County Judge’s Race: The Rep, The Exec, and The Wild Card

The race for Dallas County Judge is usually about as sexy as a kiss from an aunt with denture breath. But 1986 is different. This time, voters will choose between three qualified, intelligent opponents, each with strong assets on the one hand and some interesting liabilities on the other. This one’s got a little something for everyone.

The Democrats are fielding Kathryn Cain, a heretofore unknown non-politician with a background in law and business, plus a healthy dollop of charisma.

The Republicans are fielding State Rep. Lee Jackson, a long-time, well-liked state legislator who has represented parts of Dallas and northwest Garland.

And Max Goldblatt is fielding-who but his best friend and worst enemy. Max Goldblatt.

According to traditional wisdom, Jackson should have a lock on the race, because Dallas County usually goes Republican in county-wide races. The GOP high-water mark, of course, was in 1984. when Ronald Reagan was on the ticket and got 66 percent of the county’s vote.

But in the muddy waters of this three-way race lurks many a submerged snag and sandbar.

Cain, the wife of Rep. David Cain, D-Dallas, is far from just another pretty face. She is the self-acknowledged underdog and possesses the least hands-on political experience; offsetting that shortcoming is her straight-forward professionalism and a hefty record of community service. She’s spending twelve to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, putting her face and her views before the public, and she thinks Gov. Mark White might ride in on her coattails. Says Cain: “Winners do things losers don’t want to do. I’m working harder to get it.’1 She’s campaigning both for herself and to instill a more accurate picture in the voters mind of just what it is a county judge does.

In that regard, she’s carrying a message very similar to that of Lee Jackson: that the judgeship is the equivalent of a corporate CEO. She contends that with her experience as an executive of Safeway in the private sector and various charities (she is, among other things, founder of the North Texas Food Bank), she is the woman for the job.

Cain sees her relative lack of political experience as a plus. “I’ve been working in the business community. You have to have someone who can forge coalitions, not someone who’s steeped in partisan politics.”

Though a Democrat. Cain is hardly a left-winger. Her strong business ties may help to erode Republican straight-ticketing. Lee Jackson’s campaign material includes a picture of him with Ronald Reagan, but so does Cain’s. Reagan called her food bank “a model for the nation of public/private partnership.”

Jackson may have been hurt by the demands of his legislative job: the legislature’s two special sessions forced him to take considerable time off the campaign trail. Jackson is well known in his own district and in Republican circles, but he is not a household word in the county, nor is he renowned as a fiery orator who can inspire the troops. More time on the stump might have helped.

Jackson is operating on the belief that people are basically satisfied with county government as it is. He says he would continue in the conciliatory, consensus-building manner of the late Frank Crowley and the current county judge, Dave Fox.

The wild card in the deck is Max Goldblatt. The fact that both Jackson and Cain claim that his presence in the race will help them by damaging their opponent proves that Goldblatt will reprise his favorite role-the unknown quantity. During his years on the city council and in his run for the mayor’s job in 1985, Gotdblatt proved that he could be a constant surprise. Nothing has changed.

Goldblatt. for his part, says the only person he’ll help is Goldblatt. He barely deigns to acknowledge his opponents (“those two nice kids”). He predicts a runaway, and to the max. “I’m going to win it so handily it’ll put ’em in a state of shock. They don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. They’re both relying on the party vote. How many real hard-core party people do you know?”

While Jackson and Cain talk in reasoned tones about their in-depth approaches to running the county as a business. Max, quixotic as ever, plans to go down to the courthouse and commence kicking assessors” assistants and taking names. He’ll rely on the magic mouth once more; whether it will work for him or against him is, as usual, tough to call.

“When I go down to that courthouse it always makes me feel like coming home and taking a bath,” Goldblatt says. “I want that to change. I want to have a time and motion study at the courthouse like at the DISD where they found 600 administrators they didn’t need. I wanna clean that thing up. I wanna see signs that say ’Yes is spoken here.’”

Goldblatt would also put the blocks to the criminal justice system, ticketing violators of victimless crimes such as marijuana smokers, and would overhaul the county’s medical system to put it under the auspices of a single office. He would also work to make judgeships non-partisan.

Conciliatory is not exactly Max Goldblatt’s middle name. “Can you imagine what |County Commissioner] John Wiley Price would do to Lee Jackson? I’m the only one who can kick John Wiley in the shins and say, behave.” I’d call him in the office and tell him, “If it’s on the agenda you can talk about it. If it’s not then you’re gonna shut your goddam mouth.’ “

It’s a sure bet Max the Mouth won’t shut his own. and it’s a sure bet that Price, perhaps to protect his shins, will prudently continue to support Kathryn Cain. But in this race, those are the only sure bets.

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