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The Paxton Files

A few more tidbits on the controversial Texas attorney general.

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Texas Attorney General Kenneth Paxton (middle) speaks to members of the media in front of the U.S. Supreme Court April 18, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty

Our feature in this month’s issue of Texas Monthly on Republican Ken Paxton’s tenure as the state’s attorney general closely examined his first two years in office. But there were a few other details on Paxton that we couldn’t quite fit into the piece.

As we reported in our story, Paxton has filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the Obama administration (a practice that might change once Trump takes office). While suing Obama has been good politics for Paxton, not every public policy promoted by Obama has been bad for the Paxton family.

In 2009, when Paxton was still a member of the Texas House, he took advantage of a provision in Obama’s “cash for clunkers” program that was designed to encourage drivers to switch from gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones. But Paxton had something a little different in mind. He used the provision to obtain a federal tax credit to cover the cost of buying a golf cart. The program offered drivers a rebate of between $4,200 and $5,500.

Paxton declined our interview requests for our story, but he did answer questions over email, and we asked him about his golf cart purchase. “I spend a lot of time dealing with the philosophical and political imprudence of the Obama administration,” Paxton wrote. “Rarely do their policies offer much benefit to Texans, but if the president wants to offer a tax rebate to people who purchase a golf cart, I suggest people who enjoy golf carts make a similar purchase as I did.”

We included some of Paxton’s responses in our story, but we didn’t have room for all of them. Here are his answers in their entirety (the email exchange occurred prior to the presidential election):

Texas Monthly: You have repeatedly described religious freedom and life issues as your top priority as attorney general and even made suggestions on potential laws to the Legislature. Why choose those issues over some of the more traditional attorney general issues such as public school finance or criminal justice?

Ken Paxton: All of the issues you mention are highly important to me and the work of the Office of the Attorney General. In my tenure as attorney general, my office achieved a landmark victory in the Texas Supreme Court preserving our school finance system, officers from our law enforcement division arrested their 7000th fugitive, and we have expanded our efforts to combat human trafficking. All the while, the people of Texas have overwhelmingly supported the stance my office takes on issues of religious liberty and life.

 

TM: In an April 2015 speech to what was then called the Liberty Institute, you said religious liberty should stand against “the government” or “mob rule,” and referred to a “pop culture noise machine.” On the flip side, though, doesn’t that also imply that a minority can impose its will on the majority?

KP: In our Constitution, the framers created a Republican form of government where the people would decide how they would be governed, but also understood that we all have certain inalienable rights that cannot be taken away from us—and that those rights must sometimes by protected against the tyranny of the majority. Religious freedom is one those rights. Defending religious freedom is not about imposing one’s will on the majority, but preserving the right of an individual to freely exercise one’s deeply held religious beliefs in living his or her life. That is something everyone should support.

 

TM: As a defender of life, does it bother you that one of the major jobs of the attorney general’s office is to make certain death sentences in criminal cases are carried out?

KP: No. My duty is to uphold and defend all valid laws of the State of Texas, regardless of my personal beliefs. Our current laws support the defense of innocent life in the womb and punishment for the vilest of convicted offenders.

 

TM: Your wife sings a ditty to the tune of the Crawdad Hole in which she says she’s a pistol-packin’ mamma and her husband sues Obama. Many of the lawsuits your office is handling against the Obama administration are stewardships of cases begun under Greg Abbott. Please, tell me about one of the cases that originated in your administration and explain why an average reader should care about it.

KP: Since January of 2015, I have sued the Obama administration 13 times. One of the most recent cases concerned the issue of schools’ rights and affects every public school in the State of Texas. The Obama administration issued a directive to school districts in our state based on a blatantly incorrect rewriting of Title IX—and threatened to take away federal funding if schools refused to fall in line. We, along with 12 other states, sued to stop this this abuse of power by the president. Regardless of your policy views, democracy and the Constitutional process should be something everyone cares about. If the president wants Title IX to cover gender identity, there are a lot of things he can do: ask Congress to amend Title IX, ask the people to elect representatives, and much more. What he cannot do is simply rewrite the law to suit his policy preferences. Remember: even if you like the president’s policy positions today, there will come a day when we have a president whose policies you despise. Defend the Constitution today and it will protect you tomorrow.

