Even for a cynic like me, this is breathtaking.
Rep. Jeff Leach was “pissed off.”
He had just found out that Ken Paxton wanted $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit with a group of whistleblowers who’d accused him of corruption and retaliation. Leach, a Collin County Republican like Paxton, considered the Texas attorney general a friend — one he fiercely defended in the past.
But asking the Legislature to pony up the money was too much. On Feb. 10, he texted Michelle Smith, Paxton’s senior advisor, and urged the state’s top lawyer to come to the Capitol and publicly explain himself.
“Legislators have questions and we want answers. If we get the satisfactory answers, then all will be fine,” Leach wrote to Smith, according to copies of the messages The Dallas Morning News obtained through public records requests.
“I don’t think y’all understand how pissed members are, including many of your conservative friends in the house and senate. I don’t know a single legislator who believes taxpayers should be expected to be on the hook for this,” he added.
“What happened to, ‘I will work with him until the day I die?” she responded in the text thread, urging Leach to speak directly with Paxton. “If he’s a friend get the full story.”
“The Christian thing to do is to ask what’s going on in Private. If you don’t like the answer then do whatever public,” she added later in that conversation.
“You’re really gonna go there with me?!” Leach fired back. “This is on Ken. Not on me. I’m doing my job. I will be calling a public hearing and he and I can have the conversation on the record.”
“You do you,” Smith replied.
You know what happened from there. The story describes how the text exchanges between Leach and Smith got more barbed and personal, and it’s kind of amazing to watch – go read the texts for yourself to get the flavor. The story also notes how through the entire back and forth between the Lege and Paxton’s office over paying for the settlement, it was always someone else speaking on Paxton’s behalf and never Paxton himself. Paxton would sometimes deign to attend a committee hearing but he never spoke, even when legislators asked him questions directly. This is what I mean by “arrogance”. I noted it as a possible catalyst for the impeachment way back at the beginning of this whole mess.
This is another situation in which I wonder if anyone, in this cases at the AG’s office, knows how to do politics in even the most basic way. I can’t tell if Paxton and his minions don’t realize that he could have avoided all of this if he’d just acted like a grownup and talked to the Appropriations committee like he was asked to, or if they do know that and still think he shouldn’t have had to talk to these commoners about all of that unpleasantness. This isn’t about ideology or making the rounds on the wingnut media circuit, it’s basic human relations. The Legislature – quite rightly, quite reasonably , quite understandably – wants to do its normal thing in the appropriations process, and that means asking the man himself why they should pay for this settlement. Someone who understood politics at the most basic level would show up, be direct and forthright and a little self-deprecating, with some humor and a bit of self-awareness, and in the end they’d have gotten most if not all of what they wanted. Really, truly, this is not rocket science.
The best part of all this is now we have Tony Buzbee braying about how the Lege did all this in secret (to be fair, they did catch us by surprise when the General Investigations Committee had its hearing) and never gave Paxton the chance to defend himself, when in reality from the beginning he’s refused to say a damn thing. Every step of the way, he brought this on himself. Whatever happens in the Senate, let’s not forget that. Reform Austin has more.