Ken Paxton is the first sitting attorney general to face criminal indictment in more than 30 years, but he's by no means alone in holding the dubious honor of being a Texas politician indicted while in office.
In fact, Paxton, who is currently facing a three-count indictment (two counts of securities fraud, a first-degree felony, and a third-degree felony count of failure to register as a securities agent) handed down by a Collin County grand jury last week, is now the 19th Texas politician to find himself in such a legal pickle. We put together a list of five who had it just as bad as Paxton. Heck, some even had it worse.
5. Texas House Speaker Gus Mutscher, the guy who got caught up in the Sharpstown mess.
Mutscher was the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives when the Sharpstown bank stock fraud scandal erupted and reached up into the highest levels of state government to drag Mutscher down with an indictment. Houston banker and insurance company manager Frank Sharp was at the center of the mess. Through his companies, Sharpstown State Bank and the National Bankers Life Insurance Corporation, Sharp granted $600,000 in loans to state officials. The state officials used the money to buy National Bankers Life Insurance Corporation stock, which they would turn around and sell for a nice profit because Sharp was inflating the company's value. Sharp used the stock as a little encouragement (a.k.a. a bribe) to push for legislation that would keep increasing the company's value, a move that would then benefit the legislators who were in charge of doing that legislating. Neat, isn't it?
Well, of course this ingenious plan was working out perfectly for investors right up until the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission started stepped up in early 1971. The allegations of bribery and corruption spread all the way up to then-governor Preston Smith, but ultimately only Mutscher, state Rep. Tommy Shannon and one of Mutscher's aides, Russ McGinty, were indicted and tried in Abilene in 1972. They were found guilty and sentenced to five years probation. But that was by no means the end of the story for Mutscher. It was felt that a coalition of Democrat and Republican members of the state House of Representatives, dubbed the "Dirty 30," had kept the scandal alive as a political issue. Once things calmed down, Mutscher successfully appealed his conviction and was elected Washington County Judge. Today he lives in his hometown of Brenham and does political consulting. All things considered, maybe Paxton should give him a call.
4. Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Yarbrough, the guy who fled to the Caribbean. Back in 1976, Yarbrough threw his hat into the ring to run for Texas Supreme Court justice because he believed that God wanted him to run. What happened next leads us to believe that God definitely has a sense of humor about things. Yarbrough was up against a Charles Barrow, a thoroughly respected judge with a long history of judicial service, in the Democratic primary. Conventional wisdom said that Yarbrough didn't have a chance, but then he shocked everyone by beating Barrow. (It turned out that people in the polls probably confused Yarbrough with Don Yarborough, who had previously run for governor, and Sen. Ralph Yarborough.)
Yarbrough was ultimately elected to the Texas Supreme Court, but he didn't hang onto his seat for long. He was indicted for forging auto registrations and lying to a grand jury and quickly resigned in 1977. The following year he was convicted, but he fled to Grenada to avoid going to prison. That worked for a while and Yarbrough even started going to medical school while in the Carribean, but he was eventually arrested by U.S. consular agents and sent back to the United States, where he was sentenced to six years in prison for bribery. He got out in 1990. Meanwhile, Barrow was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court to replace Yarbrough. Barrow went on to become dean of Baylor Law School and served as a senior judge until he retired in 1996.
3. Texas Land Commissioner Bascom Giles, the guy who got caught stealing from veterans.
After World War II, Giles came up with a brilliant little plan to reward the boys coming home from the war by letting them buy land at low interest rates subsidized by taxpayers. Voters just loved this idea, to the point that they voted to put aside $100 million in public funds to allow veterans to buy land. Under the program, qualified veterans could purchase ranch or farm land for a 5% down payment, with 40 years to pay off the balance. The state furnished the unpaid balance and held title until the veteran had retired the loan. Nice, right?
It all would have been like something out of a Frank Capra film except that one enterprising reporter, Roland Towery, of the Cuero Record, started looking into the Texas Veterans Land Board and finding that things didn't add up. Some veterans who had supposedly purchased land in block sales didn't know they had bought the land, and other veterans were under the impression the land had been given to them free. When Towery asked Giles about the "irregularities," Giles started denying involvement before Towery had accused him of anything. Towery ran with the story, while Giles was re-elected to office but never showed up to be sworn in, and ultimately served three years in prison. Towery won the Pulitzer Prize.
2. Gov. James Ferguson, the guy who tried to settle a political score and lost his office.
"Pa" Ferguson, as the good old governor was popularly known, really stepped in it after he was re-elected for a second term in the governor's office in 1916. Specifically, Ferguson went after the University of Texas when the school's dean refused to boot certain members of the faculty that Ferguson objected to, particularly the guy who had been his opponent for governor in the Democratic primary, former Texas lieutenant governor and founder and dean of the University of Texas School of Journalism, William Harding Mayes. Ferguson claimed that Mayes had used his newspapers — Mayes owned some Texas newspapers — to do a little mudslinging against Ferguson. The historian Eugene Barker was also on Ferguson's list, but it didn't matter because the head of the university refused.
Ferguson dropped the matter, but he turned around and vetoed appropriations for the university. That didn't go over well and led to a drive to impeach Ferguson. He was removed from office and banned from ever running for state office again. Of course, that didn't stop Ferguson. He still ran for governor in the 1918 Democratic primary and followed that with runs at the U.S. Senate and the White House. He even went back to the governor's mansion when his wife, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, was elected governor.
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1. Gov. Rick Perry, the guy who got indicted and then ran for president.
And while Paxton is looking around for inspiration, he need look no further than Perry. For those with very short memories, Perry was indicted last year on felony counts of abuse of power and coercion of a public servant. Why? Well, because of that whole thing where Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg got drunk, drove around, got caught and threw a tantrum in jail. Perry, reasonable creature that he is, responded by threatening to withhold $7.5 million in funding from the Travis County DA's Public Integrity Unit (which just so happens to investigate public corruption cases) following Lehmberg's arrest. That was one thing, but then Perry actually followed through on that threat and vetoed the funds when Lehmberg refused to step down.
Then the longest-serving governor in Texas was saddled up with a couple of indictments from a grand jury. Paxton should really take heart from this story. Sure, those indictments didn't do Perry any favors in his bid to grab the GOP presidential nod for 2016, but one of them was just thrown out entirely by the Third Court of Appeals in Austin and his lawyers are talking like the other one, for abuse of power, should be booted forthwith. (Of course, what else are they really going to say?) But either way, this seems like a small ray of hope for Paxton. Maybe the two can hang out and compare mugshots!