 

TM: Why do you think your office has suffered setbacks in the HB2 and voter identification cases? Even your long-term success in the immigration case does not look promising if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency.

KP: Many of the cases we file revolve around highly charged issues on which judges may or may not side with us. While we did not obtain the result we would have liked in our HB2 litigation, the Supreme Court also gave us a favorable outcome in our challenge to President Obama’s illegal immigration policy, and I am extremely confident they will uphold our Voter ID laws.

As for the future of the Supreme Court if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, I am reminded of a quote by Justice Robert H. Jackson: “reversal by a higher court is not proof that justice is thereby better done. There is no doubt that if there were a super-Supreme Court, a substantial proportion of our reversals of state courts would also be reversed. We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”

I have sworn an oath to defend the Constitution and I will always work to uphold that oath, regardless of what five Justices may ultimately say on the issue.

 

TM: I don’t want to delve into the specifics of the outside criminal and civil cases, but I do want to ask how it has affected you and your family emotionally.

KP: There is an indescribable peace in our family when, in the depths of our being, we know that I am innocent.

 

TM: From looking at DPS records, your schedules and travel records, you appear to be spending a great deal of time, if not most of your time, in McKinney instead of Austin, are you really able to be an effective leader of your office when you are not present?

KP: I spend every day tirelessly defending, promoting, and serving our great state, whether in Austin, traveling around Texas, or close to home with my family. In this day and age, I am able to be in constant communication with my attorneys in our Austin office regardless of where I am in Texas.

 

TM: Why did you replace Chip Roy and Allison Castle with Jeff Mateer and Marc Rylander? The word around the Capitol is that you were jealous that other attorneys in the office were receiving attention that you were not and that the underlying motivation was to increase your public profile as attorney general. There also is an assumption that increased personal publicity is intended to improve the public’s perception of you.

KP: I have always tried to hire or appoint people to my staff who bring to the office high levels of competence, chemistry, and character. I made the decision in March to make personnel changes that I felt would strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of my deputy staff and the entire agency, and these changes have been overwhelmingly positive.

 

TM: In the aftermath of the Dallas police shootings, Governor Abbott rushed back to Texas with burned feet. Lt. Gov. Patrick visited families in the hospitals. But you spent the day doing one television interview after another. Was that the best use of your time as a public official in the midst of that crisis?

KP: The Attorney General of Texas is the chief legal officer of Texas. Following the tragic ambush on our police officers in Dallas, I spent two days on the ground in downtown Dallas meeting with dozens of law enforcement officers and officials. With a strong media presence near the shooting site and the Dallas Police headquarters, I was asked to speak with the public numerous times through local, national, and international media outlets.

 

TM: When you intervened in the Exxon case involving the attorney general of the Virgin Islands, there was some question about the propriety of a state attorney general getting involved in litigation of a specific company. Carrying that forward, could you see any possibility that your office might intervene in litigation involving religious freedom, if there is a case like Sweetcakes by Melissa in Texas?

KP: We will always consider intervening in cases to defend constitutional rights.

 

TM: When this story runs, you will be finishing your first two years as attorney general. Looking forward, what do you think will be important to you over the next two years of heading the agency?

KP: I will steadfastly and diligently continue (1) to defend vigorously the laws of the State of Texas and provide skillful legal representation, counsel, and advice to state officials and agencies; (2) to secure justice for Texans through investigative and prosecutorial assistance on criminal matters, including human trafficking, online sexual exploitation, sex offender apprehension, money laundering, white collar crime, and crimes committed by transnational organized criminals; (3) to serve the children of Texas by ensuring that the Texas child support laws are enforced and child support is properly collected; (4) to protect Texans from fraud, waste, and abuse by properly enforcing our consumer protection, antitrust, and Medicaid abuse laws; and (5) to defend the freedom of Texas from an over-reaching federal government when it violates separation of powers and principles of federalism threatening individual liberties.

