TEXAS VIEW: Ken Paxton’s on a political, legal rampage

THE POINT: Who will the AG sue next?

Ken Paxton is on a rampage. Politically and professionally, Paxton has approached the first quarter of the new year with renewed vigor. Some might even call it vengeance.

Leading up to the Republican primaries, Paxton targeted lawmakers and judges who had used the law to find fault in his actions. He helped push House Speaker Dade Phelan — who facilitated Paxton’s impeachment trial — into a runoff with opponent David Covey. Paxton also backed challengers to three judges on the state’s highest criminal court, which might eventually have to rule on his securities fraud charges.

Politics can be a dirty and scrappy wrestling match between foes. It’s a proverbial blood sport, sure, but it’s supposed to be an occupation — not a way of life or a worldview. To paraphrase a classic line, it’s business, don’t take it personally. Not for Paxton.

Recently, Paxton’s office has announced it will sue at least seven school districts over accusations of electioneering: Aledo, Castleberry, Denton, Frisco, Denison, Hutto and Huffman. The office claims that district officials used public resources to encourage staff and administrators to vote for or against certain candidates, in violation of state election law.

Hutto ISD, in northeast Austin, was surprised. A Hutto ISD official posted Feb. 28 on Facebook that “vouchers hurt our public schools,” according to the lawsuit. District officials pushed back. “At no time has the District used public resources to advocate for or against a candidate, ballot measure or political party, in violation of state law,” they said in a written statement.

Aledo ISD officials also remained firm that they did not break any laws when encouraging staff, in an email, to vote with budget cuts to public education in mind.

Of course, districts need to follow the law when it comes to electioneering. Two Denton ISD officials did explicitly press employees to vote for certain candidates, but that lawsuit has since been resolved. Emails simply encouraging people to vote shouldn’t be seen as a crime and warrant an expensive, lengthy legal process to straighten out. It seems obvious that Paxton is partnering with Gov. Greg Abbott to target public education officials opposed to a voucher program.

Paxton isn’t afraid to showcase this behavior publicly either. Recently on X, Paxton posted that Sen. John Cornyn wouldn’t be an effective Senate Majority Leader. In a post that might go down in history as equally witty and accurate, Cornyn simply quipped, “Hard to run from prison, Ken.”

Conservative allies of Paxton took umbrage, accusing Cornyn of everything from hiding his own dirt, to being an embarrassment to Texas, to lawfare. In Paxton’s case, imagine having the hubris to smear a fellow Texas lawmaker weeks before your own securities fraud trial and just months following an impeachment trial?

It’s not lawfare to point out that Paxton could spend time in prison if he’s found guilty of securities fraud. Those are facts, but if we’ve learned anything about Paxton, it’s that facts don’t stop master manipulators from gaming the political system to elect or remove one’s political foes from office.

To top it off, Paxton also just sued the State Fair of Texas, the Factory in Deep Ellum, and the owner of Texas Trust CU Theatre in Grand Prairie. The lawsuit alleges that these venues didn’t let off-duty officers inside with their firearms, violating state law.

The AG’s office apparently approached the city of Dallas, the Factory owners’ representatives and Grand Prairie prior to the lawsuit, but it still seems excessive. Since when did Republicans decide everything had to be handled in court? The GOP used to be the party that loathed frivolous lawsuits on behalf of a government that knows better than its citizens.

Paxton’s actions just after his impeachment trial and ahead of his long-delayed securities fraud trial, look like those of a man who is on a mission to exact vengeance on political foes, stir up distractions, and wield litigation as a weapon rather than a tool to enforce the law. Being overly litigious is not a sign of leadership nor success. Paxton should learn to tell the difference and stay focused on the job of representing Texans in the most crucial matters.

Fort Worth Star Telegram