Reporting from the Texas Legislature, with investigation and analysis of the state's economy, public policy, education, and more. 

The Ken Paxton Problem

The real problem with attorney general Ken Paxton is not just that he has admitted to securities violations, although he has certainly done that. Or that his civil violations could now lead to a felony criminal indictment. Or that he has essentially locked himself in a closet ever since the Republican primary to avoid media scrutiny. Or that his opinions as attorney general read more like political statements than principled, legal rulings. The problem with Paxton is that he is a mediocrity, a lawyer who appears to have little respect for the law.

Five Takeaways from Ted Cruz's New Book

It’s summer, and the interim—thanks, Governor Abbott!—so yesterday I grabbed a beach towel and a glass of iced tea and settled down to read Ted Cruz’s new book, “A Time for Truth.” 

The title, in my view, is smarmy. Other than that I found it an enjoyable read, as these things go. Cruz is a deft troll, and although he worked with a ghostwriter, the result is very much Cruz’s voice. On page 80, he notes that Michael Luttig, the federal appellate judge for whom he clerked, is “an immensely meticulous man.” On page 125, he describes his future wife: “Heidi is a brilliant, meticulous, sunny blonde from California, and I was smitten with her almost immediately.”

No one describes a wife as “meticulous” because they were looking for a filler word, so based on details like that, along with Cruz’s habitual, lawyerly precision, I think we can proceed on the assumption that some of the more newsy passages in the book are conveying the messages that they were intended to. The book doesn’t say anything unduly critical of Karl Rove, for example, but the mutual contempt between the two jumps off the page.

Reading between the lines a little, here are five things that jumped out to me. The last one is the best, so read on below.

Out of Step (And Falling Behind)

The takeaway from last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions and our leadership’s reactions to them show just how far Texas has slipped away from the mainstream. Same-sex marriage? Republicans are against it. Health care for everyone? Against it. Discrimination in housing projects? We’re on the wrong side of that too.

The Limits of Scorecards

Earlier today Konni Burton, the Republican senator from Fort Worth, took the capitol press corps to task on Twitter for its collective disinterest in the EmpowerTexans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibilty’s biennial “Fiscal Responsibility Index,” which was released yesterday. As is typically the case with that particular ranking, the legislators who earned the highest praise were self-declared “fiscal conservatives,” including Burton herself. She was one of three senators, along with Bob Hall and Van Taylor, to receive a perfect score, and the implication, at least, was that the media had ignored this achievement because it didn’t fit our narrative.

I can’t speak for all media, obviously. But I can explain to readers why I ignored this index. I agreed with some of its conclusions (Burton, for example, is clearly a fiscal conservative, and I thought she was the best of the Senate’s true freshmen.) Still, as I said yesterday, the Fiscal Responsibility Index is too garbled to be meaningful. The methodology is distorted, and—as with all scorecards—overly simplistic. That’s why its results are so erratic. 

Just to make sure I’m clear: It’s true that I don’t respect EmpowerTexans as a group or take most of its “work” seriously. But I’m not dismissing the Fiscal Responsibility Index just because I don’t like Michael Quinn Sullivan or his fiscally subliterate belligerence. I’m dismissing the analysis because it’s not good analysis.

BULL OF THE BRAZOS: Representative Charlie Geren

Charlie Geren is a thoroughbred politician, and like some of the most famous horses in history, he’s always at the center of the action, even if he doesn’t come in first. That’s fitting for the Bull of the Brazos, an award given to the lawmaker each session who blurs the distinction between saint and sinner the most. The honor is named for the late senator William T.

Furniture

The term “furniture” is a designation for lawmakers whose level of participation in the legislative process was indistinguishable from that of their desks and chairs.

Representative Dawnna Dukes
Democrat - Austin

Senator Bob Hall
Republican - Edgewood

Representative Scott Turner
Republican - Rockwall

Senator Carlos Uresti
Democrat - San Antonio

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