Rival who defeated Sylvia Garcia aims to make difference
Jack Morman maybe hadn't done a crazy thing in his entire life.
He got straight A's and played varsity tennis at Deer Park High School. Went off to Waco to get his undergraduate and law degrees at Baylor in six years. Came back and married his high school sweetheart, Andi Moreno, a girl with a high-wattage smile he met on the school tennis courts.
They had two kids. A daughter, Jordan, and a son named Jack — the same as his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather.
So, when Morman started telling people last year that he was considering running for county commissioner, a few told him he was crazy. It was the Matterhorn of political challenges — no one had beaten an incumbent commissioner since before Morman was born. Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia could unleash an avalanche of $1.7 million in campaign cash on whoever had the audacity to challenge her. In eight years, she had sponsored plenty of the public works projects that stamp a commissioner's name all over a precinct, and she had developed a national network in rising to president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Asked why he did not dip his toe in the water with a run for school board or Deer Park City Council, Morman said, "I thought, 'If we're going to do this, why not do it all the way?' That may be one of my biggest assets or attributes. A more seasoned person might think, 'Well, OK, I know my limitations and that's not realistic.' Well, I didn't let that hold me back."
Then, looking to his wife, seated at his side, "We didn't let that hold us back."
Morman will be sworn in as the commissioner of Precinct 2 in January and start representing a million people in southeast Harris County.He'll be 32 years old, the lone member of Commissioners Court under 60.
Morman really could not campaign "all the way," to borrow his phrase. His children are so young - 3 and 2 - that only one of them can even say, "county commissioner." During the campaign, they wore T-shirts that read "Vote for my daddy."
He did not even have a campaign manager. His boss, former County Attorney Michael Fleming, offered advice, as did Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack.
As the family's lone breadwinner, Morman could not afford to take leave from his job as a lawyer. On Election Day, he had to go to court for a pretrial hearing before heading out to shake hands at a polling location. His wife was out there already.
Andi Morman said she had waved a sign outside the Kyle Chapman Courthouse Annex in Pasadena every single hour of the two weeks of early voting.
Up to Oct. 22, the last day for which his campaign spending so far has been reported, Morman spent a combined $18,000 on his primary and general election campaigns. His bare-bones website rarely changed, save for the list of endorsements 22 names long. It includes conservative activist Steven Hotze, publisherTerry Lowry and the Harris County Deputies Organization.
Morman knows he benefited from what he called "the sentiment" and Garcia called the "national mood" that propelled Republicans to victory down the entire Harris County ballot. Because he won by only 2,310 votes in a race in which 130,000 ballots were cast, he believes there was something more to it: hard work. The same thing that got him straight A's in school and a law degree on an accelerated schedule.
Morman said he learned the importance of hard work being raised by the owner of a tire shop and a court reporter in a household of conservative values where family came first. When Andi and Jack told their families about their plans for the campaign, some relatives said it was crazy - and that they were in. Morman's mother-in-law logged almost as many sign-toting hours as her daughter did.
He went to Republican club meetings, sometimes delivering a stump speech, sometimes just working the room.
As a self-described introvert, he said, it was an adjustment to draw attention to himself, to hold the floor instead of listening.
But as a litigator, he was used to shedding the shell and making a case to a dozen people.
"You get used to going against what would be your normal nature," he said of his courtroom experience.
On Tuesday night, he received the early voting totals at his mother-in-law's house. Later, he and Andi left the kids with Grandma and went to the Republican Party's Clear Lake headquarters to watch more returns.
At 1 a.m., when the returns were virtually complete, he finally was sure he had won and celebrated with what he called a huge group hug.
The next morning, he and his wife went to Denny's. When they returned home, there were TV trucks parked in front of the house. His cell phone battery died from all the calls he received, and at a Wednesday news conference, Garcia, when asked if she had any advice for Morman, said she recommended he return her calls. Morman had taken Wednesday off from work, but went into the office to use the phone.
It also is his transition team headquarters, because Fleming is the only person Morman names as providing any guidance as he prepares for his new job. Yet, there is not a shred of campaign memorabilia in his 19th-floor office overlooking Interstate 10. There isn't much more than a wall full of volumes of the Texas Litigation Guide, court files neatly stacked on his desk and family photos.
Morman had no history of political activism before he filed against Garcia.
In fact, he had never even voted in a Republican primary election until he was in one in March.
He was politically aware. He is married to a political science major and they talk over the information they get from the newspaper and Fox News.
Morman is taciturn and soft-spoken.
"He doesn't speak just to hear himself talk like so many of us lawyers," said Sean Tracey, his former boss.
Nor does he ever get cross, said his current boss, Fleming.
Rather, Morman said, when he reads or sees something he disapproves of, he shakes his head and mutters, "tsk, tsk."
Eventually, he said, he was muttering too much.
"With the way things had been going, it was kind of like, 'Well, I'm tired of complaining and it's now or never,' " he said. He did not mean just locally. He was concerned about the direction of the nation, and he and the Republicans spread the message that Garcia was a supporter of President Barack Obama, who had imposed a drilling moratorium and proposed NASA job cuts. Those issues could play powerfully in Precinct 2, home of the Ship Channel and the Johnson Space Center.
He already was working hard as a litigator. Tracey hired him fresh out of law school, when all Morman needed was a chance to prove himself. He got that chance because Tracey is one of Morman's father's hunting buddies.
The son went with them until five years ago when a hunting accident blinded him in his right eye. He still has a couple of 12-gauge pellets in his head.
These days, fun consists of trips to the Kemah Boardwalk with his kids, the occasional movie and dinner out.
Tracey found Morman to be a quietly tenacious litigator.
When Tracey's cousin, Fleming, asked if he knew any good attorneys for hire, he recommended Morman. That put Morman in the office of the former county attorney, who, incidentally, had been the last person to defeat Sylvia Garcia in an election.
As hard as Morman worked, his caseload never gets above about 20, he said. A commissioner's caseload is a quarter of the nation's third-largest county.
"This is a great way for me to be able to improve the quality of life of almost a million people," he said. "That's an awesome responsibility."
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