Bexar County DA candidates Gonzales, LaHood will square off on criminal justice in Wednesday debate – San Antonio Report

District Attorney Joe Gonzales and challenger Marc LaHood will go head-to-head in the San Antonio Report’s town hall-style debate on Wednesday at San Antonio College’s 1,000-seat McAllister Fine Arts Center at 1300 San Pedro Ave.

Gonzales, a Democrat, was elected in 2018 after defeating embattled incumbent Nico LaHood in the primary. He grew up on the West Side of San Antonio and studied political science at St. Mary’s University. He attended St. Mary’s School of Law and has practiced criminal law for roughly 30 years. 

LaHood, brother of former DA Nico LaHood, is a political newcomer and trial attorney who also received his degree from St. Mary’s Law School. He currently practices for LaHood Law with his father, Michael LaHood.

In the last midterm election cycle, Bexar County’s district attorney race became a top target for progressives, who spent roughly $1 million to elect Gonzales in 2018.

Since he was elected, Gonzales’s cite-and-release program has kept roughly 6,200 low-level offenders — mostly marijuana possessions, according to his office — from being arrested. He’s also revamped the criminal intake process to connect nonviolent offenders with resources like mental health and employment services to keep them from committing crimes in the future.

As crime across the country has spiked in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, Republicans say progressive district attorneys like Gonzales haven’t done enough to address lower-level crimes like trespassing, theft and vandalism. A progressive district attorney in San Francisco was recalled earlier this year, drawing national attention to the issue.

Though new to politics, LaHood has had some early success raising money. He won a contested primary and has endeared himself to Republicans, attending a recent rally hosted by President Donald Trump’s supporters. He also has the support of the San Antonio Police Officers’ Association, which has taken issue with Gonzales’s approach to prosecuting low-level crimes.

“If we take accountability away, our behavior doesn’t get better,” LaHood framed his campaign pitch in recent candidate forum. “We have a chance to take back our streets and hold people accountable.” 

In a county run by Democrats, Gonzales has the advantage of working closely with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Sheriff Javier Salazar, both of whom have praised his work in the district attorney’s office. 

Gonzales has pointed to the pandemic and lenient gun laws statewide for higher levels of violent crime, which has increased nationwide in counties with and without progressive district attorneys. He says his office is focusing its limited resources on keeping the most dangerous criminals off the streets. 

Though the Texas Justice & Safety PAC that went big for Gonzales in 2018 has laid low this election cycle, Gonzales will again have the support of the grassroots group Texas Organizing Project, which is already door-knocking for his reelection. 

Laquita Garcia, policy coordinator for TOP’s criminal justice campaign, said she’s concerned about LaHood “coming into office and undoing all of the work that has been done” since his brother left.

“We’ve moved in a good direction under Joe Gonzales’s leadership as DA,” Garcia said. “My concern is that we won’t continue to experience that same kind of leadership under LaHood and his tough-on-crime rhetoric.”

Wednesday’s debate will also be livestreamed.

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