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COMMENTARY: Should voters look beyond legal transgressions?

Michael Sudhalter

Michael Sudhalter

The phenomenon of voters looking past politicians’ ethical and legal transgressions really began to change 23 years ago.

That’s when Presidential Candidate Bill Clinton managed to stay atop the 1992 Democratic Primaries, despite revelations of multiple extra-marital affairs.

Just four years earlier, another Democratic primary candidate, U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, saw his hopes of winning the nomination derailed by similar transgressions.

When voters elected Clinton anyway, he disappointed many Americans by having an extra-marital affair in the Oval Office, and then lying about it under oath.

But how did his supporters react? They rallied around him, blamed a “vast Right Wing Conspiracy” and watched gleefully as he weathered the storm.

Here in Texas, we’ve had Republicans Rick Perry and Ken Paxton win elected office, only to get indicted. They blamed liberal leaders in Austin set on political witch-hunts and didn’t lose a beat among their electoral base.

District 27 State Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) is blaming officials in deep-red Montgomery County for a jury there wrongfully convicted him of five counts of Misdemeanor Barratry last month.

Earlier this year, I had encouraged Reynolds on these very pages to apologize to his constituents. I still think he should.

Reynolds is no stranger to controversy, and based on the conviction — which is currently pending appeal — there was enough evidence that he was either wrong, careless or both.

But Montgomery County prosecutors were clearly grandstanding in this case, and if their goal was to effectively remove Reynolds from office, they’ll likely fail.

For a Class-A Misdemeanor, Reynolds — a first time offender — received the maximum sentence — a $4,000 fine and a year in jail. He is out on bond, pending the appeal.

Reynolds stood before Judge Mary Ann Turner in Montgomery County Court in shackles and a prison uniform — both for every television camera in Houston to see.

The jury decides justice, but the jury’s penalty doesn’t fit the crime.

It would be really easy to sit here at my laptop and write a column calling for Reynolds resign his seat to maintain the integrity of District 27.

But it’s not up to me — it’s up to the voters.

Will Reynolds’ Misdemeanor Convictions bother his constituents enough to choose another candidate in the March 1 Democratic Primary, or will they weigh that alongside the good things he’s accomplished for the district?

Before Reynolds’ conviction, a primary challenge from former Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Brown seemed like nothing more than a formality.

Reynolds was so confident that even joked that he would pay a portion of his opponent’s filing fee.

But politics has interesting dynamics, and Reynolds — aiming for his fourth term — will be facing one of the toughest elections of his life in the March primary.

The Fort Bend Democratic establishment has consistently stood behind Reynolds, but many of those leaders — facing their own political futures — may have to re-evaluate that support in their own best interest.

It is a strange reality we live in when political supporters can rally around a candidate with criminal convictions? It is a bi-product of our politically polarized culture.

But how can Republicans who supported Ken Paxton for Attorney General — despite felony indictments — fault local Democrats for supporting Reynolds, who was convicted of misdemeanors?

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