Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Harris County’s District Attorney Kim Ogg faces a battle to retain her post as members of her own party line up to support the former prosecutor trying to oust her in next month’s Democratic primary.

There was an open distaste for Ogg at a recent Texas Organizing Project breakfast to announce the progressive political advocacy group’s endorsement of Sean Teare for the Democratic nomination for district attorney.

“We feel that Kim Ogg betrayed us,” said Ray Brackens, a TOP Board member. “She made promises and then went in the other direction.”

Attendees spoke of a feeling that Ogg has abandoned the Democratic Party through her stances on Texas’ abortion ban, bail reform and open feuds with liberal county leaders.

Those feuds have created a coalition of local Democrats lining up to endorse Teare that includes Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and former Mayor Sylvester Turner.

There are signs Ogg’s detractors are breaking through to voters.

In a University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs survey of 1,400 likely Democratic Primary voters found 59 percent intended to vote for Teare, compared to 21 percent who said they would support Ogg. Only 20 percent of likely voters still are undecided, according to the online poll conducted from Feb. 7 to Feb. 15.

A whopping 42 percent of those surveyed said they would never vote for Ogg compared to just 4 percent who said the same about her challenger.

The margin of error is plus- or minus-2.5 percent.

Ogg began her career in the district attorney’s office in 1987 as an assistant district attorney. She left the office to become executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston from 1999 to 2006 before moving into private practice until her run for district attorney.

Ogg was elected in 2016, unseating former Republican District Attorney Devon Anderson. She ran on a platform of criminal justice reform, telling voters she would overhaul the office to reduce the number of low-level, nonviolent offenders that are jailed.

“When I'm called a bad Democrat, I remind people I was the leader that helped change and turn this county blue, and I will help keep this county blue,” Ogg said Friday.

Harris County District Attorney Kim K. Ogg speaks with the Abdelraoufsinno on Aug. 8 in Houston
Harris County District Attorney Kim K. Ogg speaks with the Abdelraoufsinno on Aug. 8 in Houston. (Antranik Tavitian / Abdelraoufsinno)

Harris County progressives, including the TOP, backed Ogg in 2016.

Ogg has most frequently clashed with local officials over bail reform. In 2019, she was criticized for opposing a settlement that accused Harris County of unconstitutionally jailing people simply because they could not afford cash bail. The resulting settlement only applies to bail in misdemeanor cases.

Ogg contends her position on bail reform has never changed. Under her tenure, her office has implemented diversion programs for those accused of nonviolent, low-level crimes and has put in place the most progressive marijuana law enforcement policy in the state, she said.

Those advocating for no-cash bonds for misdemeanor suspects risk endangering the victims of such crimes as stalking, which is a misdemeanor, Ogg said. Implementing such a policy would end the ability for prosecutors to use their best judgment for each case, she added.

“Nobody should ever be held in jail simply because they’re too poor to make bail,” the district attorney said. “No person should ever be released into the community without appropriate consideration being given to the threat they pose to the community’s safety.”

Despite the criticism, Ogg cruised to victory in the 2020 Democratic primary and won reelection that November by more than 120,000 votes.

Ongoing conflict

Four years of direct conflict between Ogg and local Democrats, however, has seen the district attorney’s once-solid support from the left evaporate as she makes a bid for a third term.

Hidalgo and Ellis have accused Ogg of wielding her power to punish political enemies.

Ogg in 2021 began investigating a now-canceled $11 million COVID-19 vaccine outreach contract approved by Commissioners Court, alleging aides in Hidalgo’s office steered it to a firm with Democratic ties. Three former Hidalgo staffers were indicted in the spring of 2022, but their cases have not gone to trial.

Hidalgo has maintained her former staffers are innocent and said Ogg was trying to derail her 2022 reelection campaign. Records obtained by the Abdelraoufsinno show that Ogg's office hired a GOP lawyer, Rachel Palmer Hooper, to assist in the investigation.

The Houston Chronicle reported Ogg has launched criminal investigations against county officials she was feuding with at least four times since taking office in 2017.

Ogg contends the idea that her party is organizing against her is a mirage created by Hidalgo, Ellis and Turner in retribution for criminal investigations against their offices. She retains support from law enforcement, judges and many Democratic officials, she said.

“In each of those cases, none of them were indicted, and they should be grateful that the system worked appropriately for them,” Ogg said. “Instead, they’ve weaponized the political process in retaliation.”

The conflict also has manifested in ongoing budget disputes between Ogg and Commissioners Court, who Ogg says is underfunding her office.

The most significant blow for one activist was Ogg’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to strip the Constitutional right to an abortion. Ogg decried the court’s decision, but said she would enforce cases under Texas’ subsequent abortion ban on a “case-by-case” basis. She also was slammed by Houston liberals for not signing a national pledge by district attorneys to not enforce abortion bans.

