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Dallas County Judge Race Hottest In North Texas

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX –

Dallas County Judge Jim Foster is hanging on for his political life. As he finishes his first term, the Democrat faces primary challenges from opponents with money and experience. KERA's Bill Zeeble takes a look at why, in one of the hottest local races in North Texas.

Four years ago, Dallas voters turned the mostly Republican Dallas County Democratic overnight. That's when County Judge Jim Foster was swept into office. Almost from the start, critics said he did not understand how to run Commissioners Court or how to set the agenda. Even Democratic colleague Commissioner John Wiley Price insulted him. But Foster says he's done a good job.

Jim Foster: You cannot tell me one promise that I've made that I've not kept when elected. I said I would improve treatment of mentally ill prisoners. Now they're well cared for. I said we also needed to improve Parkland hospital. We put together a program for a new hospital and it passed by the voters, and it will be 2nd to none in the world.

Foster's two opponents are unconvinced. Clay Jenkins is a civil attorney who worked on voter rights issues for the Obama campaign. He's raised $400,000 so far, well ahead of the others. With endorsements from powerful elected officials like Price, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Senator Royce West, Jenkins says he's be the best choice for County Judge.

Jenkins: Right now we have a lot of discord and bickering on the court. It's wasting our tax dollars and not allowing us to move forward. He inherited jails that were under federal oversight, they still are. We're unable to get big projects like the inland port going with government cooperation. I'm going to work with everyone to find the best solutions to move this county forward.

Candidate Larry Duncan is a former Dallas City Councilman who now chairs the Dallas County Schools Board. It largely oversees bus transportation for 10 Dallas school districts. Duncan says he's the best choice to be Dallas County Judge because of his experience.

Larry Duncan: I was on the Dallas city council for 4 terms. During that period, I led the 400 person committee that developed the trinity plan now being implemented. We also turned the worst apartments in the country, according to the Washington Post, Georgetown Apartments in Pleasant Grove, into a model for affordable housing.

In recent months this campaign's hottest issue has involved the independent investigation into Constables Jaime Cortes and Derick Evans. Foster and two Republican Commissioners approved funding an independent investigation into the constables because Foster says the D.A. did nothing.

Jim Foster: We have employees right now with legitimate complaints because they're not only fearing for their job, but some of them now are in fear of their life.

Challengers Jenkins and Duncan say Foster's investigation is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Clay Jenkins: All three did it for political purposes and whether Democratic or Republican we just don't have that luxury. We have a budget shortfall likely around $50 million. We cannot waste money for bickering. Larry Duncan: What they're doing is giving a free pass to anybody that might be engaged in wrongdoing for the sake of a few cheap political headlines.

In the end, this is a choice over who will lead Commissioners Court that oversees Parkland Hospital, the county jail, and a $900,000,000 budget. It's also a job with a big-time salary of $153,000 a year.

Email Bill Zeeble