George P. Bush calls out Paxton: Considering run for Texas Attorney General

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush criticized Attorney General Ken Paxton for his well-documented legal issues, before strongly hinting that he will run against the state's embattled top attorney in the primary for the 2022 election while taking part in an interview on a conservative talk radio show Thursday morning.

While on The Mark Davis Show on 660 AM The Answer Dallas-Fort Worth, Bush - the nephew of former U.S. President and Texas Governor George W. Bush - raised concerns that Paxton could not appropriately run the office as attorney general while facing multiple investigations.

"Personally, I think that the top law enforcement official in Texas needs to be above reproach," Bush said. "I'm seriously considering a run for Attorney General."

Paxton first came under fire after being indicted in 2015 for securities fraud.

It didn't stop there.

The AP reported in November the FBI launched an investigation into the Texas Attorney General for bribery, abuse of office, and other crimes after a whistleblower lawsuit came to light.

"There have been serious allegations levied against the current attorney general. These are allegations that need to be taken very seriously, and that the FBI is currently investigating," Bush said.

In that suit, accusers claimed Paxton used his power to help a wealthy donor. All of the accusers have either resigned or were fired.

"I've visited with many conservative attorneys general throughout the country. They're embarrassed by the conduct, and I think Texans deserve better," Bush said. "We need a top cop that the law enforcement in our state can confide in, can trust in, can know have their back. When I visit with sheriffs across the state, they tell me the same thing."

Paxton has largely been able to protect himself from such criticism, but things may be different this time around.

Normally, Paxton has seen this kind of questioning of character from Democrats, but Republicans recently have become more vocal.

Joshua Blank is the research director at The Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin, and said these mounting criticisms from within his own party should give Paxton reason to sweat for the first time perhaps in his political career.

"I think Attorney General Paxton has done a very notable job inoculating himself against criticisms, in particular amongst the Republican primary electorate. Having said that, it's not a good thing when another statewide Republican elected official is picking up on the same messaging that he was facing in his 2018 re-election campaign. If the same messaging is coming from both Democrats and Republicans that the attorney general has an integrity problem, that's going to be a problem for the attorney general," Blank said.

In February, Republican state senators questioned the attorney general for spending requests while he was defending his budget in a committee hearing for the state budget.

Paxton asked for $43 million of taxpayer money for outside attorneys to assist him in his antitrust lawsuit against Google. He had to get outside help because his top lawyers resigned as a result of the bribery accusations.

"People may be surprised by the fact Paxton has so far survived what seems like scandals that should topple most politicians, but he may actually be toppled by 1,000 cuts more so than one big blow. The reality of Republican elected officials picking up the criticisms many of the Democrats have been leveling against the attorney general indicates he's going to have a much tougher time in this election cycle than he has probably faced up until this point," Blank said.

During Thursday's interview, Bush stopped short of questioning Paxton's conservative credentials, leading to this exchange between him and host Mark Davis:

Davis: It seems like every time he's on this show, it's about the things he's doing for voter fraud, it's the latest things he's doing for borders, it's the latest things he's doing. What, in terms of the politics and the job, itself, in what way has Mr. Paxton been wanting?

Bush: This campaign is less about conservative credentials. I mean, we're all conservative. We all supported Donald Trump. There's really no separation there. It's about how you run the office. That's what's troubling. Eight of his top lieutenants are known and respected conservative members of the Texas Bar, and have distinguished themselves outside of the State of Texas because a lot of conservative AGs look to the AG in Texas to lead a lot of these pieces of litigation that are important, and so when you see these allegations that they have filed through - whether it's the Texas Whistleblower Act, whether it's the FBI investigation and the allegations there - it's more about that, that's concerning. When you talk about the words, 'public trust,' when you talk about the vows we make to the Constitution, to our communities, to our churches, to our wives, these have to matter at some point. Ideology is important, there's no doubt about it. Ken has been a conservative, and there's no doubt about it. But, in terms of how you personally run an office, I think it matters a lot. I think character matters, and I think integrity matters.

Davis: So if you wind up challenging him in the primary, it won't so much be about ideology or agenda, it'll be about the practice of the office, it'll be about ethics, it'll be about the charges still hanging from the rafters?

Bush: Absolutely. When you pick up the paper, yes, there's good lawsuits, there's good ideology and filings, but it's about how you run an office, it's about how you lead, and it's about how you're a role model for children and for members of the Texas Bar.

The portion of this exchange where Bush mentions vows to wives could be a reference to the allegation listed in the whistleblower lawsuit that the wealthy donor gave a job to Paxton's mistress, as reported in the Texas Tribune.

"He's been in public service now for 20 years. I'm not sure another 4 years is going to bring Texans anything better. From my perch in Austin, I've seen some high quality attorneys lead that office," Bush said.

When Paxton first won the election to serve as attorney general in 2014, he beat his opponent by more than 20 points. However, that margin of victory dwindled to only 3 points in 2018, after his indictment.

Blank said it's still realistic Paxton survives a race against Bush, but this will likely be a higher hurdle to clear than any Democratic candidate.

"Bush is certainly a high-quality challenger, if for no other reason there's not a Texan who's voting who is not familiar with his name. At the same time, the Bush brand in Texas is not what it used to be, and the Republican Party has gone through multiple iterations since the Bush era. In and of itself, being a Bush doesn't guarantee you success, even against a potentially flawed opponent," Blank said. "There's no doubt Ken Paxton's image in Texas has been damaged by years of allegations at this point. Having said that, that's not a disqualification from office, and he still maintains a strong position among Republican primary voters that still make him a pretty formidable incumbent to topple, even for someone with the last name, 'Bush.'"

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