By Bethany Blankley 

Thursday night’s televised debate for Texas Attorney General was a political ping pong match between two candidates on either end lobbing personal attacks at each other, buffered by an elder statesman in the middle focused on his state goal to save Texas.

Incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton declined to participate, as he has in all previous debates.

The primary election is March 1. Early voting ends Friday.

Congressman Louie Gohmert, Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Judge Eva Guzman are vying to replace Paxton in what is expected to be a runoff election. Paxton, who remains in the lead in polling, continues to lose support. No candidate holds 50% of the vote in polls.

The mudslinging began with Bush saying the campaign’s gotten negative because of Guzman running “a multi-million-dollar attack maligning my character, impeaching my track record and, of course, going after my wife.”

Looking sideways to her, he said, “Eva Guzman, you’ve crossed the line. You can go after me, but you can’t go after my family. And I look forward to showing you in this discussion that you are a gutter politician.”

Guzman began her remarks saying, “Commissioner Bush started with integrity, the first thing he did was lie. He said that I am not for finishing the [border] wall. He knows that’s been part of my plan. It was on my website the day he chose to lie. There is no room in Texas for another lying attorney general.”

Bush went on to say that he’d take on progressive mayors as the state’s top attorney. Guzman pointed out that Bush no longer has a license to practice law. “Being a plaintiff in your acting position for the state of Texas is not acting as a lawyer,” she said.

Whenever Bush baited Guzman with a personal attack, she took the bait and replied by, saying, “you know that’s not true,” or called him a liar or said he was “lying once again” and to “stop misleading Texans.”

“I’ve spent 22 years I have served the state of Texas upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. Integrity is what you do when no one is looking. What Commissioner Bush has done is lie to the people of Texas over and over again. He has proven he doesn’t have the integrity required.”

Bush was initially referring to a political ad Guzman’s campaign ran that didn’t mention his wife. It mentions the firm she reportedly works for, citing a Texas Tribune article. It states, “Bush’s wealth is tied up in a complex network of anonymous partners, creating questions of transparency and conflicts of interest for someone holding public office.”

Allegations of lack of transparency and conflict of interest led to Bush resigning from his position at the Alamo Trust. Critics accused him of “mishandling the Alamo Restoration Project's finances and not being sufficiently transparent about its plans for the historic site,” Texas Public Radio reported.

For nearly an hour, Bush focused on Guzman’s “gutter politics” and she repeatedly called Bush a liar or said he was lying. Neither criticized Gohmert and remained committed to attacking each other.

At one point, Bush addressed Paxton directly, saying, “When it comes to Ken Paxton, he was gone during the winter storm. He refuses to disclose his texts, his emails, his phone calls, and he continues to evade grassroots conservatives and not show up to any debates. This is our tenth debate together. Ken, I know you’re watching. You’re sitting on your couch. When are you going to come out of the shadows and stop your Joe Biden style campaign?”

Gohmert remained focus on the seriousness before Texas voters: Paxton’s legal troubles and what they mean for the state.

He said, “it’s important to understand why Paxton isn’t here, and why he hasn’t come to any of our events. It’s because he is under indictment for fraud. The motion to dismiss was denied. He’s pending trial. He’s been arrested. He’s out on bond, and he’s been under investigation by the FBI. He’s likely going to be indicted after the primary when we can’t replace him. Look, anything he says at a debate can and would be used against him.”

Dallas Morning News political reporter Gromer Jeffers said, “a plurality of voters aren’t troubled enough by Attorney General Paxton’s legal problems to select someone else.” He asked Gohmert, “How do you appeal to that voter?”

He replied, “By getting into a runoff, we’ll have 90 more days for the voters to find out more about me and to find out more about an attorney general who instead of investigating crime is now charged with committing them.”

“When I saw that Paxton only won with 50% of the vote last time and that there’s even more criminality that he’s charged with now and being investigated for,” Gohmert said, he started looking into running. “Then I found out you can’t replace him on the ballot for being indicted, even if he goes to jail, you can’t replace him as the Republican nominee. When it looked like before I got in, there wouldn’t even be a runoff, I had to get in. I had to make my case. I had to try to save Texas.”

“People say it was crazy to leave what they call a safe seat in Congress,” he added. “But look, we’ve got some fighters in Congress. They’ll take care of what I’ve been doing there. I’m here to fight for Texas. When Paxton’s own lawyers have said, ‘The most basic qualifications of an attorney general are respect for truth and respect for the law. Ken Paxton has neither,’ you know we need a new attorney general.”

Bush agreed, saying, “When AOC was here a few weekends ago, she said she was going to ‘take your guns, tear down the wall and turn Texas blue.’ Her prophecy could actually become true. And the reason is because we are thinking about nominating one of the most corrupt public officials in recent Texas history. This is the last chance for Republicans to make that change, right here, right now.”

Paxton has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. His campaign spokesperson told the Texas Tribune that an August 2021 report conducted by the AG’s office cleared Paxton of all alleged wrongdoing.

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