If the Texas Governor’s race is the center ring political attraction, then the Attorney General race is the slightly disreputable sideshow that audiences just can’t look away from.
AG Ken Paxton managed to squeak by without a Republican primary challenger in 2018 despite being indicted on securities fraud. Since then, Paxton has used his office to stall his day at court while also earning the attention of the Justice Department over possible bribery charges. This time around, other Republicans with an eye on the AG-to-governor pipeline that served Greg Abbott and Rick Perry so well are keen to capitalize on Paxton’s troubles.
Land Commissioner George P. Bush has been hammering hard on Paxton’s legal woes, saying that the Republican Party needs to his “reset” on the office. He’s also appointed himself spokesman of the conservative opposition to Paxton.
“This is a fire him, hire me election,” he said in an interview with Capitol Tonight. “The three of us are going to talk about his legal challenges wherever we go.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler), who is also vying for the AG slot, has launched digs at Paxton, accusing the attorney general of only tackling conservative priorities to take attention from his increasing legal troubles.
“If you allow me, I will not wait to be my busiest until after there’s some bad press about illegal improprieties,” Gohmert said in his announcement video, referring to the bribery accusations connecting Paxton to Austin real estate businessman Nate Paul. “I’ll start boldly protecting your rights on Day 1.”
Paxton’s own charges are just one of the balls in the juggling act. Gohmert’s assertion that the attorney general is using his office to shore up conservative support is supported by recent actions. Paxton has launched yet another lawsuit at the Biden Administration, this time over mask mandates in the Head Start early childhood education program. Paxton said in a statement that “the liberty and freedom of all Americans is at stake,” and did not seem interested in the fact that masks have long been proven to be an effective tool in the fight against the spread of COVID.
This will be the fourth challenge to various federal COVID prevention mandates that Paxton has filed.
Of course, suing Democratic presidents is arguably the primary political function of a Republican Texas attorney general. Gohmert and Bush are well underway in proving they have what it takes to annoy President Joe Biden. Bush has sued Biden already for stopping construction on the border wall awkwardly begun by former President Donald Trump, and Gohmert filed a ridiculous suit trying to overturn the last presidential election. Gohmert’s legal juggling act may not be trying to cover up criminal wrongdoing, but these suits can potentially help shore up conservative support while covering some of his previous bizarre statements such as that he caught COVID from a mask and that climate change could be averted by moving the moon.
In all, it’s a circus where everyone involved is trying to use the courts to rile up support among the far-right while covering up either criminal wrongdoing or crazed conspiracy theories. It will be interesting to see who drops the balls first.