Ken Paxton

Texas’ attorney general needs a basic education in civics


Ken Paxton, Texas’ highly politicized and under-qualified attorney general, is trying to make himself relevant at the expense of educators and school children while he awaits trial on securities fraud charges.

His office is trying to convince the Texas Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that found the state’s school finance system inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional. And, now he claims it was “inappropriate” for more than 600 school districts to go to court to challenge the Legislature’s failure. Never mind, in Paxton’s mind, the Texas Constitution and the separation of powers doctrine.

But what else should we expect from an attorney general who gives more weight to partisan politics than the Constitution in forming legal decisions and opinions? This is the same guy, remember, who tried to suggest – wrongly – that county clerks could disregard the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling if they didn’t like it.

Paxton could use a good civics class in the public schools from which he voted to cut $5.4 billion in funding as a legislator in 2011. Those cuts were the final straw for the district judge who declared the finance system unconstitutional. Yet Paxton continues trying to undermine the schools he voted to shortchange, including local school districts in his home county that are plaintiffs in the case.

In a speech late last week, The Texas Tribune reported, Paxton complained that the state has been in and out of the courts for years over school funding. He blamedTexas’ educators, parents and other plaintiffs rather than state policymakers, such as himself, who persist in violating their constitutional responsibilties to adequately and equitably fund education.

“Opponents of Texas policy use the courts as legislative do-overs where they can seek to accomplish what they couldn’t accomplish during the (legislative) session,” he said.

School districts and their students are entitled to this “do-over” by no less an authority than the Texas Constitution. Too bad Texas voters don’t get a “do-over” of last year’s attorney general’s race.



Criminal charges aside, Paxton bad news for Texas schools


I doubt that most Texans, including thousands of people who voted for him, could have told you the name of the state attorney general before he was indicted on securities fraud charges. Now, Ken Paxton has a higher public profile and a mugshot to boot. I am not going to prejudge the criminal case against him because he is entitled to his day in court. But even before his notoriety he was bad news for public education and still is.

As a legislator in 2011, Paxton voted for the $5.4 billion in school budget cuts that cost many educators their jobs, forced overcrowding of many classrooms and still plague many school districts. And, as attorney general, he avidly defended a school funding system that a state judge has declared inadequate, unfair and unconstitutional.

In a recent brief urging the Texas Supreme Court to overturn the lower court ruling, Paxton criticized the “experts and interest groups” (i.e. educators) who are trying to win a “public education system more to their liking.” Actually, the 600 school districts that sued the state are simply trying to win a final court ruling that orders the legislative majority to fulfill its constitutional duty to the school children of Texas.

Largely a political unknown even to Republican primary voters, Paxton won the GOP nomination last year by waving his anti-abortion credentials and claiming to be more righteous (no fooling) than his opponents. Then after conducting a low-profile general election campaign, he was swept into office on a strong Republican vote.

TSTA endorsed attorney Sam Houston, his Democratic opponent.



Yes, budget cuts have consequences


As legislators, Glenn Hegar and Ken Paxton were champion budget-cutters. They voted to slash $5.4 billion from public schools in 2011 and, to the delight of their right-win constituencies, hacked their way through numerous other budgets as well.

Now, Hegar is the new state comptroller, and Paxton is the new Texas attorney general, and guess what? They aren’t slashing away at budgets anymore. Instead, they are complaining about how their past budget cuts have hurt the facilities and working conditions at the agencies they now head. Their plight would be amusing, were it not so serious for everyone else.

“Duh, no fooling,” is my message to both. But why did it take a slap of reality for these two tea party darlings to pull their heads out of the sand and realize that budget cuts have consequences?

In recent articles in The Texas Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman, Paxton complained about elevators that didn’t work and leaking roofs damaging computer servers, while Hegar said he was concerned about “basic sanitation” and an employee who had to get rabies shots after coming in contact with one of the bats flying in her building.

I feel for the employees in their agencies and am concerned about how Hegar’s and Paxton’s tight-fisted attitude as legislators is affecting the quality of their agencies’ public services now.

I also am concerned about how the Legislature’s “deferred maintenance” policy has resulted in deplorable and unsafe living conditions in mental health hospitals and the Texas School for the Deaf.

And, I am concerned about how those school budget cuts of four years ago, although partially restored, are still affecting educators and students in overcrowded, under-equipped classrooms. And, don’t forget the thousands of former teachers and school employees who lost their jobs.

I am not concerned about Hegar and Paxton, but I hope their complaints as agency heads bring better results than their politics as legislators did.