In 1973, Texas Monthly rolled out its first edition of “The Best and Worst Texas Legislators,” an annotated list of the Texas lawmakers who had brought the most honor and dishonor upon themselves and upon the legislative body during the just-ended legislative session. With this year’s iteration, we want to show our readers what’s on our minds as we deliberate on one of Texas politic’s most anticipated lists. So as the 86th Legislature progresses, we’ll be writing about the highlights and lowlights of the lawmakers as they happen in a new online feature called Best and Worst Legislators in Real Time.
“That’s pretty blatant”
Freshman lawmakers are typically given some leeway as they learn the arcane rules and customs of the Legislature. Freshman senator Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, for example, was quietly spoken to when her staff raided the catered meal set out one day for members of the Senate Finance Committee, of which she’s not even a member. But there are other mistakes made by freshmen that are much harder to laugh off—let alone forgive. That was the case with freshman senator Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, who shocked the upper chamber by filing legislation that seemed blatantly self-serving. The caption telling what legislation is contained in Senate Bill 860 seems innocuous: “Relating to the creation of a regulatory sandbox program administered by the attorney general for certain financial products and services.”
The problem is that the beneficiary of this legislation, Attorney General Ken Paxton, happens to be the senator’s husband. And the regulatory sandbox the legislation gives her husband’s office includes the creation of a new program that could alter the very securities laws that her husband is alleged to have violated in a criminal indictment, for which he still is awaiting trial.
Senator Paxton told the Associated Press that the bill “has literally nothing to do” with her husband facing criminal charges. But a longtime ethics attorney believes the legislation could give the attorney general’s office the ability to alter the law Ken Paxton is charged with violating. Attorney General Paxton was indicted in July 2015 on third-degree felony charges for failing to register as an investment adviser representative. “It directly affects [Senator Paxton’s] husband’s authority,” Randall “Buck” Wood told the Dallas Morning News. “I have never seen anybody who has tried to introduce [a bill] like this.”
A key word missing from the bill is “retroactive”—which could have potentially cleared Ken Paxton of the criminal charges if the bill became law. But at the very least, another lawyer told Texas Monthly, if the securities law was changed under this legislation, the attorney general could make note of the legislative change to a judge in his defense during trial. Senator Paxton told the Texas Tribune, which broke the story last weekend, that the bill is aimed at strengthening consumer protections in the financial tech industry. But a fellow senator, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to be seen as publicly criticizing a colleague, said the rookie senator made several mistakes. “If she wanted to file the legislation, she could have easily gotten another senator to do so,” the senator said. “By filing it herself, she put a bull’s-eye on her back and it also allows the media to drag out everything her husband has been charged with. That’s pretty blatant.”