State Republican leaders don’t have much to say about our allegedly felonious Attorney General.
Texas’ Republican leaders Sunday continued their radio silence on the indictment of Attorney General Ken Paxton on three felony fraud charges.
Paxton, who was elected as part of a conservative GOP sweep that put Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick into office, will reportedly surrender to authorities Monday in North Texas on felony charges stemming from an alleged investment scheme into the McKinney-based technology company Servergy, as well as his failure to register as an investment advisor representative with the state.
Republicans’ silence comes in stark contrast to the support that followed then-Gov. Rick Perry when he was indicted on felony charges last year. Party leaders were quick to publicly decry those charges as politically motivated and insist Perry would prevail.
Paxton’s indictment could spell trouble for the state’s GOP leadership – generally with voters who may see it as symptomatic of ethics problems in Austin, and even among the conservative grassroots groups that helped elect Paxton but insist that elected officials should be squeaky clean.
Democrats and government-watchdog groups continue to blast the indictment Sunday as high-lighting cronyism among the state GOP leaders. Several called for his resignation.
Neither Abbott nor Patrick, who both championed ethics during the campaign and in the legislative session earlier this year, has commented on Paxton’s predicament.
The Texas Republican Party did not return calls and emails seeking comment since the news broke Saturday. Other Paxton supporters, including state legislators who count the same conservative groups among their supporters, remained silent over the weekend.
Calls to a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were not returned Sunday.
But they have not always been so silent. During last year’s campaign, an array of GOP luminaries from Abbott to Cruz, now a presidential contender, were effusive in their praise for Paxton even after he admitted and was punished for violating state securities.
Cruz, a star among Christian conservatives and tea party activists, referred to Paxton as “a good friend” at campaign rallies and cited Paxton’s support of straight-line conservative causes from opposing Obamacare and federal overreach to support of voter ID and more border security.
“You’re a good, strong conservative leader,” Cruz said of Paxton in one speech.
Paxton, in return, ran heavily on Cruz’s support, a key proof of his conservative bona fides that some political observers said helped him clinch a victory in the GOP primaries against Rep. Dan Branch, a favorite among establishment Republicans.
Privately, some Austin insiders said the issue was Paxton’s to address. Since it did not involve allegations of wrongdoing in his role as a state official, and because the case involved private business dealings, they said state business was not involved.
No doubt, this is going to cause heartburn for some people, from Cruz to Abbott to Dan Patrick and on down. That will be one of the fun parts about this saga. It’s not like no one could have seen this coming – Dan Branch and Sam Houston both made an issue of it in the elections last year. There were enough voters who cared more about Paxton’s stances on social issues than his integrity or capability, and so here we are. Still, let’s not forget how much better we could have done in this department.
Paxton’s Democratic opponent from 2014, attorney Sam Houston, said when the November election rolled around there was a cloud of controversy hanging over the Republican nominee. By then, Paxton had already easily defeated state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who had made Paxton’s alleged ethical lapses the centerpiece of his primary runoff.
“Dan Branch and I both talked about a pattern in the election. So I don’t think this is anything surprising or new,” Houston said. “I hate to say I told you so because that doesn’t make me feel better, but we were saying that it was likely that once he was elected that he could be indicted and sure enough, it’s happened. It’s just been even more counts than I even thought would happen.”
As word of the indictment spread, it was Tea Party activists who were the most willing to speak out about it. Writing for Empower Texans, an influential conservative group, its general counsel Tony McDonald questioned whether the investigations of Paxton had ties to the leadership of House Speaker Joe Straus.
Saying House leaders’ “motives are obvious,” McDonald wrote hours before word of the indictment spread: “Paxton rose to statewide prominence when he challenged Straus for the speakership in 2011. Further, the three are still stinging from Paxton’s defeat of their ally and Straus’s boyhood friend, Dan Branch, in the 2014 primary for Attorney General.”
Those voters who have sided with Paxton through the controversy, [SMU poli sci prof Cal] Jillson said, need to “blink hard twice and ask themselves what they were thinking.”
Some conservatives are taking a less defensive approach to Paxton’s legal troubles, though. North Texas Tea Party activist Mike Openshaw wrote on Facebook that Paxton should “step aside” if the reports about his indictment were true.
“Texas conservatives need to maintain a higher standard,” Openshaw wrote. “We aren’t Democrats.”
Yeah, we Democrats knew he was a crook a long time ago. Welcome to the table, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for your colleagues to come along with you. They’re all doing their best to pretend nothing has happened.
“Judge [George] Gallagher has specifically instructed both parties to refrain from public comment on this matter, and we are honoring the judge’s instructions,” Paxton attorney Joe Kendall, a former federal judge, said in a statement.
It was a far cry from the full-throated and indignant denials of other Texas leaders who have — on not entirely rare occasions — found themselves indicted. And it indicated that the state’s top law enforcement official is facing months, if not years, of his office and his stature being diminished under the weight of criminal charges.
“His situation is darkened,” said Republican political consultant Bill Miller.
The difficulties of Paxton’s defense are already stacking up: The investigation was run by the Texas Rangers; a hometown Collin County grand jury indicted him; and the charges spring from his questionable involvement in troubled financial deals, Miller said.
Paxton is accused of encouraging investors in 2011 to put more than $600,000 into a McKinney-based technology company, Servergy Inc. He is charged with failing to disclose to investors that he was making a commission on their investment. And he is alleged to have misrepresented himself as an investor in the company.
In the wake of the allegations has come a deafening silence from Republican colleagues.
“That’s the loudest noise in the room,” Miller said.
“The Democrats will yell for his resignation, and the Republicans will be silent,” he said. “However it’s resolved, he’s seriously wounded.”
They may have to say something now that Paxton has turned himself in for booking and a spectacularly ugly mugshot – seriously, where was Rick Perry’s stylist when Paxton needed him? The state Republican Party did issue a a perfunctorily snotty statement reminding us that even someone like Ken Paxton is innocent until proven guilty (and not subsequently cut loose by the Court of Criminal Appeals). Here’s one reason why at least some Republicans may not be out there standing by him: At least one, Rep. Byron Cook, is a complainant. Awkward! Several other Republicans lost money in a deal involving Paxton as well, though I don’t know if that one is part of the charges against him. Point being, as this is about money and not politics, the lines could get just a little blurry. Settle in and enjoy the ride going forward. Newsdesk, BOR, Hair Balls, Paradise in Hell, Texas Leftist, Trail Blazers, the Lone Star Project, the Observer, the full-of-ennui Burkablog, the Trib, and the Current have more.
UPDATE: Here’s the Republican Party of Texas’ statement on Paxton’s indictment. I did mention that they put out a statement in my writeup above, but there’s a pull quote from a story earlier in the cycle when they hadn’t yet put a statement out, so I’m putting this here for clarity.