At a campaign-kick off event in Austin Wednesday night, Bush leaned hard into the multiple legal controversies surrounding his fellow Republican Paxton, such as his indictment over securities fraud charges from back in 2015 and an ongoing FBI investigation into whether or not Paxton used his office to benefit one of his wealthy donors.
“You’ve brought way too much scandal and too little integrity to this office,” Bush said of Paxton, “and as a career politician of 20 years it’s time for you to go.”
In his speech, Bush echoed the line of attack against Paxton he’s been honing in appearances on conservative radio shows in recent months. Bush told right-wing Dallas host Mark Davis in April that even though Paxton’s “conservative credentials” are impeccable, Texas’ top cop “needs to be above reproach.”
Bush sharpened that critique onstage Wednesday. “We need an attorney general stacking up mugshots of hardened criminals, not an attorney general that’s stacking up mugshots of himself,” he said.
Ahead of his campaign announcement, Bush drew the ire of Houston-area Democrats and Republicans alike in May for how his General Land Office didn’t allocate a single dollar to the region in the first wave of federal Hurricane Harvey-related flood relief. After backlash from local officials over the land office’s use of a funding formula that unfairly disadvantaged large urban areas like Houston and Harris County, Bush has announced that he’s asked the feds to carve-out $750 million in flood prevention cash for Harris County, a request that hasn’t been officially granted yet.
A Houston-native, Bush attended Rice University and was a public school teacher and University of Texas-educated lawyer before he served as a U.S. Navy Reserve officer. Bush was elected land commissioner in 2014, succeeding in his first race for any elected office.
After originally pitching himself as a less extreme Republican and making a concerted effort to reach out to Hispanic voters by leaning into his own heritage (Bush’s mother is Mexican), Bush took a turn rightward after Donald Trump beat Bush’s father — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
The heir to the Bush political dynasty broke from his Trump-averse family by wholeheartedly endorsing Trump in both of his presidential races. That delighted Trump, who has called Bush “the only Bush who got it right” and “My Bush.”
Trump has promised he’ll make an endorsement in the Texas Attorney General Republican primary “in the not-so-distant future,” but it’s unclear which candidate he’ll back. While Trump has clearly loved being supported by the son of one of his biggest 2016 presidential rivals and might relish the chance to boost the younger Bush’s profile, few Republicans were willing to go to the lengths Paxton did to support Trump following the 2020 election.
It was Paxton that led the legal fight to have the U.S. Supreme Court toss-out the election results from multiple swing states in an attempt to subvert President Joe Biden’s victory. While the effort was legally dubious and doomed from the start, Trump was nonetheless thrilled by Paxton’s lawsuit at the time, calling it “the big one.” Many thought Paxton might be angling for a presidential pardon from Trump in the last days of his presidency, but Paxton didn’t receive one in the end.
Paxton has been under indictment for nearly six years now over charges that he didn’t publicly disclose that he was being paid by a company for whom he was soliciting investments. His latest controversy involves a handful of longtime Paxton-lieutenants in the attorney general’s office who blew the whistle to state ethics watchdogs over concerns that Paxton may have been using his office to benefit Nate Paul, a rich real estate investor and a Paxton donor.
The FBI is currently investigating Paxton over the matter, and Paxton is currently fighting a lawsuit from those whistle-blowing former employees of his for what they consider unfair retaliation from the attorney general when he chose to fire and suspend several of them.
Joe Jaworski, former Galveston mayor and current front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the attorney general’s race, issued a statement after Bush’s campaign announcement arguing that while “Ken Paxton’s criminal, unethical and self-dealing behavior in office has cost Texas dearly and that he’s “glad to see Mr. Bush and other Republicans agreeing with my assessment,” he believes “The contest between Paxton and Bush will be for Donald Trump’s endorsement, not to determine who’s best for Texas.”
Paxton campaign spokesman Ian Prior responded to Bush’s official entry into the race by touting Paxton’s “rock-solid conservative record.”
“From defeating Joe Biden’s dangerous executive order halting deportations of illegal aliens, to his willingness to stand up for secure elections, Ken Paxton has been and will continue to be the tip of the spear in protecting President Trump’s America First Principles,” the statement read.
Whether Trump endorses him or not, Bush is banking on convincing the former president’s fans that Paxton’s cloud of controversy would make him an easy target for the left, and that nothing would hurt the Texas MAGA movement more than letting a Democrat take Paxton’s job.
“They know that if he is our nominee again, they [will] have their first statewide elected office in close to 30 years,” Bush said.