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Sean Teare unseats Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg in primary

By Madaleine Rubin, The Texas Tribune

Sean Teare unseats Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg in primary” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Former prosecutor Sean Teare unseated Harris County’s embattled, two-term District Attorney Kim Ogg Tuesday night in a primary race that divided county Democrats.

Teare’s campaign gained steam as the district attorney faced a barrage of criticism from within her own party. Teare — a prosecutor in Ogg’s office until last year — will face Houston attorney Dan Simons, the lone Republican candidate in the race, in November’s general election.

Teare led Ogg in early and mail-in votes by over 50 percent Tuesday night. In a University of Houston poll released during early voting, he held a near 40 point lead over Ogg among likely voters. Ogg conceded the race shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

In front of a crowd at 8th Wonder Brewery, Teare thanked his supporters, including organizations like the Working Families Party and Texas Organizing Project.

“We have a vision,” Teare said. “We have something that we all really want to do, and what you just saw with those numbers means that the public is absolutely coming with us. The voters are coming with us. We are going to change Harris County.”

Ogg has taken flak from local Democrats for reneging on criminal justice reform promises, her alleged links to Texas Republicans and increasing resignations in her office. Over two terms in office, she investigated members of her party and publicly clashed with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a high-profile local progressive who endorsed Teare.

In the months before the election, Teare promised to take more action on democratic reforms while Ogg fended off a firestorm of new allegations. Her office baselessly filed criminal charges in thousands of cases, the Houston Chronicle revealed. And recent reports claim she mishandled an investigation into a subversive Texas Republican.

Teare had the backing of a group of Harris County Democratic Party precinct chairs who recently voted to condemn Ogg for inadequately representing party values. In a University of Houston poll released during early voting, over 65 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they viewed Ogg unfavorably.

Former Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat who endorsed Ogg in 2016, also endorsed Teare before the election.

Teare ran a well-funded campaign, bringing in over 10 times as much money as Ogg in the first half of 2023. In the last leg of fundraising ahead of the race, from Jan. 26 through Feb. 24, billionaire George Soros’ Texas Justice and Public Safety PAC contributed nearly $700,000 to his campaign. The group formerly supported Ogg during her 2016 election.

Ogg, who was backed by prominent Houston democrats, including state Sen. Carol Alvarado and state Rep. Mary Ann Perez, caught up before polls opened and significantly outraised Teare in January.

But with more than $50,000 coming from the local bail bonds industry and major contributions from a Republican mega-donor, she drew ire from local Democrats.

At the Giant Texas Distillery Tuesday night, Ogg thanked her voters and told supporters she had “made some powerful enemies for all the right reasons.”

“I want to tell my fellow Houstonians who I’ve lived with all my 64 years every day in this city and tell you that if doing my job cost me my job, then I leave with my head held high,” Ogg said.

As the next district attorney in Texas’ largest county, Teare will face major challenges, including a mounting criminal case backlog and overcrowding in the state’s biggest county jail. In the run-up to the race, he critiqued Ogg’s action on those issues and other democratic priorities, including bail reform.

Ogg campaigned on promises to reform the county’s cash bail system in 2016, but changed course while in office. In 2019, she opposed a settlement to a lawsuit in which a federal court found that jailing people accused of crimes before trial because they could not afford bail was unconstitutional. And she later opened a probe into a county agency monitoring the progress of bail reform.

Ogg has defended her party loyalty, record on bail and progress on democratic reforms. Throughout the campaign, she emphasized that her office decriminalized most marijuana possession and diverted thousands of minors away from incarceration. In an earlier statement to The Tribune, she accused Teare of “trying to create division in the Democratic party.”

Still, voters sided with Teare, ending the incumbent’s bid for a third term.

Travis County’s incumbent District Attorney Josè Garza also won his race, overcoming a heated challenge from defense attorney Jeremy Sylestine.

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