AUSTIN (Nexstar) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton routinely makes headlines for filing lawsuits against the federal government. But in recent months, his own legal troubles have sometimes received more attention than his work.
A panel appointed by the Texas State Bar is investigating Paxton and his staff for their failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The investigation began in early summer and aims to determine if there was misconduct on Paxton’s part in regard to a December 2020 lawsuit headed up by Paxton, which asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh the constitutionality of 2020 election procedures used in battleground states Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Paxton’s office calls the panel conducting the investigation “one-sided and partisan,” claiming the group is made up of left-leaning lawyers “strategically” picked from Travis County.
“Texans know exactly what’s going on here,” said Paxton in a press release. “It is no surprise that a cabal of President Biden donors and voters are finding a way to retaliate against the work of my office for the State of Texas’s challenge to the constitutionality of the 2020 elections.”
Earlier this month, east Texas congressman Louie Gohmert said he worried the accusations against Paxton could hurt efforts to keep the Attorney General’s office in Republican hands.
“They’ll indict him after the primary, and then you can’t change who’s on the general election form,” Gohmert said. He pointed to Paxton’s close victory in 2018 as another cause for concern.
“This time, he would lose and we’d have a Democrat for Attorney General,” Gohmert concluded. The congressman made the comments in an interview shortly after announcing he would run for Texas Attorney General himself, if he could raise $1 million in campaign donations in 10 days. On Monday, Gohmert confirmed that he would join the race.
‘Conservative fighters’ challenge Paxton in GOP primary for Attorney General
Paxton’s legal issues have been a big factor in leading other fellow Republicans to launch campaigns against him for the GOP nomination for Attorney General in the 2022 elections.
Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced his campaign in the summer. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman also jumped in the race. State Representative Matt Krause also said he intended to run for the nomination, but once Gohmert joined the race, Krause abandoned his plans to campaign for Attorney General.
All the remaining Republican challengers pitch themselves as conservative fighters, but they have different views when it comes to their motivation for getting in the race, and what they say sets them apart.
“I think this campaign comes down to executive experience. I’m the only one that’s run organizations in the private sector, the public sector, and also in the military,” Bush explained. “I’m ready to start this job day one.”
Click above for full interview with George P. Bush
Bush, the son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, says his experience in the private sector is what the Attorney General’s office needs.
“This office needs to be turned upside down. It needs to be reformed,” Bush said. “We need to attract new talent to the most important law firm in the state of Texas.”
Guzman said her 22 years of experience as a judge makes her the best person for the job.
“The good thing about being a judge in coming to this job with my experience is that I take a look at every issue with fresh eyes,” Guzman said. “The only thing that’s guided my decisions over the last 22 years is the Constitution.”
Click above for full interview with Eva Guzman
“Whether it’s fighting for the unborn, being a voice for our children, whether it’s securing the border, whether it’s election integrity, whether it’s upholding the Constitution, I’m the one with a proven track record over two decades of supporting our constitution and upholding conservative values,” Guzman said.
All three Republican challengers said the accusations facing Paxton helped convince them to get into the race. We asked Bush and Guzman whether they thought those allegations rose to the level that the Attorney General should resign.
“Yes I do, for the good of the people of Texas,” Guzman said. “It is time for Ken Paxton to resign and focus on his own legal issues,” she added, referencing a similar statement made last year by Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas).
Bush also echoed the call for Paxton to resign, adding that he should face a trial over the accusations of securities fraud. “He knows as a good lawyer does, the best way to stay out of jail is to delay the cases in for the securities fraud case that he faces where we’re in year seven,” Bush said of the unresolved case.
We reached out to Paxton’s office and his campaign to try to get an interview, but have not received a response.
Texas Democrats aim to break decades-long GOP election dominance
The last time a Texas Democrat won a statewide election for Attorney General, artists like Ace of Base and Boyz II Men topped the music charts. Dan Morales won the 1994 election. But Texas Republicans have been singing a happy tune on election night ever since.
Now, three candidates are aiming to break that GOP streak.
Joe Jaworski was the first to launch his campaign. The trial attorney also served as mayor of Galveston. He said if he were to be elected as Attorney General, he would put a high value on the idea of local government.
“I’ll declare my bias right now, that when there is room for interpretation, I’m going to side with the cities, the counties, the school boards, because that’s truly what federalism is,” Jaworski said. “The state does not need to be authoritarian.”
Jaworski also said he believes health care is an important issue in the campaign. “Prior authorization abuse is a concern I have,” he said, before laying out an example. “A doctor who’s gone to medical school and internship and residency in 20 years of practice wants to do a scan, because the doctor thinks that’s what the patient needs, but the insurance company says, you know, we’re not going to pay for that find another way. That’s abusive. So I would like to fix that.”