“Kim Ogg likes to tiptoe around a lot of issues,” Texas Organizing Project volunteer Christina Quintero said. “We need a DA that will have a lot of conviction. Our communities are hurting and we need someone who will fight with us.”

The conflicts culminated in a December vote by Harris County Democratic precinct chairs to admonish Ogg for not following the values of the Democratic Party.

Ogg, a gay woman and the first Democrat elected district attorney in more than 35 years, said her positions on liberal issues have been misconstrued by her opponents.

Ogg is a vocal supporter of abortion rights and said she did not publicly decline to prosecute abortion cases because it could have caused the state government to replace her with a Republican under a new law targeting local prosecutors that decline abortion cases, she said.

“I’m the most qualified lawyer in the race who believes in the law, the search for the truth and allegiance to evidence,” Ogg said. “I do not believe in dog whistling at the risk of my constituents to get a vote.”

Former ally

Teare, 44, was present in Ogg’s office for most of the turmoil.

A Houston native, Teare joined the district attorney’s office in 2017, as a member of Ogg’s leadership team.

As head of the Office’s Vehicular Crimes Division, Teare said he watched the office “crumble” during Ogg’s tenure.

He criticized Ogg’s management of the office, saying she drove away young prosecutors, creating a staffing shortage. That shortage has overburdened prosecutors in the office and worsened the county’s backlog of criminal prosecutions, Teare said.

From 2018 to 2022, the turnover rate in the office doubled.

Teare echoed local Democrats’ claims that Ogg has weaponized the district attorney’s office against her political enemies, calling it “the ultimate violation of the public trust.”

Teare received his undergraduate degree and law degree from the University of Houston.

He began working in the district attorney’s office in 2005 as an intern. He left the office in 2010 and spent six years in private practice doing before rejoining the district attorney’s office in 2017, at Ogg’s request.

Teare said his experience in and out of the district attorney’s office will allow him to better manage the office, reducing its staffing problems and allowing it to clear the case backlog in Harris County.

Like Ogg in 2016, Teare is campaigning on criminal justice reform. He says he would stop requesting cash bail for those accused of misdemeanor crimes, advocate against laws criminalizing abortion and prioritize the prosecution of those accused of violent crime.

Despite his progressive platform, Teare said he realizes his momentum “has less to do with who I am and more to do with who I’m running against.”

“I’m not in this position except for the fact my opponent has utterly failed at every objective datapoint you can do for the last almost eight years,” Teare said.

Ogg said Teare simply is a figurehead for her political enemies who offers progressives nothing “other than their soundbites regurgitated.”

His promises to reform the criminal justice system in Harris County already are in action in the district attorney’s office, Ogg said.

Ogg touted endorsements she has received from local Democrats, including state Sen. Carol Alvarado, state Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Harris County Clerk Marilyn Burgess. Ogg also is endorsed by former Houston mayor and police chief Lee P. Brown and Houston Police Officers' Union Executive Director Ray Hunt, along with other current and former local law enforcement officials.

If elected to a third term, Ogg said her top priority will be reducing the case backlog and prioritizing murder trials.

Ogg noted 251 murder cases were resolved in 2023, the highest number in 10 years.

Ogg said she hopes to expand diversion programs for those suffering with substance abuse, the mentally ill and juveniles.

She acknowledged she faces a difficult battle to win the primary in the face of Teare’s well-funded campaign.

Teare has raised more than $900,000 for his campaign, although a majority of that funding came from just two donors. He has outspent Ogg by a 3-to-1 margin, totaling about $522,000, according to a Feb. 6 campaign finance report.

Teare has a little over $421,000 in cash remaining.

Ogg has raised about $730,000 since the beginning of 2023, and has a little more than $563,000 in cash-on-hand, according to a Feb. 5 campaign finance report.

The eventual winner of the primary will face Houston criminal defense attorney Dan Simons, the only Republican running for the position. Simons also previously worked in the district attorney’s office, serving as a prosecutor from 2013 until 2017.

The November election could be an opportunity for Republicans to regain control of the district attorney’s office, said Michael Adams, a professor of public affairs at Texas Southern University.

Adams compared the contest to last year’s Houston mayoral race, in which then-state Sen. John Whitmire used a tough-on-crime message to defeat U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Jackson Lee was endorsed by many of the same Democrats backing Teare.

“If we didn’t see this implosion within the Democratic Party, I think Sean Teare wouldn’t be an opponent and (Ogg) would sail to victory,” Adams said.

Early voting begins Tuesday.

Reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this story.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the findings of a University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs poll released Tuesday.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print.

Paul Cobler covers politics for the Abdelraoufsinno. Paul returns to Texas after covering city hall for The Advocate in Baton Rouge. During two-and-a-half years at the newspaper, he spearheaded local accountability...