A famous name can be a mixed blessing in politics. Sam Houston, the Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general, has persuaded us that he is more than just a name, and he is the best person in the race to succeed current Attorney General Greg Abbott.
In a state where colorful candidates abound who trade largely on name recognition in lieu of experience, Houston is the real deal. He has spent more than two decades practicing civil law, and he ran for the Texas Supreme Court in 2008 and clocked in a respectable 45 percent of the vote, more than any other statewide Democratic candidate that year besides Barack Obama. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin and his law degree from Baylor. He’s currently a partner at Shepherd, Scott, Clawater & Houston.
Houston is running against Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney. The Libertarian candidate in the race is attorney Jamie Balagia, and the Green Party candidate is attorney Jamar Osborne.
Houston is clear about the direction that he would take the attorney general’s office, returning its focus to legal matters of the state rather than tilting at windmills by filing lawsuits against federal government agencies. He takes the position of the state’s defender seriously but suggests that there are other tools to be used rather than expensive lawsuits that take resources from the office’s other functions.
“It’s the job of the AG to define what is in the best interest of Texans, and I intend to return the office to that purpose,” he said.
Houston would bring a fresh eye to an office that in our estimation has strayed from its primary functions. In addition to being the state’s primary legal officer, the attorney general is charged with investigating Medicaid fraud, issuing open records rulings, collecting child support, upholding consumer protection statutes and prosecuting white-collar crime.
Paxton, Houston’s Republican opponent, has no shortage of credentials and has more than a decade in the Legislature in his favor, as well as a strong position on open government issues. However, his political track record in other areas and pending ethical questions are too significant to overlook for the position of attorney general.
Paxton, a practicing attorney, was elected to the Texas House in 2002 and served five terms there before being elected to the Texas Senate in 2012. He beat out fellow state Sen. Dan Branch of Dallas for the Republican nomination for attorney general last spring, buoyed by the support of tea party voters. He met with us before the Republican primary but declined to return to discuss his race against Houston.
In the time since Paxton’s last visit, troubling reports of ethics violations have come to light, including a pending complaint with the state’s Public Integrity Unit and the State Bar of Texas that Paxton violated conflict-of-interest rules when he failed to register as an investment adviser representative.
Paxton accepted a reprimand and $1,000 fine from the State Securities Board in May for soliciting clients for a Texas investment firm without registering, as required by state law, and without disclosing that he would receive 30 percent of management fees.
He and his campaign have said that it was an oversight, despite the fact that Paxton voted to approve and clarify the state law as a state representative. And the complaints raise the specter of the state’s top attorney facing a possible grand jury investigation and indictment while attempting to carry out the duties of the office. This is unacceptable.
Even without the legal concerns, it would be difficult to endorse Paxton. He appears ready to use the office to fight the battles of national politics at the expense of concerns of the state. His rhetoric about protection of freedoms — state’s rights, reproductive rights and religious freedom — appear to be only applicable to those whom he agrees with.
Libertarian candidate Balagia, according to the San Antonio Express-News, lost his police badge after allegedly testing positive for drugs and was reportedly accused of stealing evidence from the Austin Police Department. He is now a San Antonio lawyer known as “the DWI Dude” who defends drunken driven and drug suspects and is also facing a complaint with the State Bar.
A successful attorney general needs to be beyond reproach and committed to addressing the needs of the citizens of this state. For an attorney general who will fight for and protect all Texans, vote for Sam Houston.
We say Attorney general’s race