 

TM: Is there anything I have not asked about that you would like to emphasize about your service as attorney general

KP: I have been blown away by the talent and professionalism of the people who work for the Office of the Attorney General. These people have devoted their careers to public service, and I am humbled by the opportunity to lead them in the defense of the State of Texas and its citizens.

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  • WUSRPH

    Good to see you.

    Did you talk about how he has taken it upon himself to sue cities, counties, etc. and to intervene in local lawsuits to a much greater degree than his predecessors? He seems to want to enforce his views on local governments.

  • José

    Amusing to see how Paxton says that our republic is structured to defend minority rights in the case of religious liberty, and then pivots to emphasizing democracy–the rights of the majority–on the subject of gender identity.

    • BCinBCS

      IOKIYAR

  • Rules of Blazon

    Great find on the golf cart! My favorite is still when Ken stole Joe Joplin’s Mont Blanc, but the golf cart thing is awesome!

    • donuthin2

      Surely you don’t think he would steal a Mont Blanc when he takes his religion so seriously?

  • John Johnson

    What a line up…Patrick, Paxton, and Miller. I know we heard, “Is this the best we can do?” often during the Presidential campaign, but it goes double for this group of yahoos.

    • donuthin2

      Not any statesmanship in any of the three. I would not care to spend any time with any of them over a cold one or on the river fishing. Goobers to the bone.

  • Anti-Partisan

    Please ask Paxton and company why they haven’t sued over the federal overreach in education. Of course, it benefits him and his buddies financially not to, but it is harming our kids and cheating them out of the fundamentals of their educations.

    • Jed

      uh, if anything is killing our kids’ education, it is texas.

      • Anti-Partisan

        when texas immersed the common core standards into our state standards, it killed our academic education. as they continue to implement the federal accountability system (next generation assessment & accountability), move toward computer based learning and replacing teachers with facilitators it is only set to get worse.

        • WUSRPH

          Except common core was not a federal program. It was developed by a coalition of states, not the federal government. Texas never adopted it….in fact, the Legislature passed a law saying local districts could not do so.

          • Anti-Partisan

            that is a crock and everything they would like for you to believe. race to the top forced all 50 states into common core. the anti common core law in texas is a showcase piece of legislation and has no teeth. I have the documentation showing how the common core standards were immersed into the teks. stanford professor and mathematician, dr jim milgram has stated that as bad as the core standards are, what we have done by immersing them into our teks is far worse than had we just adopted common core.

          • donuthin2

            You sound like you could use a little bit of training in writing skills aren’t that great or possibly I need some help in comprehension.

          • Anti-Partisan

            i’m convinced it is the latter. could luck with that.

          • donuthin2

            Not too bothered by your conclusion as you obviously have no analytical skills.

          • WUSRPH

            I’m beginning to think that the Troll may be right when he says liberals are dumb. I mean, if we are to believe the Anti-Partisan’s of the world, they have been engaged in a deliberate effort to “dumb down” the American populace since at least the end of the 18th Century with John Dewey and his progressive education theories so that socialists and commies can take over….AND what happens—the less educated folks don’t vote for the liberal but the other guy. Talk about a wasted effort.

          • donuthin2

            Unfortunately to most in Texas, the measure of a good education is how much money you make. Obviously that is important, but there is much more to happiness than a good salary.

          • St. Anger

            Let’s see if I follow the “argument.” Common core, despite being develop by and for state leaders, is actually part of a plot perpetrated by federalist liberals that goes back over a hundred years. The intent by these liberals is to “dumb down America,” and common core is just the latest part of that effort.

