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Why Dallas Voters Ousted Watkins As District Attorney

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Perhaps the biggest impact of the mid-term elections in Dallas County is in the district attorney's office.

Two-term DA Democrat Craig Watkins will move out and Republican Susan Hawk is getting ready to move in.

It came as a shock for many of those who watched Watkins become the darling of Dallas Democrats after he was elected the county's top law enforcement chief in 2006.

Over the next few years, Watkins made an international name for himself as his office helped overturn wrongful convictions for people like Richard Miles.

"When DA Watkins took office, he allowed the idea to become a reality," said Miles.

Miles could still be in state prison for a killing he didn't commit, if it were not for Watkins commitment to clear wrongful convictions.  Miles says Watkins willingness to question convictions will his legal legacy.

However, Dallas' top prosecutor county couldn't exonerate himself from a deteriorating reputation in the political courtroom.

"A lot of people, moderate democrats, core constituents looked at him and said this is over," said SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson.

Critics claimed Watkins damaged his own reputation and the DA's office over unethical actions and politics.

Jillson called the election night decision a vote against Watkins' moves to wield more power within the Democratic Party.

"He ran a slate of judges against judges he didn't like. He ran an assistant against the Dallas County Democrats chair, and when that didn't work, he was done," said SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson.

Susan Hawk also believed Watkins played political favorites in the county's top law enforcement office, and she stuck to that message during her campaign.

"Our message has been this is a position that shouldn't be about politics. It's about justice. I think the voters understand that, and evident last night," said Hawk.

On the day after the election, Hawk said she wants to expand the noted D-A program under Watkins, the unit that investigates wrongful convictions.

As for Watkins and what may be next for the once rising star of the Dallas Democratic Party, we will have to wait and see.  On election night, Watkins stayed away from the media hosting a private party for friends and family.

When he emerged to speak to reporters, after conceding the race at about 1 a.m., he said, "I got to be a change agent for eight years, and I'm blessed for that."

Watkins added that poor voter turnout hurt him in his re-election bid.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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