Races of the Week:Poe vs. Lampson

“America’s Judge,” is how Jack Kemp, Ted Poe’s good friend and fervent admirer, has characterized the former Texas district judge and Republican nominee against Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Tex.) this year. In his 22 years as a judge, Poe made headlines throughout the Lone Star State and nationwide with sentencing that has to be called inventive: Instead of fines or jail time that may or may not discourage future bad behavior, convicted drunken drivers were forced to wear sandwich board signs for a week at a time bearing the legend: “I drove while under the influence;” shoplifters wore similar signs that said: “I was convicted of shoplifting” and had to parade in front of the store in which they were arrested.

“And they went straight after that,” said the plain-spoken Texan who has been likened to the legendary Judge Roy Bean or Judge Dread in the comics. “It’s just plain common sense. And you can apply that to so many issues. Federal officials say they don’t have the resources to detain and deport people who are in this country illegally. Fine. So change the laws to give the power to local officials and let them handle the problem. That’s what is best for America.”

Plain talk, common-sense conservatism, and a strong following among volunteers propelled the 53-year-old Poe to an easy nomination for Congress over two primary opponents. Now, in a district that went from securely Democratic to one that is highly marginal and includes significant swatches of Harris County (Houston), the lawman-candidate faces four-termer Lampson (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 19%). The incumbent’s voting record on everything from opposing impeachment of Bill Clinton to voting against George W. Bush’s tax cuts makes clear his liberalism. But rather than simply spelling out where he would differ from Lampson, Poe tells why he is different from other Republicans.

“I’ve known and liked George W. Bush for a long time and I agree with him on everything–except government spending,” says the judge, matter-of-factly adding that he would have opposed the controversial Medicare/prescription drug package favored by the President and opposed increased funding for the Department of Education and Americorps. He also makes it clear that “I don’t want any amnesty, or what is tantamount to amnesty, for illegal aliens. Let’s secure our borders, start working backwards in enforcing the laws and quit using Texas as an HMO program for other countries.”

That kind of talk and that kind of maverick conservatism is uncommon in congressional races across the nation and even in Texas. But being a maverick and talking straight are the trademarks of Ted Poe. With help from fellow conservatives, he can go from being “America’s judge” to “the 9th’s congressman”–and become a national leader in Congress immediately.