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How several district attorney races played out across Texas

Sean Teare, who defeated Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg in the Democratic primary, speaks to the crowd at his election night party on Tuesday.
Lucio Vasquez
Houston Public Media
Sean Teare, who defeated Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg in the Democratic primary, speaks to the crowd at his election night party on Tuesday.

Among the many things Texas voters weighed in on Super Tuesday were district attorney races. DAs serve as a county’s top prosecutor, handling prosecution on felonies and major crimes. And, as with many things in state politics today, the offices have increasingly become political lightning rods.

Public radio reporters around the state have been tracking these closely watched primaries. Here’s how several consequential races played out:

Democrats headed to runoff in El Paso County

The El Paso County District Attorney’s Office has some challenges ahead, including a huge backlog of court cases and managing the state’s prosecution of the 2019 Walmart mass shooting case.

Now, two Democratic candidates vying for the DA job are headed for a runoff in May.

James Montoya, a public defender who worked as a prosecutor in the DA’s office four years ago, snagged 37% of the vote. If elected district attorney, he says, he’ll work to recruit more attorneys.

“To this day, they do not have enough lawyers to handle all the cases that are happening here in El Paso,” Montoya said.

Facing off against Montoya will be Alma Trejo, a former county criminal court judge, who gained 35.5% of the primary vote.

Trejo says she’s handled a capital murder case and will use her management experience to streamline cases.

“I’ve talked to several victims and several families of defendants, of people that are accused, and they are still waiting for their day in court,” she said. “They’re frustrated.”

The winner of the Democratic runoff will face Republican Bill Hicks, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott when previous DA Yvonne Rosales resigned after an attempt to remove her from office for alleged misconduct and incompetence. Hicks did not have a primary opponent.

– Aaron Montes, KTEP

» MORE: See Super Tuesday results for statewide elections

Incumbent Travis County DA sails to primary win

Travis County District Attorney José Garza took a commanding – and ultimately decisive – lead in early voting: 30 points over his challenger, Jeremy Sylestine. All in, two-thirds of the county’s Democratic voters backed his re-election campaign.

It’s a race that became a proxy war against Garza. He first ran in 2020 on a progressive campaign to prosecute police misconduct and reform criminal justice in Travis County. That painted a target on his back with Republicans, who backed Sylestine’s effort to oust Garza, both with financial contributions and at the polls. Republicans helped the challenger’s campaign raise six times more than Garza ahead of Election Day. And they came out in droves to support Sylestine in the Democratic primary.

In a speech Tuesday night, Garza said the effort was an attempt by would-be Republican spoilers to “scare voters into turning their backs on progress.”

“The truth is Republicans tried to infiltrate our primary,” he said. “How did that work out for them?”

The incumbent DA now faces an easy path to election in deep-blue Travis County, which historically elects Democratic candidates countywide. He’ll face Republican Daniel Betts in November.

– Andrew Weber, KUT News

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Harris County DA loses to primary challenger

Just minutes after the polls closed, early voting results in Harris County showed challenger Sean Teare with a substantial lead over incumbent Kim Ogg.

Ogg eventually conceded about two hours later, marking an end to her eight-year run as district attorney in Texas’ most populated county.

“If doing my job cost me my job, then I leave with my head held high,” she said.

With that, Teare will be Harris County’s Democratic nominee for district attorney.

He said he wants to fix the DA’s office, which he claims has been weaponized over the last few years, and that he’ll push back against state laws like SB 4 and restrictions on reproductive rights.

“We are going to be a thorn in Austin’s side,” he said. “We are going to continue to push back against these draconian laws that are getting passed.”

Teare is set to face off against the sole Republican candidate, Dan Simons, in November. Ultimately, whoever is elected as Harris County DA will have the power to influence how local officials handle a regional backlog of more than 100,000 court cases.

– Lucio Vasquez, Houston Public Media

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