            MeAnwhile, here in Texas we stand strong in resistance to the common core and other liberal, federal efforts to make us all dumber. Instead, we display our dedication to being smarter than the rest be funding education less than almost any other state, and using standards for all subjects developed by locally elected officials who may know nothing about … anything relevant.

            And the proof of lol this is the stellar results we get, as compared to other states. Our test results are lastnor almost last. Our dropout rates are highest, and our poverty and uninsured rates are Lao the highest.

            Brilliant. Gee, how could the rest of the country be so foolish?

          • BCinBCS

            Common Core is a basic requirement for an educated population. States can teach beyond the CC.

            I thank my luck stars that I went through an enlightened school system that taught us literature, history, the Greek gods, chemistry, liberal arts and math that was beyond the norm for the state of Texas. It’s a shame that huge numbers of students do not get the basics, much less the “extras” that I received. CC, at least, tries to assure that every child get at least the minimum of a proper education.

          • Anti-Partisan

            You clearly do not understand the content of the common core. You should see what it is actually producing.

          • BCinBCS

            Where do you get your information on common core?
            Have you had personal experience with CC? If so, where?
            Do you have kids being taught CC here in Texas?
            Do you know who developed CC?
            Do you understand the reason for having a CC?
            Do you specifically understand the requirements of CC?
            What do you believe that CC is producing?

          • WUSRPH

            Dow Chemical was not that bad of a big brother after all.

          • John Johnson

            ???

          • WUSRPH

            Dow, for its own reasons and benefit, insisted that the school district BC and I went to school in be the BEST…..As the major taxpayer, it had the power to influence that.

          • John Johnson

            Freeport? Lake Jackson? Angleton? Clute?

          • BCinBCS

            Freeport, Lake Jackson, Clute, Jones Creek, Oyster Creek and Surfside.

          • BCinBCS

            This is an example of the change in attitude that businesses have undergone since the Reagan administration. Corporations were willing to support cities and schools to have enjoyable places for their employees to live and to have educated graduates who could easily complete their company job training programs.

            Today, the money that used to support parks, education, the arts, etc. is now used to pay CEO salaries and shareholders. Education is on its own and training for jobs is no longer done by and paid by the companies but is the financial responsibility of the job applicant through trade schools, community colleges and universities.

          • BCinBCS

            The Dow Chemical Plant in Brazoria County is HUGE. Most of my friends not from there have no concept of how physically large it is. I have taken several on visits to the area and have parked on the side of one of the overpass bridges (the land is flat so bridges are practically the only elevated structures) to show them that it essentially starts as far away as one can see to the east and wraps to almost as far as one can see to the west.

            Dow is not only the biggest facility and the largest employer but also the greatest revenue generator. Because of those factors it has an over-sized influence on the area – hence W’s reference to Big Brother. In reality, Dow is now a very good corporate citizen. The only major improvement would be a return to union representation for the various trades.

          • John Johnson

            Lived in Angleton one summer during college and worked for home builder with office in Clute. Surf fished almost every evening after work. Know the area well. Dow had a massive footprint even back then.

          • BCinBCS

            Ya, W, that’s true. Where I lived, all of the streets, curbs, gutters, drainage system and sidewalks were concrete. When I went to college in a city without industry, about one-fourth of the street were gravel and almost none had sidewalks. I was flabbergasted.

            One bad thing about Dow Chemical was the leaking chlorine gas that was a by-product of their magnesium production. There were very foggy and still days, especially in the fall, when it was almost impossible to go outside because the chlorine was so strong that it burned your eyes so badly as chlorine gas plus water from the fog produced hydrochloric acid. The Environmental Protection Agency changed all of that and Dow id now a leader in environmental restoration and protection. When people talk about the horrors od environmental regulation, I think of the horrors that occurred before the EPA.

