Couple of interesting tidbits in here.
A tea party darling with a dozen years in the state Legislature, Sen. Ken Paxton has avoided the media since admitting to a third-degree felony violation of state securities law in late April. Spokesman Anthony Holm serves as his gatekeeper – even once physically blocking a reporter from approaching the candidate – while Paxton refuses to release his public schedule or meet with newspaper editorial boards.
The McKinney Republican refused multiple interview requests for this story.
Democratic opponent Sam Houston is Paxton’s foil in almost every way. So eager to garner media attention and sow unease about his opponent’s past, the Houston lawyer holds press conferences with few or no attendees. He has never held office, though he came closer than anyone expected in a recent bid for the Texas Supreme Court, and only jumped in the attorney general’s race after finding that no other Democrat intended to enter.
The importance of the position cannot be oversold. The attorney general decides what legal battles to wage on behalf of the state, and what information should and can be released to the public by government officials and agencies. This year, Abbott steered the debate over abortion, gay marriage, voter identification and the disclosure of dangerous chemical information. His successor will help determine the future of public school funding and much more.
Paxton has said he would take up Abbott’s mantle to act as a bulwark between Texas and “federal encroachment.” Houston views the office differently. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said he disagreed with many of Abbott’s decisions, but none more than his repeated lawsuits against the federal government: “A lawsuit ought to be your very last resort, and it shouldn’t be a campaign slogan. It doesn’t do any dang good.”
Both men recognize the attorney general’s duty is to the law, but Houston said the office should be an advocate for the entire state and “not just certain interests.”
“I think there might be situations when you say, ‘the state’s acting unconstitutionally. Well, I’m going to take my role as a public official and I’m not going to defend that,'” said Houston. He called Abbott’s insistence that he can’t settle the state’s school finance lawsuit “a cop out,” and said as attorney general he would work on a settlement.
After 12 years in the Legislature, Paxton consistently is described by his Senate and former House colleagues as a soft-spoken, introspective lawmaker, a quiet ideologue. Never a bomb-thrower, he gained notoriety by remaining cordial with his colleagues while challenging moderate Republicans on policy and leadership. He is heavily endorsed by tea party groups and backed by divisive figures like conservative powerbroker Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose Empower Texans PAC helped give Paxton the financial upper hand against Houston by lending his campaign more than $1 million.
In his early years in the Legislature, Paxton spoke up on education and transparency issues, complaining in 2005 he had been “inundated by government lobbyists” during the session. He opposed tax increases, voted against equal pay efforts and co-sponsored Texas’ 2011 voter identification bill, which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional last week. He has been a leader on anti-abortion legislation, including the state’s pre-abortion sonogram requirement. He voted for requiring drug testing for welfare recipients and was one of only four senators to vote against the 2013 state budget that funneled billions back into public school funding “because it was too big.”
Paxton consistently is popular with tea party Republicans, but not with more moderate members of his party. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas and a Branch supporter in the runoff, has thrown his support behind him despite concerns with Paxton’s media strategy and his refusal to debate his opponent. Bob Deuell, another long-time moderate Republican senator ousted by a tea partyer this year, said he could not support Paxton: “I’m just probably not going to vote in that race.”
“He’s not going to stick his neck out on any issues,” Deuell said. “But I don’t lose any sleep about him being attorney general. The world’s not going to come to an end.”
Deuell is a moderate in the same way that I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, but never mind that for now. Most of what’s in this section isn’t new, but it’s good to have a reminder that 1) the AG office is really important, 2) Ken Paxton is fully aware that he’s in deep doo-doo, no matter how hard is poor overworked spokesperson has to issue the same stale denials, and 3) Paxton is a stone ideologue who will continue Greg Abbott’s practice of representing the interests of the Republican Party over everyone else’s, regardless of the cost, correctness, or likelihood of success. I hope Bob Deuell has a lot of company here, because we’re going to need it to get Sam Houston elected.
Speaking of, here’s the smaller section of the story about Sam Houston:
Sam Houston’s name is certainly memorable, but it is not the one he claimed at birth. He was born Samuel Jones in Colorado City in 1963. His parents divorced soon after, and his father disappeared when he was a toddler, Houston said. His mother remarried and he took on his stepfather’s notable moniker.
The grandson of farmers and ranchers, Houston grew up working in his family’s auto shop. He first left the sleepy west Texas town to attend the University of Texas at Austin, after which he proceeded to Baylor for law school. He and Paxton overlapped by one year there, but their paths never crossed.
Houston married his college sweetheart soon after the two moved to Houston in the mid-1980s. But by 1993, she had developed colon cancer and died three years later. Houston said he spiraled emotionally, culminating in a 1997 arrest for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty, served six months probation.
It was meeting and marrying his second wife that likely ended the cycle, Houston said: “I had a couple of really hard years. … I can say Jantha probably pulled me out of it, to be honest with you.”
I must say, I knew none of that before reading this story. That doesn’t happen to me very often these days. It would have been interesting to have seen how some of this information might have been conveyed and received if Ken Paxton had run an actual campaign instead of hiding under a rock. Too bad for him that being out in public and actually talking about things was a risk he couldn’t bear. The Trib, which covered a lot of the same ground as the Chron but with more of a focus on Houston’s campaign and Paxton’s non-campaign, and Texas Politics have more.