Watkins at Crossroads While Readying for Re-Election

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCDFW.com
    Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins.

    The first black district attorney in Texas history is having a midterm crisis.

    At 41, Craig Watkins has his own cable TV series. His novel determination to free the wrongly convicted landed him on "60 Minutes." He's a national champion of turning the penal system on its head and a "rock star" to many constituents.

    But this is Texas, and certain law-and-order traditions still stand. More inmates are executed here than anywhere else. Legislators are allowed to carry guns onto the floor of the statehouse. And prosecutors are better known for slamming cell doors than opening them.

    As his re-election campaign rattles to life this fall, Watkins finds the national halo he's been standing under has become more of a local floodlight magnifying frailties and foibles. His trailblazing has become irksome to older politicians, who consider it arrogant to break the rules before playing by them.

    Among them is John Wiley Price, the only black Dallas County commissioner, who says Watkins has "gotten to be a show horse instead of a work horse."

    And a Republican has stepped forward for the 2010 election, when it was expected the party wouldn't field anyone because Watkins was considered unbeatable.

    Like President Barack Obama, whom he reveres, Watkins is learning a hard lesson: Making impassioned speeches and election history doesn't carry the day in the daily brawl of politics.

    Especially when it comes to reforming a giant institution -- whether it be health care or criminal justice.