DALLAS – Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has announced that he will run again for office as the Democratic incumbent in 2014.
Watkins revealed his plans at News 8’s downtown studio Friday while taping a segment for Inside Texas Politics with WFAA’s Brad Watson and Gromer Jeffers of the Dallas Morning News. The episode will air Sunday at 9:05 a.m.
“We are certain that we are running for DA in 2014,” Watkins said.
Watkins said he does not expect a fight to win the Democratic primary, although he said he believes the Republican Party will nominate an individual who will be a more difficult competitor. However, Watkins stands by his record and said he is confident in his ability to win.
“The reality is that we’ve done everything as it relates to what it means to be a DA. We’ve defined it for the state of Texas and even for the country,” he said. “I think the opportunity for an individual who wants to challenge what we’ve done will be minimal.”
The Morning News' Jeffers reported that retired State District Judge John Creuzot, who was appointed in 1991 and served until the end of last year, is a possible contendor in the Democratic primary. Jeffers said Creuzot has not made a decision, however.
Since being elected district attorney in 2006, Watkins has prioritized the conviction integrity unit, a special division inside his office that investigates wrongful convictions. According to Watkins’ office, it was the first of its kind in the country.
Since he took office, Watkins has exonerated 33 wrongfully convicted men, said department spokeswoman Debbie Denmon. The Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit established to free the wrongfully convicted, estimates they cumulatively served more than 300 years in prison “and many more years on parole.”
Twenty-eight of those 33 exonerees were black, Denmon said. This statistic caught Watkins' attention –– was race a factor in the convictions? Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported his desire for a Racial Justice Act to make it through this legislative session. The act would give death row convicts the chance to present evidence to appeal that their conviction was, at least partially, based on their race.
“We never looked at the end result of the affairs of the past; what we want to look at is the fact that we failed,” Watkins said in the Inside Texas Politics interview. “We are incarcerating people of color at an enormous rate as opposed to other individuals in the country. This is really just a way to start the conversation.”
Kentucky and North Carolina both have similar laws on the books. Watkins’ law has not yet been filed and may have trouble squeezing through the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Since Watkins came into office, Dallas County has sentenced eight people to death, four of whom are black. One is Hispanic. Watkins said he wants the Racial Justice Act to go beyond the statistics, to look at the methodology of why someone was sentenced to what he called “the ultimate punishment” to determine if a person's race had an impact.
“You would think that would be an argument for the side against me,” Watkins said, in reference to the individuals sentenced to death under his watch. “But in reality it’s deeper than that.”
Watkins is also trying to fund and create a unit for prosecuting animal abuse cases, which would be just the second in the state. The other is in Harris County.