          • donuthin2

            Agree, I remember visiting relative in Texas City in the 50’s and you could hard stand the stench as you drove from La Marque into Texas City and the ditches were all full of very contaminated water. Much, much better now and to believe that it is because of the good stewardship of the companies is to be rather naive. Regulations have worked.

        • Jed

          i agree about the trend. but that is not federal doing, it is the tea/sboe.

          common core is not a federal program. it was created at the behest of governors (i.e. states). the state governments actually thought it might be good if kids in all states were learning the same stuff. radical, i know.

          sorry that doesn’t fit your preferred narrative, “federal = bad; state = good.”

          • Anti-Partisan

            sorry that you have brainwashed, but that is all smoke and mirrors and doesn’t at all get to the heart of it. read deliberate dumbing down of america by charlotte iserbyt and get back to me.

          • Jed

            Seriously, whatever your beef, Texas is infinitely worse.

          • John Johnson

            Our funding of public schools is lacking; our teachers overall are not up to snuff. Who in their right mind, unless totally dedicated to the profession, and altruistic to boot, would choose to teach? If one wants to be able to own a decent car, a home, and raise a family, how can they after accumulating a massive college loan debt? Who in their right mind would choose to teach? Want the best then dangle a carrot…pay for their education. Pay their tuition just like the military does a doctor’s. Require so many teaching years after graduation. That’s my take.

  • SpiritofPearl

    Putin

    • John Johnson

      “…keep your enemies closer.”

    • SpiritofPearl

      “This

  • WUSRPH

    Is it symbolic that when he lists his priorities for being attorney general, Paxton never mentions protecting the civil liberties of its citizens? The only time he refers to liberties it is his concept of religious liberty prevailing over all other rights.

  • SpiritofPearl

    MRGA

  • BCinBCS

    In other Texas news, Rick Perry is at the top of Trump’s list for Secretary of Energy, you know, one of the departments that Perry wanted to eliminate as part of his presidential campaign – and the one that he couldn’t remember – “oops!”

    Donald Trump has narrowed his search for energy secretary to four people, with former Texas Governor Rick Perry the leading candidate.

    People familiar with the president-elect’s selection process said two Democratic senators from energy-producing states — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — are also in the mix, along with Ray Washburne, a Dallas investor and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

    If Trump picks any of the four he’ll break with recent tradition of putting scientists at the top of the Energy Department. Among other things, the agency is responsible for policies on the safe handling of nuclear material and on emerging energy technologies.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-12-11/rick-perry-said-to-be-trump-s-top-candidate-for-energy-secretary
    .
    .
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f80a7333536191e3351fb1d982c9b8c032106fa3e2c2c9e3b8f23aef401c6cf0.jpg

  • donuthin2

    Perry being considered for energy secretary? Not even Trump can be that stupid.

    • dave in texas

      Not even Trump can be that stupid.

      Objection, your honor. Assumes facts not in evidence.

      • donuthin2

        Admittedly that is a wild assumption about Trump.

        • WUSRPH

          It is a fairly wild assumption about Perry too based on his A&M transcript. Didn’t he do, shall we say, poorly, in all his science courses?

          • BCinBCS

            Yea, but he was a heck of a good yell leader.

            (BTW, for those who have quit checking, there is still a lot of discussion going on at the previous BB blog post – “Meet the Texas Presidential Elector…”).

          • José

            Y’all did it. One thousand comments.

          • donuthin2

            He and Trump will at least have science in common. It is something those pointy headed college professors sit around and dream up. In science, they test the hypothesis, these two will just run with it based on their intuition, such as it is.

  • John Bernard Books

    Dems recognize Trump is a genius….
    “Bill Gates compares Trump to JFK
    Bill Gates said Tuesday that President-elect Donald Trump’s potential to bring innovation to the U.S. resembles that of President John F. Kennedy’s.
    http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/310139-bill-gates-trump-resembles-jfk-in-his-ability-to-innovate

    Will Trump will the Pulitzer prize before taking office?