In April 2019, John Creuzot, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, announced that his office would not prosecute theft of “necessary items,” such as diapers or baby formula, with a value less than $750. Part of a package of sentencing reforms, including a mass dismissal of more than 1,000 marijuana-possession cases, this fulfilled a major campaign promise and cheered his supporters: Four months after starting the job, he was enacting the progressive agenda they had hoped for. “It was a good first set of policies,” David Villalobos, a criminal-justice organizer for the progressive grassroots political group Texas Organizing Project, told me. But local newspapers were publishing op-eds questioning whether he had overstepped his boundaries and worrying about lawlessness. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, even got involved, tweeting that Creuzot’s petty-theft policy “stokes crime.” The fight was just beginning.

Texas is Republican-leaning, and although its five most populous cities are blue—or at least purple—Republican state politicians view intervention in blue cities as “political catnip,” as the Texas Monthly writer Christopher Hooks put it. At the same time, Texas has more inmates in state prisons than nearly any other state, and ranks sixth in incarceration rates. It might need more Creuzots. Whether he can succeed will reveal a lot about the appetite for reformers outside their traditional strongholds.

Texas is Republican-leaning, and although its five most populous cities are blue—or at least purple—Republican state politicians view intervention in blue cities as “political catnip,” as the Texas Monthly writer Christopher Hooks put it. At the same time, Texas has more inmates in state prisons than nearly any other state, and ranks sixth in incarceration rates. It might need more Creuzots. Whether he can succeed will reveal a lot about the appetite for reformers outside their traditional strongholds.