AUSTIN – Remember Yogi Berra’s famous quote? “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” I suppose the opposite of that is: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too empty.” That’s Austin in August. The Leg is gone, so are the lobbyists. UT students are elsewhere, tracking down Jefferson Davis. All the action is, as usual, in McKinney. It seems our new state attorney general, Ken Paxton, has been indicted in his hometown north of Dallas. This case will last for as long as his lawyers can drag it out, and will be decided in a few decades. Think Tom DeLay and Rick Perry.
If by chance you have been in a coma or binge-watching “My Mother the Car,” briefly, Paxton is charged with three first-degree felonies by a Collin County (McKinney is the county seat) grand jury for selling hundreds of thousands of dollars of worthless stock to friends and others without telling them he was not registered to sell stocks, nor did he reveal that he didn’t own any of them but was being paid to sell them. This is apparently against the law. Paxton had already pled guilty to similar charges and paid a $1,000 fine, while the latest prosecutorial moves were pending.
While Paxton was peddling his wares, he was a state representative. Then he was elected to the state senate, then he was elected as Texas attorney general, the state’s lawyer, while his legal problems were in all the papers. (Texas is a red state, but not a well-read state.)_How did a candidate win his party’s primary for atty gen, then win the general election (both easily), while having pled guilty to one charge and awaiting the other shoe, or indictments, to drop?
How? Because a lot of our fellow Texans – about 2.47 million — are monobrowed think-a-likes who shouldn’t be allowed near sharp instruments, small children or the voting booth. Paxton simply staked out positions in each election to the right of Santa Anna, making him – Paxton, not the Napoleon of the West – the darling of the tea party. It worked, he won. All you need in Texas today to win an election is to have an R beside your name on the ballot. Attila the Hun could beat out Sam Houston if the Hun was a Republican. Come to think of it, Paxton really did defeat a Democratic lawyer named Sam Houston.
Since Paxton’s election, he has launched an investigation into a heavily edited tape of a Planned Parenthood video which is slowly falling into disrepute. At a legislative hearing on the matter, he introduced no evidence, no proof or anything else to bolster his case. Instead, Paxton began a long and vitriolic attack against abortion, which was not the matter under consideration. Earlier, the state’s top lawyer told county clerks that they didn’t have to obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s decree legalizing same-sex marriages. Now a judge has ordered Paxton and another state official to explain why they ignored the law. They face contempt of court charges. And we’re paying this guy?
This brings us to money. Perry has already gone through $2 million in legal fees, mostly campaign donations. If you gave to Perry’s campaigns, any of that money probably wound up in the bank account of some high-priced Houston lawyers. We are already paying hired guns to prosecute the former governor. Now we have the first or second salvo of the Paxton case, and the army of state-paid lawyers trying to put him away. How much money are these two conservative Watchdogs of the Taxpayers Wallet going to cost us?
The reason we bring all this expense and trouble on ourselves is simple: simple Texans who pride themselves on doing their civic duty, like avoiding jury duty and voting. But they vote the straight-party ballot because it is quick, easy and doesn’t require any education or courage, like booing a 6-foot-7, 240-pound quarterback from the safety of the club level. According to a recent study conducted by Austin Community College, 61 percent of voters in Texas’ 46 largest counties voted the straight-option in 2014, the highest percentage ever in a gubernatorial election year.
We follow the herd mentality when it comes to candidates, but more complex decisions are hard on the brain, and we tend to skip them. In 2014, there was about a 15 percent drop-off in the number of votes for governor and votes for a transportation proposition, also on the ballot. Figuring out transportation policies and expenses takes thought. If only the proposition had an R or D beside it. Of the 50 states, 40 ban straight-party voting. But in Texas you’ll take my voting rights away when you pry my cold, dead fingers from the straight-party button.
Now the towel story. As you may know, for the past 17 years Collin County jailers have taken alleged perpetrators’ mug shots with a towel wrapped around their necks. This is supposed to be a great equalizer, in that no shots show the suspect in a dog collar or a Brooks Bros. tux. But a judge ordered that the state attorney general could have his mug shot taken in a coat and tie. Then Paxton was allowed to leave the court house, and avoid the waiting press, thorough a little-used side door. That is called perks of the perp.
We know the drill by now: Paxton, like Perry, will cry “politics,” but Collin County and the grand jury pool are among the most conservative voters in Texas. Obama, Davis (Wendy, not Jefferson) and all other Democrats got crushed by those voters in elections. Incidentally, this brings up a possibility: Could Rick Perry have given himself a gubernatorial pardon in advance? And can Paxton;s staff of lawyers defend him?
Meanwhile, back here in empty Austin, I am surrounded by reminders of those soldiers, lawmakers, visionaries and other leaders who gave us Texas. What would they think of today’s crop – and those clueless voters who blindly elected them?
Ashby writes-in at firstname.lastname@example.org