17 black women sweep judge­ships in Texas

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION - By Adeel Has­san

The photo was un­for­get­table: 19 black women, all dressed in black, gath­ered in a mock court­room in Thur­good Mar­shall School of Law. All of them were run­ning for judge­ships in No­vem­ber.

On Tues­day, 17 of them won their races by dou­ble-dig­its in Har­ris County, Texas, the na­tion’s third-largest county, which in­cludes Hous­ton. Each of the lawyers, all Democrats rang­ing in age from 31 to early 60s, will join the bench in Jan­uary for four-year terms in the civil, crim­i­nal, fam­ily and pro­bate courts.

“Al­though we were do­ing ev­ery­thing we could — block walk­ing, phone bank­ing — I wasn’t con­fi­dent that it would turn out the way it did,” said Latosha Lewis Payne, 44, a long­time lawyer in Hous­ton who was one of the 17.

Each of the women de­cided in­di­vid­u­ally to run. Some in the group had to win pri­mary races in March. But once they re­al­ized they were all run­ning against Repub­li­can in­cum­bents in the fall, they ral­lied around a slo­gan called “Black Girl Magic” to cel­e­brate the ac­com­plish­ments of black women.

“We thought that it would prob­a­bly make sense to de­velop a cam­paign around us,” said an­other win­ning can­di­date, Ger­maine Tan­ner, 43. “In the course of that, we got to re­ally know each other. We be­came not only col­leagues, but friends. It re­ally kind of just hap­pened.”

The photo was fea­tured on hun­dreds of posters across the county, es­pe­cially prom­i­nent in African-Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods, on billboards and even door hang­ers.

“All of the data sug­gests that African-Amer­i­can women are the core of the Demo­cratic Party base, so it made sense to ex­cite the elec­torate and de­sign some­thing around them,” said Dal­las Jones, a Hous­ton-based po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant who came up with the “Black Girl Magic” cam­paign. “We wanted to show the power of hav­ing di­ver­sity in the courts.”

Jones used the image to mo­bi­lize vot­ers across the elec­torate. In one push, he de­ployed teams to go to night­clubs and con­certs and reach out to mil­len­ni­als. “It wasn’t just, ‘Hey, look at this pic­ture,’ it was ‘Hey, look at this pic­ture and take ac­tion,’ ” he said. “Go to the web­site and com­mit to vote. The 19 judges were a great op­por­tu­nity to tell the story of the chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics of our county.”

Har­ris County had its largest turnout for midterm elec­tions in its his­tory, while also sur­pass­ing its turnout in two of the last three pres­i­den­tial-year votes. The county is 42 per­cent His­panic, 31 per­cent white, 20 per­cent black and 7 per­cent Asian.

The two women in the photo who lost their races — both mak­ing bids for statewide of­fice — were al­ready county judges, so they will keep their seats on the bench.

“All of us started run­ning for our benches in early sum­mer 2017, so there wasn’t any real thought given to any of us po­ten­tially mak­ing his­tory,” Tan­ner said. “We were just try­ing to win our re­spec­tive races.”

Payne, one of the women who pre­vailed on Tues­day, said the changes would go be­yond the cos­metic be­cause the women’s back­grounds would shape their rul­ings.

“We talked about com­ing in and be­ing more com­pas­sion­ate,” Payne said of her newly elected col­leagues. “Be­ing more un­der­stand­ing of the poor and dis­ad­van­taged that come into the ju­di­cial sys­tem.”

CHRISTIN MCQUEEN VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES

The 19 black women who ran for judge­ships in Hous­ton and Har­ris County, Texas, in the midterms. Sev­en­teen of them won their races by dou­ble dig­its.

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