If the legislation to move the prosecution of state officials in ethics cases from Travis County to their hometowns becomes law, it could usher in one of the greatest eras of public corruption in the state since gamblers controlled Galveston and Dallas and the political bosses ruled in South Texas.
Republican lawmakers—apparently afraid of the heavily Democratic grand juries and petit juries of Travis County—sent Governor Greg Abbott HB 1690 by Representative Phil King and Senator Joan Huffman to move the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County district attorney’s office and into the Texas Rangers, with any resulting prosecutions occurring in a state official’s home county. The bill is awaiting Abbott’s signature or inaction to become law, or his veto.
While HB 1690 would apply to members of the Legislature, a proposed state constitutional amendment on the November ballot, SJR 52, effectively would extend this to statewide officials. Since 1876, they have been required to live in Austin under the state Constitution, but the new language would allow them to live anywhere in the state—in other words, in any county where they would not face a hostile, partisan grand jury.
If you think I am exaggerating when I say this will lead to political corruption, then I will point you to the cases of former state Representative Ismael “Kino” Flores and former state Senator Carl Parker. Flores, a South Texas politician known as “Mr. Ten Percent,” was brought to the bar of justice for failing to fully comply with state financial disclosure laws. Parker was an innocent politician who had two sets of indictments brought against him by grand juries under the control of a vindictive local prosecutor.