EAST OF AUSTIN – State Highway 71 along here is bumpy, but is far better than some of our state roads. Speaking of which, look at that car zooming along, weaving through traffic. We need more state troopers, but we can’t afford any more. Then there are our underfunded schools with their underpaid teachers, our mental homes that need some state inspectors, and so on. If only the State of Texas had money towards helping fix our problems. Actually, we do have some money, millions, that would help, only they’re being wasted on lawyers handling useless cases, and losing many of them, just to pander to a fringe. Who’s responsible for this expensive debacle? If you voted for Gov. Greg Abbott or Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, you are responsible, and the rest of us want our money back. How much money? A cool $13 million – $5 million suing and $8 million defending. The meter is still running.
You see, the State of Texas (that’s us) keeps suing the federal government (that’s also us — we’re paying both sides) to change the laws and legal opinions over matters such as voter ID, pollution and gerrymandering. This tilting at windmills began when Abbott was our attorney general (may we refer to the man and the office as AG?) who described his years in that post as: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.” I’m not sure that’s what we paid him for, but those are his exact words. He did such a good job as AG that we promoted him to governor. His successor is Paxton, who apparently believes in the same job deception.
Between the two, they have sued the Obama administration 39 times. Their favorite target has been the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has the silly notion that Texans don’t want themselves or their children breathing polluted air – Texas has some of the worst in the nation. People along the Houston Ship Channel say they don’t want to breathe anything they can’t see. Their children have a saying: “I shot an arrow into the air. It stuck.” Of those 39 lawsuits, 21 have been against the EPA. The state already has spent more than $82,000 in one month fighting the EPA’s plan to cut carbon emissions. And, as noted, the meter is still running.
Another target is one that always tops Texans’ greatest worries: same-sex marriages. Many the night I have stayed awake — and no doubt you have, too — worrying about that. Paxton was so eager to pursue this evil that he waited only two months in office before suing the Obama administration over spousal benefits to married same-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on this. Maybe we should chip in and give Paxton some change to buy a newspaper. It would be a lot cheaper. Nearly $1 million was spent to get the feds to sign off on our gerrymandering of the state’s 2011 redistricting maps for congressional and legislative seats. The state’s plan, the work of Tom DeLay, dices Travis County (Austin) into five – yes, five – different Congressional districts. One runs from Houston to Austin. That case became moot when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
Texans face another peril: Voter ID. The AG seems to think that hordes of undocumented aliens are sneaking into our voting booths to cast ballots for Poncho Villa. I have looked and cannot find a single instance of this happening, but you can’t be too careful. Although I do wonder why we have bi- and even tri-lingual ballots. If you can’t speak and read English, how do you know where the candidates are lying? (It’s easy – just see if their lips are moving.) Texas has spent $1.6 million trying to force the feds to accept our voter ID law. A panel of federal appeals judges in August called the law discriminatory. The state has appealed. If Paxton loses, he will appeal the appeal. Incidentally, we don’t have any of the on-going costs of the AG’s attempt to close all Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas, but they may be more than all the other legal posturing put together.
So how are we doing in court? According to the Houston Chronicle, which dug out these costs, the AG has won seven and lost eight. The other cases are either split decisions or still being fought. Paxton has spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars in six new legal challenges since taking office in January. Thus we have more than $5 million in taxpayer money spent suing the feds. The AG’s office has umpteen lawyers already on our payroll, so these additional costs must be for outside legal help, plus travel, interviews, bar bills and probably a million or two under “miscellaneous.” Meantime, the state also has other legal problems such as lawsuits dealing with conditions in our prisons, UT’s unending battle over affirmative action and
Rick Perry. Why are they wasting their time and our tax dollars on these fruitless follies? It’s all a matter of priorities – political priorities.
Wait. It gets better, or worse. That $5 million tab, so far, is only money spent suing Washington. But Texas has been sued by the feds and has to defend itself. Paxton and Abbott have spent more than $8 million defending voter ID and redistricting. That’s $13 million, for nothing. One last bit of irony, and you couldn’t make this up: Paxton faces three felony charges for fraud. No, all Texans don’t have to pay for his case, but Collin County, that’s McKinney where the trial will be held, has budgeted $100,000 for Paxton prosecution.
Perhaps the priorities of Abbott and Paxton are not ours, and we could well spend those millions otherwise. Theyy are simply pandering to a small but vocal minority. Maybe we should change the official state animal to the panda.
Ashby is taxed at firstname.lastname@example.org