Lubbock County Republican Party should vote for party relevance by choosing one of its own

On Monday, the Lubbock County Republican Party will make a statement about the importance of a political party. Or it won’t.

Even the casual observer knows about once every four or five years, the Republican Party has to choose a candidate because the party’s nominee has vacated the ballot for one reason or another.

This time, it’s due to the tragic death of David Nelson, its County Court at Law #3 nominee.

Nelson won his primary contest with Philip Hays by a whopping twelve percentage points. Nelson and eleven others had originally sought the job last fall when County Commissioners chose Hays to fill the unexpired term left by Judge Judy Parker. Parker was chosen by the governor to fill a vacancy on the 7th Court of Appeals.

As far as party loyalty is concerned, Hays may as well run as a Democrat.

Hays is, by all reports, doing an adequate job in County Court at Law #3. He closed down his law practice in order to accept the Commissioners appointment to fill Parker’s unexpired term. With Hays coming in second to Nelson and already in place finishing Parker’s unexpired term, it makes sense to many for the Republican Party to rubber stamp the County Commissioners’ choice.

But there is more to this than meets the eye.

There are three ways to become judge in County Court at Law. You can be appointed by the Commissioners Court to fill a vacancy. You can run and win. Or, you can be named to the ballot by a political party.

Philip Hays only sought the office one way: via commissioner appointment. He failed in his bid for election, even when running as an incumbent. And he never gave the Republican Party a second glance. Apparently courting commissioners does not offend his sense of judicial propriety as much as rubbing shoulders with a bunch of precinct chairs four times a year.

As far as party loyalty is concerned, Hays may as well run as a Democrat.

Nelson trounced Hays in the primary, in part because Nelson was and has always been loyal to the party and he made his appeal on that basis. Nelson’s candidacy served to remind voters Hays was the choice of an unpopular Commissioners Court; now, a lame duck Commissioners Court. Hays had bet all of his chips on a relationship with the Commissioners Court.

Anyone who imputes some moral authority to the loser in a two person race has conjured an imperative out of thin air …

It was a good enough strategy until it wasn’t.

And this brings us to where we are today. If the Republican Party chooses Philip Hays, who has steadfastly ignored the party while seeking this office for the better part of the last ten years, it will have cast an affirmative vote for its own irrelevance.

This is no commentary on Hays’s ability or his character, only his politics, and, perhaps, his good judgement in only pursuing the office via appointment.

If this were merely about choosing the best judge, a county commissioners court would never be allowed the responsibility … nor a governor, for that matter. But these are, to a greater or lesser degree, political decisions. It’s how the law is written.

Hays may get the job. But anyone who imputes some moral authority to the loser in a two person race has conjured an imperative out of thin air and probably has spent too much time in a culture that gives everyone participation trophies.

Second place is still a loser and earns you absolutely nothing.

The 9,005 votes cast for Hays do mean something, but they are rendered moot by the 11,608 votes cast against him, not to mention this is a completely different process. 

The Republican Party can find no better recruiting tool than to choose one of its own.

Few who do not work and make their living inside the courts know exactly what makes a good judge, but we do know a thing or two.

Most of us are familiar with good judgement. We’ve all seen poor judgement. And we’re able to distinguish between the two.

We know an umpire ought to understand the rules of the game. And we know you probably ought to have played in that arena if you’re going to preside over it.

We are also well-enough acquainted with our local judiciary to know we have some fine judges, but every one had a lot to learn their first day on the job. 

Finally, we know if a person wants an elected position, he or she needs to spend a little time understanding and courting the voters. In this race, the voters are roughly 40 precinct chairs elected in the last race on your primary ballot.

So who do we choose? It is reasonable to ask for a party loyalist who has trial experience. Someone who, with all of the advantages of incumbency, didn’t lose the only election he dared run in. And someone who values the role of the party.

There are at least two, attorney John Grace and Justice of the Peace Ann-Marie Carruth, who meet those qualifications and the party will do well to consider each in addition to the incumbent.

The Republican Party can find no better recruiting tool for the future than to choose one of its own when choosing a candidate for County-Court-at-Law #3.

Such a notion of party loyalty, instead of establishment loyalty, is bound to annoy some good ole boys, and possibly a few attorneys. If it does, I’d say to them, our meetings are quarterly, the dues are free and we tend to prefer our own.

You’re welcome to join and contribute.