The Existential Conundrum of Covering Ken Paxton
The latest “news” about the Texas attorney general.
Once again, the legal travails of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are dominating the state headlines. And once again, I’m feeling slightly disaffected: clearly, Texas Monthly should update its readers on the latest developments, but once again ,the developments are in tension with my concept of “news.”
The charges against Paxton, which we already know about—two counts of securities fraud, plus the felony he admitted to more than a year ago—were unsealed this morning, so I guess we have more details on that front, but since we knew what the charges were and an indictment is not a verdict, I can’t summon that much curiosity, frankly. And many reporters in the capitol press corps were on the scene in Collin County, so we have some news about Paxton’s mornings errands: He surrended to authorities at the Collin County jail, posed for a mugshot, and was released on bond.
I guess my role is to offer some analysis, so here it is. The mugshot, clearly, is the most popular detail of today’s news among people following developments; within minutes of release half a dozen people had texted me about it. However, I disagree with the conventional wisdom. The best detail of the day is Patrick Svitek’s sober account of Paxton’s great escape: “Afterward, he apparently slipped out of the courthouse undetected, avoiding the throng of waiting media and Democratic protesters.” Classic Paxton. Thanks, Svitek.
We’ll continue to report on this story as it develops, or as pseudo-developments command the headlines, I guess. But why wait? As readers may recall, I correctly predicted that Paxton would be indicted. Since I have access to this magic time machine known as inductive reasoning, I’ll make another prediction now. Although he’s not legally obligated to do so, Paxton will step down as attorney general—not right away, but within the next year or so (SEE UPDATE). I don’t wish the guy any personal harm, and I don’t take pleasure in anyone’s misfortune, but that would probably be the best thing for his family, for the office of the attorney-general, and for the state of Texas. And more importantly, perhaps, I would guess that’s what Governor Abbott wants. And if so (for reasons I’ll explain in the second part of my post about the Legislative Budget Board, if I ever have a chance to finish that without getting interrupted by whatever is going on with Paxton) Abbott will win: the office may be weak, but a strong governor can get what he wants.
UPDATE: I’m so exasperated by this story that I didn’t even bother to explain my reasoning on the timeline I predicted above, but I immediately received a follow-up question about that. That cheered me up, because it’s a good question, and one that reflects a heartening degree of civic engagement and concern for state government. So here’s the reasoning behind that prediction. If Paxton steps down, Abbott appoints the replacement, who serves until the next general election, unless the secretary of state’s office can’t make the necessary arrangements in time. And in general, Texas Republicans, prefer elections in non-presidential years; Abbott would probably prefer any appointee to serve through 2018. On the other hand, Abbott won by a 20-point margin in 2014; using my time machine, I say it’s a reasonably safe bet that any Republican running for statewide office in 2016 is going to win. (I mean, again: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton). And the cost-benefit analysis here may be shaped by events yet to come. My prediction here is just a prediction, and may prove wrong—but that, in any case, is the reasoning about the timeline.