Mark Gonzalez, embattled Nueces County district attorney, resigns for bid to challenge Ted Cruz

The now-former DA had been facing potential removal from office as the result of a petition from a conservative activist.

By Raul AlonzoSeptember 7, 2023 1:33 pm,

On Tuesday, the district attorney for Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi, resigned and threw his hat in the ring to challenge Ted Cruz for his U.S. Senate seat.

Democrat Mark Gonzalez had been facing potential removal from office – the result of a petition drive from a conservative activist – and was about a week away from appearing at a pre-trial hearing for the civil lawsuit.

Since he was first elected in 2016, the DA’s profile has risen as part of a wave of progressive district attorneys taking office around the country, with Gonzalez pursuing cite-and-release policies for minor offenses and striking a combative tone toward conservative directives from Austin and Washington during the Trump administration.

J. David Goodman covers Texas as Houston Bureau chief for the New York Times, and he joined Texas Standard to discuss Gonzalez’s resignation and decision to run. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: So before we get into the resignation and the announcement, let’s talk a little bit about who Mark Gonzalez is. As I mentioned, he’s pretty well known even outside of Nueces County, no?

J. David Goodman: Yeah, that’s right.

I mean, he came in on sort of this wave of interest among voters in having progressive prosecutors who promised reforms to the way criminal justice was handled in various counties, especially urban counties. But Mark Gonzalez really stood out even among that group in the sense that, you know, he himself has a record.

He was arrested for DUI back in the day when he was young. He was a criminal defense attorney – and quite a successful one – in Nueces County. And sort of most notably, he’s pretty much covered in tattoos on his chest and on his arms. And, you know, this is something that he really takes pride in, the way that he’s stood out and the way that he was an effective defense attorney.

And he brought that kind of persona and that approach to the DA’s office: having an office that was a little bit more friendly to defense counsel – not in the sense of letting them win cases, but really sort of sharing more information, being more transparent. And he saw his job, as, you know, trying to do what was right for for everyone involved.

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I think last year he got a lot of attention for vowing not to go after abortion-related criminal charges if Roe v. Wade was overturned, and it was. And he had previously promised not to prosecute families for getting gender-affirming care for transgender minors, right?

That’s right.

He signed a pledge, along with several other DAs – Travis County and other places. And that was actually one of the things that conservative activists saw as a reason to try and get him out of office. And he kind of stood up for that and for other, as you mentioned, policies that he was trying to put into place.

So he was trying to make Nueces County a more progressive place, and that riled a lot of people in the county.

Well, as I understand it, this lawsuit that he faced was brought by a local conservative, Colby Wiltse, and a conservative group. The allegations were incompetency, official misconduct and failure to give bond. How would you assess those accusations?

Well, what’s really interesting in what this case really brings to the fore is that, you know, Texas’ Constitution has had this mechanism for any citizen to be able to bring a petition to try and remove a county official. There’s a certain list of county officials you can do this for, and the DA is one of them.

You saw this happen actually in El Paso recently where the DA there was facing a similar kind of removal petition. And in that case, there were allegations that she was mishandling the prosecution of the shooter in the Walmart shooting, the mass shooting there.

In Nueces County, the accusations were much more broad and, you know, took into account a lot of the sort of progressive policies that Mark Gonzalez was trying to put into place. And so it really had much more of a political valence to it. They also accused him of mishandling certain cases. Now, Gonzalez said he did many of the things that they said he did, but that was his prerogative to do that. He had a lot of discretion as district attorney.

Prosecutorial discretion.

Yeah, exactly. He’s allowed to dismiss cases when he feels that that’s warranted in the interest of justice. And that’s what he was doing. But it was those same dismissals that these conservative activists were saying were the reason for him to be removed.

He’s now announced this run for U.S. Senate. He’s going to be joining a Democratic field that includes some big names – Dallas Congressman Colin Allred, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde. Was this announcement expected, and what do you make of the timing of his decision to resign and run?

It wasn’t so much expected, but, you know, this is a big open seat. It’s a way for him to make his name, even if he doesn’t ultimately win the primary.

But, you know, I was with Mark Gonzalez earlier this year, too, for a story that I wrote and his perspective on politics in general is that everyone’s always counted him out and he’s surprised. He surprised in Nueces County, a place that’s pretty purple, and was able to win despite that and with a progressive message.

And he thinks that, you know, he’s always worked hard, he was never someone who was destined for great success. But he’s proved everybody wrong, and that’s what he thinks he can do here.

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