Jaworski calls mental health the “crisis of our time,” and believes the next Attorney General should play a role in helping the state address the need.
“We need an attorney general who speaks out for Republicans, Democrats, independents, every Texan when it comes to receiving the benefits they’re entitled to in the field of mental health,” Jaworski said. “Health Insurance needs to cover it just like physical health, and that’s not happening.”
Jaworski also emphasized that he is an advocate for legalizing cannabis in Texas. He believes that legalizing and taxing cannabis will lead to jobs and money for the state. Jaworski says the tax revenue could help law enforcement.
“You’re going to see that we actually are going to fund law enforcement, police and district attorneys, because they’re going to save 300 million a year, because this wasteful petty prosecution will no longer be something troubling them,” Jaworski said. “We’ll be able to use the money that they save to fight real crime, domestic violence, gun crimes, cartel crimes, human trafficking, I think that is a winning suggestion,” he concluded.
The case of a man who died after being arrested on a marijuana charge helped inspire civil rights attorney Lee Merritt to join the race for Attorney General. He’s known for representing people around the country in high-profile cases tied to racial justice issues. Most recently, Merritt has been serving as a lawyer for the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man killed by a white man while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.
But it was a case close to home that pushed him toward the race for Attorney General.
“I represented the family of a young man named Marvin Scott III, not far from where I live,” Merritt said during an interview last summer. “He was arrested for less than a joint of marijuana because in Texas marijuana is still illegal.”
Scott died while in custody. Eight Collin County corrections officers were accused of improperly restraining him before his death. A grand jury declined to indict the officers. Merritt said Scott’s family struggled to find details about how he died.
The Attorney General’s office was responsible for providing them access to the evidence, and Ken Paxton flat out refused,” Merritt said.
“It was that decision and it was that incident, so close to home, where again, where I raised my kids were my communities directly impacted that I decided that I wanted to take over the position of the Texas Attorney General to take on things like decriminalizing marijuana, to take on things like tackling mental health in this community so that we’re not dealing with mental health in a way that that promotes violence, ” Merritt explained.
Legalizing cannabis is also an issue in the campaign of Rochelle Garza. “We also need to engage in criminal justice reform and that starts with legalizing cannabis,” she said.
Garza is a lawyer who once worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. She emphasized the importance of protecting civil rights, voting rights, and women’s access to abortion care. Garza singled out one case she worked on, a case of a young woman who was denied access to abortion care while she was in an immigration detention center in south Texas.
“Ken Paxton tried to involve himself in that case. We fought him back,” Garza said. “We got her the care she needed. We took that case all the way up to the Supreme Court and made sure that no one, no teen in immigration detention would be denied access to their constitutional right to abortion care.”
Garza said that case shows why she’s the best person for the Democratic nomination.
“We need to come together and focus on making sure that we put up the best candidate, that is going to [face] Ken Paxton, and that is me, because I am someone who I’ve already taken him on,” Garza said. “I know what it’s like to fight Ken Paxton, I know what it’s like to win.”
Paxton leads early polls in race for Attorney General
Election day for the primary is still four months away, but Ken Paxton is the clear leader in early polls. An October survey from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune put Paxton on top in the GOP primary.
The survey of Texas voters asked who Republican voters would support in the primary. Paxton received 48% support in the poll. George P. Bush was the closest challenger with 16% support. Matt Krause received 3%, Eva Guzman came in with 2% in the poll.
But the poll found that Paxton still has low approval ratings. The statewide poll found Paxton had a 35% approval rating, while 37% of voters polled said they disapproved of his job performance.
“His approval, and especially his approval among Republicans is similar to the Lieutenant Governor’s,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project. Blank explained that Republicans in the poll gave Paxton a 65% approval score, with about 12% disapproving.
“This reflects the fact that Paxton has been, among many things, very attentive to the policies and preferences of Republican voters,” Blank said.
The poll also asked about the candidates running for the Democratic nomination. Joe Jaworski led the field with 14%, Lee Merritt took 8%. The poll was conducted before Garza announced her intention to run in the primary. But most voters, 72% in the poll, said they had not yet formed an opinion about the candidates.
“It’s really hard for many politicians, who don’t already have the advantage of incumbency like Attorney General Paxton, to really break through in a state with so large cities in so many media markets,” Blank explained.
“The thing that really defines that race at this point is the fact that most Democratic voters have no opinion of any of the candidates,” Blank said.