HOUSTON, Texas — The Democrats' blue wave didn't quite capture the great state of Texas, where Beto O'Rourke lost a close race to Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott cruised easily to a second term as governor. But further down the ballot, especially in the big cities, blue was the only color.
Nowhere was that more true than in Houston, where a combination of Beto-fever and Texas's straight-ticket-voting option meant that every single Republican judge on the Harris County bench lost their seats to Democrats — 59 new judges, all told, including more than a dozen black women, and at least one democratic socialist..
The wipeout could mean a wholesale transformation of the judiciary in Houston, a city with one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, a crisis over bail reform for indigent defendants, and an historic penchant for the death penalty.
"For 19 black women and a socialist to be elected judge in Houston, which is the epicenter of mass incarceration, is not a small deal," said Jay Jenkins, an attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. "The possibility that we could fix some of the issues that the sitting judges have just proved unwilling or unable to fix is on the horizon."
But a clean slate election also meant some tough losses. Marc Carter has been a criminal court judge in Houston for 15 years, and one of the court's most highly regarded jurists — from attorneys on both sides of the aisle. In 2009, he helped set up Texas's first veterans court, which funnels veterans into treatment programs rather than jail for certain infractions.
He lost to a candidate who never set up a campaign website.
"I'm not going to pretend like I didn't know what the rules are," Carter told VICE News "The way you become a judge in Texas isn't based on merit. It’s simply based on what party you're affiliated with. And that's it."
This segment originally aired November 13, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.