Ethics position draws candidates
That's because Democratic District Attorney Ronnie Earle has said he won't seek re-election this year. Earle, 64, has held the job since he was first elected in 1976.
It was during Earle's first four-year term that he talked state officials into funding a Public Integrity Unit to be housed in his office. The reason was that as Travis County's DA in the capitol city of Austin, enforcement of state laws concerning ethics in state government fell to him.
Over the years, Earle prosecuted several high-level officials of both political parties. They included Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, and former Democratic Atty. Gen. Jim Mattox -- both of whom were acquitted - and former House Speaker Gib Lewis, a Democrat, whose misdemeanor plea-bargain included not seeking another term as speaker.
As an indication that Travis County is a Democratic stronghold, no Republican chose to run. The four assistant district attorneys seeking the Democratic Party nomination are:
• Rosemary Lehmberg, 58, who started with the DA's office 31 years ago, six months before Earle's election, and who for the last decade has been his top assistant;
• Mindy Montford, 37, a prosecutor, and not incidentally, the daughter of former state Sen. John Montford;
• Gary Cobb, 46, a 17-year prosecutor;
• Rick Reed, 52, son of Dick Reed of Dallas, a Democratic member of the Dirty Thirty ethics minority in the Texas House of Representatives during the 1971 Sharpstown stock fraud and banking scandal.
Earle has endorsed Lehmberg, with whom he has worked closely for years. She "has had a greater role in the success of the Travis County District Attorney's Office than any other single person," Earle said.
Lehmberg "has been the director and supervisor of every division of this office," Earle said. "For the past 10 years as First Assistant Travis County District Attorney, she has supervised the work of all these divisions."
Earle enthusiastically promoted Lehmberg's candidacy at a Jan. 28 fundraiser at Austin's El Rancho restaurant.
Lehmberg promised to run a race based on "mutual respect and integrity" toward her three officemates.
She also pledged to keep the Public Integrity Unit, whose felony indictment of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay sparked his resignation from that job and eventually the House, as an integral part of the DA's operation.
John Sharp, the former state comptroller, said Lehmberg is fully prepared "to take the helm of this important office. She is tough, fair and innovative."
On Jan. 17, at the Nuevo Leon restaurant, Montford had her own wellattended fundraiser, where her father, now a top executive with AT&T, greeted old friends. Former Gov. Mark White showed up to give a strong endorsement for Montford, noting that her family had supported his political efforts. Former Gov. Dolph Briscoe also has endorsed Montford.
Montford said she has worked all her life to prepare herself to be a district attorney - a position her father held in Lubbock County before his election to the Texas Senate. The elder Montford, a former chancellor of Texas Tech University, and a prodigious fundraiser, is helping raise money from donors all over the state for his daughter's race.
Montford, an assistant district attorney in Harris County (Houston) before joining the Travis County office in 1999, is expected to outspend all the other candidates.
Cobb, an African-American who is the lone minority in the race, is counting on his long tenure and popularity. His backers include former Austin state Rep. Wilhelmina Delco.
Reed was one of the attorneys involved in the prosecution of DeLay. He had worked as an assistant district attorney in Dallas County until he lost a race for DA there in 1998. He then was hired by the Travis County DA's office.
Onlookers presume the race will require a runoff on April 8 to determine the victor.