Maybe this all could have been avoided had Ken Paxton actually been forced to campaign for his seat as state attorney general before last fall’s general election, rather than hiding from – and, in one case, physically blocking – reporters with questions.
Even before voters made him the state’s top law enforcement official, Paxton had admitted to violating state securities law for getting paid to solicit investors for a close friend and business partner without registering with the state — a simple mistake, he assured us. The matter has since mushroomed into a criminal investigation, with special prosecutors appointed to investigate Paxton announcing last week they plan to seek a grand jury indictment for a first-degree felony charge.
And meanwhile Paxton has opted to play the part of culture warrior rather than the state’s top legal authority. Two days after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, Paxton issued an AG opinion giving county clerks religiously opposed to same-sex couples this preposterous legal advice: It’s totally fine for individual clerks to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and if they face litigation (which they most certainly will), rest assured that there’s an army of pro bono attorneys waiting in the wings to help defend the right to discriminate against gay couples.
Now, thanks to an Austin American-Statesman investigation that dropped this weekend, we know Paxton has also helped further nepotism in state government. Specifically, dozens of personnel records the paper obtained under state open records laws show that within just one week of taking over Paxton quietly appointed at least 14 people connected to him or other prominent Republicans to plum jobs. It’s a clear violation of a far-reaching state law that requires jobs like these be advertised when they’re filled from outside the agency. What’s more, records show applicants without political connections faced months of red tape, interviews and vetting – you know, the kind of hurdles you usually have to clear when applying for a state job. As the American-Statesman reports:
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“An American-Statesman review of more than 1,800 pages of personnel files reveals that hiring procedures were relaxed or altogether ignored for those who had worked for Paxton, former Gov. Rick Perry or U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Records show that several were hired weeks before they had even applied for the jobs, if an application was completed at all.”
Five of those top jobs were given to people who worked for Paxton in either his attorney general campaign or while he was a state senator and representative. Five others were poached from the Perry administration, while four others worked for Cruz.
Paul Burka, longtime dean of the capitol press corps, lately emerged from sort-of retirement to call Paxton "a mediocrity, a lawyer who appears to have little respect for the law." And ever since Paxton encouraged government workers to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, opponents have started comparing the state's top lawyer to arch segregationist George Wallace.
And remember, the guy's only been in office for six months. If prosecutors can secure a felony indictment, the Paxton administration could go from embarrassment to full-blown train wreck in record time.