TEXAS VIEW: Jeff Leach showed the courage we need from Texas lawmakers

THE POINT: Standing up to Paxton’s adviser put people over party.

For a democracy to function, elected officials must be able to rise above party politics, self-gain and personal connections to follow their consciences and act on behalf of the greater good for all.

We know that isn’t the way things work most of the time, and it’s a big reason Americans are so cynical about their government.

But sometimes you get an example of the better nature of what our democracy can be. One such example came from state Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican with the most solid conservative bona fides.

Leach was one of the many lawmakers rightly appalled that Attorney General Ken Paxton blithely expected taxpayers to pony up a $3.3 million settlement with former top Paxton aides who say they were were forced out of their jobs after they had had enough with the malfeasance they saw Paxton engaging in.

Leach appropriately wanted answers about why taxpayers should be on the hook.

What he got in return from Paxton’s senior adviser, Michelle Smith, was a case study in every sort of pressure to keep things hidden and in the dark in the name of party and personal fealty.

As our news colleague Lauren McGaughy reported in an important story last week, Leach rejected Smith’s bullying and pleading at every turn in the name of a public hearing on the settlement.

“Jeff, you are MY STATE REP. My personal rep.,” she wrote. She reminded him repeatedly that he and Paxton are personally close and that he should put that relationship above his duty to his constituents. She said he needed to do the “Christian” and “Biblical” thing by keeping the facts in the dark.

Every suggestion she made was a perversion of how a true public servant and a faithful person should act, honestly and transparently and in the name of those they represent.

Leach, to his great credit, was having none of it. The responsibility, he rightly said, lay with Paxton, not with him.

“I will not be blamed for this. Nor will I put our ‘friendship’ over my sworn duty to my citizens,” he texted Smith.

He repeatedly insisted that constituents should hear what they were paying for and that Paxton should have the chance to tell his side of the story — in the full light of day.

Paxton’s actions in office have repeatedly demonstrated that he puts himself and his interests first. The career attorneys whom he forced out were not only strong public servants; they were genuine conservatives.

The sort of cajoling and bullying Smith demonstrated with Leach mirrors the sort we heard from whistleblowers in the office.

Thank goodness that we still have elected representatives with the conscience and will to say when enough is enough.

The Dallas Morning News