Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Last week former Houston Congressman Craig Washington was charged with aggravated assault, a felony.

Craig, who is one of the best trial lawyers I've ever seen, was one of a group of talented young minority and liberal white politicians who came to power in Houston in the 1970s, as the result of the enfranchisement of blacks and the political upheaval of the sixties. Washington, Mickey Leland, Barbara Jordan, Ben Reyes, Fred Hofheinz, Kathy Whitmire, and Lance Lalor all represented, in their individual ways, significant change from the old days in which Houston was controlled by a small group of Downtown businessmen, who literally met in a hotel room every week to decide the city's fate.

The careers of every one of these insurgents, except for Barbara Jordan, ended at a relatively young age, often in disgrace, or at least without having achieved the great things once expected of them. In Craig's case, it was clear that his downfall was ultimately accomplished because he crossed the Downtown crowd by voting against the funding of the space station, a sacred cow in Houston. The local establishment instigated a successful primary challenge by Sheila Jackson Lee, a city council member who was notable primarily for the number of times she had run for office unsuccessfully.

In his heyday, Craig Washington was the Barack Obama of Houston: a smart attractive figure who appealed to white liberals as much as he did to African Americans. I hope that he can overcome his current difficulties.


David said...

"The charge in the indictment, handed up by a Harris County grand jury, is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of two to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000."

2 to 20, that's quite some leeway

kateg said...

A key difference between Washington and Obama,though, is that one had ties to the Civil Rights movement and one doesn't. Obama is more like Corey Booker than Craig Washington.

BVG said...

The Texas Penal Code was adopted in the 1970s when indeterminate sentencing was in fashion--the idea was to give the sentencing authority the discretion to tailor the sentence to the defendant. It's actually more leeway than it looks because it includes the possibility of 2 to 10 years probation instead of any prison sentence at all.

BVG said...

I agree that Obama is more like Corey Booker than he is like Craig Washington. My point was that, compared to many Houston black politicians of his era, Washington came across as an ideological liberal, not just a "race man."