KU law professor wins primary race for Douglas County district attorney, ousts longtime incumbent Branson
photo by: Journal-World file photo; contributed photo
Story updated at 11:10 p.m. Tuesday:
A University of Kansas law professor who has called for more transparency and equity in criminal prosecutions has unseated the longtime Douglas County District Attorney.
Suzanne Valdez posted a comfortable victory in a three-way Democratic primary on Tuesday night, winning nearly 40% of the vote, according to unofficial vote totals, while incumbent Charles Branson finished third, with less than 30% of all votes.
The three candidates — Cooper Overstreet, a Lawrence defense attorney, Valdez, a University of Kansas law professor and special prosecutor for Wyandotte County, and incumbent Branson all ran as Democrats.
Valdez led the race by about 1,170 votes as of 11:10 p.m. Tuesday, with 6,576, or 39.8%. Overstreet came in second, with 5,407 votes or 32.7%. Branson finished third with 4,562, or 27.6%.
After the results of Tuesday’s primary election — barring a successful write-in campaign — Valdez, 51, will likely be elected district attorney in the November general election and be sworn in early next year.
Branson had not faced an opponent since he was first elected in 2004.
Forums during the last couple of months had at times become a heated as candidates pointed out perceived shortcomings or questioned past actions of their opponents.
Fundraising did not prove to be a strong predictor of who would win the race. As the Journal-World reported, Branson was leading the race to raise campaign funds. Between Jan. 1 and July 23, Branson’s campaign raised $23,243. Overstreet was not far behind with $19,681, and Valdez came in third with $11,850.
In her campaign, Valdez called for more transparency in the DA’s office. She said she wants to create uniform policies on how cases are handled, where currently she said there is “a chaotic system where people don’t know what expectations are, what needs to be done to properly prosecute and put people through the criminal justice system in a fair and equitable way.”
Valdez had drawn criticism from some in the Democratic party who were concerned about her recent flip from the Republican party. However, Valdez explained that she had been a “Bob Dole Republican” and that she has “a social justice heart.” She said she hoped her record would speak for itself.
She is currently employed as a clinical professor at the KU School of Law. As a special prosecutor for the Wyandotte County DA’s office, she handles cases that involve a conflict of interest — for instance, if a victim were related to someone in the DA’s office — in order to be fair and impartial.
Valdez could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night. Her campaign manager, Zachary Thomason, told the Journal-World she had stepped away from her phone to spend the evening with her family.
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More 2020 election coverage: Douglas County district attorney race
• April 28, 2020: District Attorney Charles Branson files for reelection in 2020
• April 16, 2020: Two Democrats file to run for Douglas County district attorney