for law enforcement purposes only, not Mr. Watkins’ slush fund,” Hawk said.
Hawk launched a web campaign called “#firecraig.” The web page is titled, “The Craig Watkins Record: Investigations, controversy and abuse of power” and accuses Watkins of a variety of things from abusing public funds to renting a house to a drug dealer.
Hawk’s campaign has raised significantly more money than Watkins. She has used the money to fund her web campaign as well as launch a bigger television media campaign and billboards purporting similar messages. Dallas County Democrats say this is nothing to be concerned about.
“Local Democrats have been winning without the benefit of money. Local Republicans can always outraise us,” Ewing said. “Our strength is in our ground game and our grass roots efforts to bring out voters. This includes door knocking, phone banking, rides to the polls, and other people efforts. We do not spend our resources on splashy television ads that people use their TiVo’s to fast forward through.”
The candidates second televised meeting turned ugly when Hawk accused Watkins of drinking before a public forum on crimes against women and children. As they left the event Hawk muttered to Watkins, “have another cocktail.” She later apologized for this remark.
Things seem to be settling down as the race enters it’s final weekend. Jeffers says it will all come down to voter turnout. In order to win, Hawk has to find a way to get Republicans to vote the straight ticket while Watkins must make sure his base gets out to vote.
Overall, Watkins is the chosen favorite in the race. If he is elected, it will be his third victory in a row. The polls open at 7 a.m. on November 4.