Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is using the state seal to shield himself against accusations by former top aides. And former Gov. Rick Perry is using it as well — as a backdrop for a sales pitch.

When the Texas state seal doesn’t signify trust

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
Posted 9/5/21

Well, now we know what it takes to remain employed at the Texas Office of the Attorney General.

Almost a year ago, several top aides to Attorney General Ken Paxton accused him of using his …

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is using the state seal to shield himself against accusations by former top aides. And former Gov. Rick Perry is using it as well — as a backdrop for a sales pitch.

When the Texas state seal doesn’t signify trust

Posted

Well, now we know what it takes to remain employed at the Texas Office of the Attorney General.

Almost a year ago, several top aides to Attorney General Ken Paxton accused him of using his official position to help a campaign donor, sparking an FBI investigation and attracting a number of viable candidates from both parties to line up for a challenge to the attorney general in the 2022 elections.

The aides who said Paxton was misusing his office don’t work there any more; some have filed a whistleblower suit. However, as The Texas Tribune’s James Barragán reported, the folks left behind — people who remain on the state payroll, answering to Paxton — have produced a 374-page document saying their boss is innocent.

“AG Paxton’s actions were lawful, and consistent with his legal duties and prior actions taken by Attorneys General of Texas,” the agency’s unsigned report said. “AG Paxton committed no crime.”

In effect, the AG’s current employees are refuting charges from his former employees that Paxton makes his employees do things that are unethical or illegal. Because they didn’t sign the document, and because it comes from the attorney general’s office, it’s effectively Paxton’s personal declaration that he didn’t do what he’s accused of doing.

Even in an era when it’s become standard operating procedure in too many corners of Texas government to use taxpayer-funded resources for private gain or advancement, this deserves your attention.

It’s the worst kind of testimonial. Paxton is understandably looking for exoneration, for people to stand up for him and to profess his innocence. A report like this would be suspect under the best of circumstances, like asking hostages to say nice things about their captors.

Seems like you’d want a trusted third party to say that instead of a bunch of employees who might be under duress.

Fear of losing your job is duress, isn’t it?

It can be dangerous to let outsiders do these kinds of investigations. Just ask former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was undone after asking his attorney general to investigate allegations against him. Had he left the digging to his own loyal staff, he might still be governor today.

Last week’s report on Paxton won’t be the last word. Those former top aides have legal actions pending, and that pesky FBI investigation is still out there.

The attorney general isn’t the only Texas politician using the trappings of state government to improve his situation. Former Gov. Rick Perry was back in the state Capitol this week, hawking an air filtration system with claims that it inhales coronavirus-laden air and exhales disease-free gusts that are safe for the kids and their teachers to breathe.

The peg for this — the hook for Perry’s stint as a pitchman in the Speaker’s Committee Room adjacent to the Texas House chamber — is the product’s potential use in the state’s public schools.

It’s linked to fears of returning Texas schoolchildren to classes during an upswing in the pandemic.

Those kids are required to be in school. More than half of them — the kids under age 12 — are ineligible for vaccines. The two options for wary parents are mask mandates or remote learning. The governor has banned mask mandates, though that’s being challenged in court. Current law doesn’t allow the state to reimburse school districts for anything other than in-person attendance, a policy that could be flipped by a bill now pending in the current special session of the Legislature.

Perry, a board member of the company whose products he was promoting, had the House’s permission to be there, and members of the House were there to hear him. The filters might perform as promised; the system, Perry said, has been tested on more than 100 of the state’s public school campuses.

It’s not the product. It’s the presentation. The setting, of a former governor at a lectern in front of a state seal inside the seat of government, gives some weight to his proposal that it wouldn’t have if he was standing in a corporate boardroom or in front of a chalkboard at a news conference.

It’s a stunt, and possibly an effective one. Paxton’s gimmick was similar: He got state employees to write a document attempting to undermine charges against him, and he put his state agency seal on it.

It seems legitimate, even if it’s not.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/26/texas-seal-ken-paxton-rick-perry/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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